The parable of the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8)

As I continue working on a book about the parables of Jesus, interpreting those parables by the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, I continue to discover new treasures in the Word of God. Consider, for example, the parable of the persistent widow:

In Luke 18:1-8, Jesus tells a parable “to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” On other occasions Jesus compared himself to a thief; in this parable he compares himself to “a judge who neither feared God nor respected man.” A widow repeatedly approached this judge, begging for justice. Because of her persistence, the judge eventually decides to answer her plea “so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.” Jesus concludes, “And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Of course Jesus intends to contrast the goodness of God with the evil of a judge who neither fears God nor respects man. Judges should fear God; they should do their work faithfully, knowing that God is watching them. They should do their work fairly, granting justice to all people, whether they are rich or poor, black or white, young or old, male or female. Withholding justice from a widow because she can neither afford to bribe the judge nor threaten him with any harm would be wrong. God, on the other hand, can be trusted to do the right thing all the time. God can neither be bribed nor threatened. When we pray to God, we have no power over him. All we have going for us in our prayers is his command to pray and his promise to hear and answer our prayers.

God wants us to pray. He does not need our prayers. He knows everything about us, including what we need and what we want and what is best for us. He does not need advice or instruction from us. Jesus reminds us why we pray with his sample prayer, which begins with the words “Our Father.” God wants us to approach him confidently, as little children on earth turn to their fathers, expecting good things from them.

At the same time, God wants our prayers to be meaningful. “When you pray,” Jesus taught, “do not heap up empty phrases, as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words” (Matthew 6:7). Persistent prayer is not vacuous prayer, speaking words without considering what they mean or to whom they are addressed. We cannot impress God by our prayers, so we need not try. A child cannot overpower a father with many words, persuading the father to do as the child wants even though what the child wants will harm the child. So also, God’s promise to hear and answer our prayers does not mean that we have magic power to make him do as we want. He is wiser than us and more knowledgeable. If we ask for something harmful, he loves us too much to grant us what we ask.

Imagine, though, spending day after day with someone you love while that person refuses to say a word to you. Think of the pain that silence would cause you. Often we treat God this way. We do not speak to him at all, either to ask for anything for ourselves and for others, nor to thank him for any good thing he has given us, nor to confess our sins and beg for his forgiveness. God encourages us to do all these things, and more: he invites us to praise him. He does not need our praise—flattery accomplishes nothing with God—but we need to praise God in order to remind ourselves how good he is and how blessed we are that he loves us and delights to hear our prayers.

So Jesus told a parable about a persistent widow who finally obtains justice from an uncaring judge. Because this story is labeled a parable, the secrets of the kingdom should reveal more from the story than an exhortation to pray. Indeed, much more is happening in this story. For as Jesus compared himself to a thief, robbing us out of the hands of the devil, he now compares himself to a corrupt judge. Jesus truly is the Judge who will rule on our eternal home. Sinners will be locked out of the kingdom, while those who are pure and flawless will be welcomed into the kingdom and called children of God.

Were Jesus purely just and fair, he would lock us out of his kingdom. We have sinned; we do not deserve a place in heaven. But Jesus is unfair to us, not to our harm but to our benefit. Jesus judges that we are sinless because he covers our sins with his righteousness. Jesus judges that we are flawless because he has paid in full our debt for sin. Jesus judges that we are worthy to live in his kingdom—even to be called the children of God—because He, the Son of God, took our place and our punishment so we could receive the rewards he earned.

We have adversaries—not worldly foes, but spiritual enemies. We need protection from the devil, from the sinful world around us, and from the sin still within us. We persistently confess our sins and ask God to protect us from our enemies. God answers swiftly—so swiftly that he has finished answering our prayers before we reached the “Amen.” Christ has already paid our penalty. On the cross he fought our enemies and defeated them. Even the final enemy, death, has been defeated by Jesus. God has not delayed; he has given us all that we need and far more good things than we ever deserved.

“Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Without faith, no one can receive the benefits of the exchange that Jesus offers. We are saved by God’s grace through faith. Our faith is not a work that earns God’s grace; it is a gift, a result of God’s grace. Jesus asks whether or not he will find faith, not in despair that all faith will be quenched, but as a reminder that he will be seeking faith when he sits on his Judgment throne. Those approaching the throne of Judgment with faith in Jesus will be welcomed into his kingdom, an inheritance prepared for them from the foundation of the world (Matthew 25:34). Those approaching the throne demanding justice, demanding to get what they deserve, will receive such justice. They will be sent into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41). Jesus does not want to send anyone into that fire. He died to rescue all people. But those who refuse the gift of the unfair Judge truly will receive the justice they deserve rather than the gift the Judge offers them.

 

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8 thoughts on “The parable of the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8)

  1. Thanks for the reminder.

    Prayer is not something I understand well. I guess each of us “feels” the presence of God differently. I can sit down and read the Bible quite happily, but just pray? A conversation with God? I dial. Because He has answered my prayers, I know someone has picked up the phone, but the other end seems so quiet. Perhaps I give up too easily, but I prefer reading the Bible and admiring His Word on paper.

