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Gospel in Art: The parable of the unjust judge

  • Father Patrick van der Vorst

The Parable of the Unjust Judge, by Pieter de Grebber, 1628, © Szépművészeti Múzeum, Budapest

The Parable of the Unjust Judge, by Pieter de Grebber, 1628, © Szépművészeti Múzeum, Budapest

Source: Christian Art

Gospel of 18 November 2023
Luke 18:1-8

Jesus told his disciples a parable about the need to pray continually and never lose heart. 'There was a judge in a certain town' he said 'who had neither fear of God nor respect for man. In the same town there was a widow who kept on coming to him and saying, "I want justice from you against my enemy!" For a long time he refused, but at last he said to himself, "Maybe I have neither fear of God nor respect for man, but since she keeps pestering me I must give this widow her just rights, or she will persist in coming and worry me to death."'

And the Lord said 'You notice what the unjust judge has to say? Now will not God see justice done to his chosen who cry to him day and night even when he delays to help them? I promise you, he will see justice done to them, and done speedily. But when the Son of Man comes, will he find any faith on earth?'

Reflection on the painting

Even though today's reading is often named the Parable of the Unjust Judge, it really is the woman who is at the centre of the story… and of today's painting.

In our reading, we are told how a judge was repeatedly approached by a poor widow who was seeking justice. Initially rejecting her demands, he eventually honoured her request. In our painting by Dutch artist Pieter de Grebber, we witness the moment after the judge has given in to her and given judgment in her favour. As she is a widow, we see her skilfully painted with a black veil. But she has a white dress underneath, a symbol of hope, or in this case resilience. Her request was granted and her life is about to change. The judge is pointing at his law books. She is holding a book, closed: her legal matter is closed….

The temptation to lose heart is always with us. As people of faith we can be tempted in this way during what often seems like difficult days for the church in the West. According to our Gospel reading today, it was that temptation of believers to lose heart that Jesus had in mind when he spoke his parable. Here was a woman who had steadfast faith and Jesus puts her before us as a model of persevering faith in the face of almost insurmountable obstacles. God's faithfulness is not in question. The question mark is over our own faithfulness. According to Luke Jesus spoke this parable about the need to pray continually and never lose heart. The primary way we keep faithful when times are difficult is indeed through prayer.


Gospel in Art:
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