Justice for All
Parable of the Woman and the Judge
Luke 18: 1 -8
1 Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart, saying: “There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man. Now there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, ‘Get justice for me from my adversary.’ And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, ‘Though I do not fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow troubles me I will 3avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.’ ”
6 Then the Lord said, “Hear what the unjust judge said. And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?”
In today’s text, Jesus is again teaching his disciples about prayer. In this parable he uses the illustration of a widow who comes before an unjust judge. Widows could not inherit their husband’s property because it passed instead to his grown sons or brothers. Thus disputes involving widows and orphans were common. The widow in this parable represented all those who were oppressed and powerless in society. Her best quality was her stubborn, unrelenting persistence in demanding justice.
Judges were expected to be impartial and to declare God’s righteous judgment on behalf of the people. The judge in this parable is uncaring and in his arrogance is not concerned about God or the needs of the people he is supposed to champion. He represents the direct opposite of God’s justice. In this parable the judge chooses to do the right thing for the wrong reasons. His motivation to grant justice came from his selfish desire to end his annoyance over the nagging widow.
Justice for All is a wonderful and worthwhile goal. Unfortunately it is not yet a reality even in our country. Our scripture illustrates that fact for the day of Jesus but there is also much evidence that justice it is not always available in our day. Minorities and the poor often find it difficult to receive justice.
When I worked in the district court office, I often saw larger fines for minorities, more police violence against them and less justice.
70% of those whose convictions are overturned are minorities. As of 2012, over 350 incarcerated people in America, mostly men, have been freed after serving years of imprisonment, thanks to the efforts of the Innocence Project, an organization of law students who seek to find Justice For All.
The Innocence Project was started in 1992 by lawyers Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld. Hundreds of men and one woman have been found innocent and freed, including 18 on death row, because of DNA evidence, and sometimes false eye witness testimony. And sometimes because of prosecutors who withhold evidence to get a conviction. The Innocence Project was established in the wake of a landmark study by the United States Department of Justice and the United States Senate, in conjunction with the Benjamin N. Cardoza School of Law, which found that incorrect identification by eye witnesses, was a factor in over 70% of wrongful convictions. Later in the past twenty years, DNA evidence has become the primary factor in overturning wrongful convictions.
In 1980, I was called to jury duty and sat on two juries. The first was a drug case and the second was a murder trial. I was the jury foreman. Two teenaged boys were being tried for the attempted robbery and murder of James Ware, owner and operator of a local motel. Police had arrested these boys because they were known users of the motel and were out late that night. They were also black. Police took the boys to Tulsa to the hospital where Mr. Ware lay dying and confronted him with the boys. He obviously recognized them. They were then charged with murder.
We were in the middle of the trial and were about to convict when the boys’ mother, who was simply sure her boys had not killed Mr.Ware, did a little detective work on her own. In her investigation, she learned that there were two boys in the community who were bragging that they had got away with the murder. She confronted the police with her evidence and during the trial they arrested two of the boys. A third boy was 8 years old. He confessed to his mother that he had gone along with the two and in fact, had been the shooter. The older boys had given him the gun to hold knowing his age and also knowing he would not be incarcerated if they were caught. At the time of the shooting the eight year old had thought Mr. Ware was reaching for a gun when he was actually reaching for the cash to give to them. He shot him point blank. That eight year old was sent to juvenile jail until he was 18, at which time his record was expunged and he was released. The other two were sent to prison.
That’s how close we were to a miscarriage of justice. So…justice for all??? Not yet.
When God’s Kingdom becomes a reality, there will be justice for all. But mankind will have to work for it. Until then, institutions like the Innocence Project will do their best to find justice for all. Hopefully it will be a different kind of justice. ..perhaps even restorative justice.
So what is restorative justice?
Restorative justice is a theory of justice that emphasizes repairing the harm caused or revealed by criminal behavior. It is best accomplished through cooperative processes that include all stakeholders.
Practices and programs reflecting restorative purposes will respond to crime by:
1. identifying and taking steps to repair harm,
2. involving all stakeholders,
3. Transforming the traditional relationship between communities and their governments in responding to crime.
The church’s Peace Colloquy featured restorative justice in 2007 and honored Howard Zehr for his efforts to promote it.
Restorative justice encompasses a variety of approaches and programs based on a core set of principles. Victims’ needs and offenders’ responsibility for repairing harm are the central focus. Zehr illustrated how this is in direct contrast to the Western criminal justice system, which has been established to view crime as a violation of law that requires the state to assign blame and punishment so offenders “get what they deserve.”
Restorative justice cannot be imposed. It has to be “collaborative and inclusive,” with outcomes that are as consensual as possible. The aim is to “put things right” by addressing harms and addressing causes.
To approach situations with a restorative philosophy requires respect for all involved. It must be rooted in deeper values, such as the equal worth of all people, a belief in the interconnectedness of communities. Ultimately, Zehr wrote that if he had to choose one supreme required value for pursuing restorative justice, it would be “respect for all, even those who are different from us, even those who seem to be our enemies.”
Canada, on the other hand, and different from America, has a different type of way of seeking justice. Canada’s is a unique solution. Every prisoner must learn a trade or skill of some sort he/she can use when he/she is released. They also have cells more like dorm rooms and prisoners are treated more like human beings. This training is to encourage them to re-enter society as a job trained individual. Much of our crime in America is tied to the fact that so many low income kids drop out of high school and then find it impossible to find a decent job. Poor decisions make for poor lives. Then they often turn to crime as an alternative.
So what do the scriptures say about justice?
Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause.
“Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.”
Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.
Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
In today’s world, we would do well to follow this ancient advice. There has to be a better way to seek justice then the way we presently are doing it. We are God's hands in the world and it is our responsibility to find better ways to find justice for all.