    I can write in my blog and share my thoughts. Quiet contemplation at a keyboard is often as close to prayer as I get. I just hope our Lord reads what I write, that He inspires others who share His Word. Otherwise, I fear I may never quite understand what I miss.
    🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have no doubt that the Lord reads what you write–even the ideas that you don’t post. As to prayer, some people find help in books of prayers written by other people, including prayers taken from the Bible. Others insist that only spontaneous prayer counts as real prayer. I do both. The point is that God is always with us, and he cares about us; therefore, he appreciates direct communication from us, communication that is sincere. As for reading the Bible to hear from the Lord–I endorse that wholeheartedly. J.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I can relate…I have never really experienced the “two-way” conversation that so many Christians speak of. I sought after it eagerly, but I have yet to experience it, at least in the way it has been described to me.

      I can however, reliably find God’s voice to me in Scripture, and Scripture often informs and guides what I pray for.

      In spontaneous prayer, the closest I have ever come to “hearing” God occurs through the Spirit bringing particular Scriptures to mind as I pray. I’m ok with that – I bring a petition and the Lord confirms it with His sure Word. I’m not left to try to figure out whether it is indeed the Lord speaking to me and not simply my deceitful heart manufacturing a response. Perhaps others can reliably sort out the inner voices they hear, but I remain skeptical. If I have to choose between what my heart says and what Scripture says, I’ll choose Scripture everytime.

      I say this, because the one time I listened to my heart as if it were an answer from God (which I referenced further upthread) it turned out disastrously. My heart utterly deceived me. I sure learned from the experience, though.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Indeed…and to be honest, that scares me a little. That I prefer to trust personal experience over trust and obedience to God’s Word.

        And yet, God, in His grace, allows me to use personal experience as a “validator” of the truth of His Word. It shouldn’t be so – there should be nothing that I trust above God, and yet he tenderly forgives me, and uses even my own mistrust to teach me to trust!

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Never really understood this parable…

    When my husband was carrying on his affair, i prayed and prayed that God would turn his heart back towards me. Every morning i prayed with hope that today would be the day, and every night i went to bed frustrated and dismayed that nothing was happening. My pastor told me to stay strong and keep praying. I guess i wasnt strong enough cuz i eventually gave up, stopped hoping for a reconcilliation and decided that perhaps God was answering “no”. It seemed that the best option before me was to let go and try to “move on”.

    That turned out pretty horribly. The choices i made only made the situation with my husband worse. We eventually reconciled, but not before we both did a whole lot of damage to each other and the relationship – damage that it took us 6 years – 6 years!!! – to repair.

    I learned a hard lesson. Taking things back into my own hands was a disaster, and i often wonder what would have happened instead if i had not given up hope and continued to be persistent with prayer.

    I guess the silver lining is, i *learned* from it. Six years is a long time to be in a shitty marriage, waiting for the Lord to make things right, but i determined that i would not make the same mistake twice.

    Understand, though – this is NOT a matter of depending on the strength of my own resolve. This is a matter of depending on the promise that God made to us. After we made our wedding vows to each other, God made His promise to us – What God has joined together let no one put asunder. God Himself promises to sustain our marriage! We can tear our marriage apart if thats what we choose, but if we both want to remain together, the God who joined us together promises to sustain us until the end.

    In that light, praying persistently makes a whole lot more sense to me. I am praying in assurance, knowing that what im asking for is what He earnestly promises to give. (That, btw, is the beauty of the Lords Prayer, in which our Lord teaches not just how we should pray, and what we should pray for, but assures us that the petitions we make are exactly the promises He wishes to keep with us.)

    This was a hard way to learn a lesson. It would have been nice if the spirit had enlightened me sooner 😀 but perhaps the Lord knew i needed to experience this truth up close and personal in order to make sense of it. *shrugs* Not sure. I am comforted by it nonetheless…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I feel so sad reading about your six years of Hosea-like misery–and I am glad that you and your husband emerged together after those years. I know that God wanted Hosea to feel the agony God endures when his beloved wander from him. In a sin-stained world such things still happen, of course. It is natural to focus on ourselves in those times: “I should be a better wife. I should be a better Christian. I should pray better prayers and more often. I should have a stronger faith.” And all the time we ponder what we should do, the devil is free to toy with us. Only Christ and his cross can conquer sin and can drive the devil away. And the Lord’s Prayer covers all the bases of what we know God wills to provide–daily bread, and also forgiveness, guidance, and rescue from all evil. J.

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      • Just a couple of days ago it (finally!) occurred to me that Jesus too suffered the agony of betrayal. I guess it shouldn’t have been such a surprise – we are told that those of us who share his name will suffer for it too. But yeah, that realization that *I am sharing in the sufferings of our Lord* – that was a humbling moment indeed.

        Liked by 1 person

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