A reflection for anti-slavery day based on the gospel reading for Sunday 20th October: Luke 18:1-8
The Passage: Luke 18:1-8 (NIV)
The Parable of the Persistent Widow
“Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’
“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”
And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”
There are five themes in this passage which can help us explore freedom, especially through the lens of Modern Slavery.
The Widow... a character controlled and exploited
This story offers a relevant insight into one of the great challenges to freedom in our times - the continuing growth of modern slavery.
In a complex and highly organised society, the widow represents someone whose place is totally dependent, someone who is under the control of others. A place of great vulnerability, always open to opportunities for exploitation. A place of silent suffering and restriction, hardly recognised by others, because of an apparently respectable, religiously endorsed term: ‘widow’.
The same could be said for those designated as ‘slave’, in biblical times, but also in our own times. A term describing those largely hidden providers of the goods and services we are constantly encouraged to consume - the only issue being the price we are expected to pay. Like the widow in the story, so for us with those in forced labour, sexual exploitation, forced organ donation, organised begging, forced marriage, or those who have been groomed to carry drugs. The only concern for the rest of us is what price do I pay for services I want? How often do we ask, what price is paid by the providers of what I consume? The character who teaches from this parable is hidden, exploited, and controlled.
The Social Context
The Judge is a good representative of lives lived for selfish ends. He is indifferent to the plight of others, indifferent to the big questions of God, our purpose in creation, and judgement for justice. He is determined to live in his own safe world. What echoes do we see in lives lived online, in falsely cheerful Facebook pages, curated Instagram accounts, and anonymous Twitter feeds?
Connecting the Extremes
The Judge and the widow seem to be trapped in separate environments. One of ‘the haves’, the Judge is concerned just with his own wellbeing. The other, ‘a have not’, is trapped, invisible, frustrated, fearful.
These separate worlds prevent any proper understanding of justice, and can only be opened up to each other through prayer. The widow cries out continually: a prayer for justice. Her Hidden Voice eventually touches the Judge - he cannot be comfortable once the sound of such suffering begins to be heard. He listens. He is changed from selfish priorities to a concern to share freedom with this exploited and excluded pray-er.
A Challenge for Us
God grants justice to those who call out - this is the message of this Gospel. He does this by empowering the oppressed to call out, and by touching the hearts of the powerful to hear and respond. In our world today we have a moment of opportunity to be priests and mediators of this desperate human praying. We can teach ourselves to hear the Hidden Voices of the exploited and excluded of our own times - those in Modern Slavery being the most abused and vulnerable – and say we see you to those society has turned away from.
We can try to practice justice in our own dealings as consumers of services and ask the questions we have been encouraged to silence. More, we can play a key role in amplifying these Hidden Voices so that their prayers are better heard by those in power - in government, business, law enforcement, church and voluntary organisations, the media, and our own workplaces and community groups.
Do Something Now!
The Clewer Initiative has produced materials to enable all kinds of communities to learn about listening to and responding alongside Hidden Voices. Discerning the widows of our time and becoming agents of that ‘praying always’ that brings empowerment to the vulnerable, and a readjustment of perspective and practice to those in places of power. Visit the website, download the Safe Car Wash app, contact the team, and take the widow seriously! When the Son of Man comes, will He find such faith on earth?
Written by the Rt Revd Dr Alastair Redfern, Chair of The Clewer Initiative.
Find the rest of our anti-slavery day resources on our Resources page.