Do Not Give Up Praying!

widow_7085cAudio for this week’s sermon text, Luke 18:1-8:

Notes:

In this parable of Jesus, there is an unusual statement of the lesson at the beginning. Usually Jesus will save the point of the parable for the end, or not be specific about it at all. Is there another parable where he shares his lesson at the beginning?  I do not recall one off hand. But the lesson here is one we all need.

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. ~Luke 18:1

There are two characters in this tale. One is a judge (Luke 18:2). Most of the time we treat judges with great respect. We depend on them to make fair decisions in matters of dispute. We also treat judges with respect because we are hoping for a judgment in our favor. Judge Judy, a popular television judge, demands respect from those who stand before her. This judge, however, is one who has a character flaw. He doesn’t care what people think. This may be a good quality …if it means impartiality. However, I think it is a negative quality, meaning more that he is not interested in the plight of the defendants. From a Christian perspective there is another mark on his character that will impact the judge’s dealings with those in the court. He does not fear God. In verse 6 Jesus refers to him as an ‘unjust judge’. He is the kind of judge you hope to never stand before.

The second character is a widow who lived in the same town as the judge. We often refer to this woman as the ‘persistent widow’ because she is not getting the answer she wants from the judge, so she keeps returning to see if he will render a different verdict. Since he doesn’t care what she thinks and doesn’t fear God, he keeps giving her the same verdict. One can almost see a sarcastic   smile on the face of the judge, imposing his unjust standards repeatedly. The widow, though perhaps dejected when hearing from the judge , is faced with a very personal offense and with renewed vigor returns to the courtroom to plead her case once again.

We do not know what the widow wanted of the judge beyond the generic, “Grant me justice against my adversary.” But one thing we do know is that it is significant enough that the woman is not going to just forget about it and go away. Every day when the judge is seated and looks out at the cases before him, there she is.

The unjust judge rationalizes to himself that he doesn’t care about God or this woman. He does care about himself, though. So, “because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’” In his selfish desire to retain his health and be rid of her, he grants the persistent widow the action she desired. She walked out of the court room that day a victor.

I find the story interesting, but for the life of me on an initial reading I do not know what it has to do with prayer, which Jesus has already indicated is the main lesson of this parable. Now, this text has been the subject of many sermons of mine of the years. I am aware, however, upon this reading that I may have misread the parable. Jesus takes another odd turn and tells us what this parable is NOT about.

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? ~Luke 17:6-7

I think in the past I have presented God as being like the judge, and that is why we should not give up praying. Eventually we will wear him down and He will give us what we request. I may not have said it quite that way, but that seems to be lodged in my memory someplace. Jesus, however, tells us that God is NOT like this judge in this respect.

We can cry out to him day and night, but ‘Will he keep putting them off?’ No, Jesus does not present God as holding on until we have worn him out with our requests, but rather…

I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. ~Luke 18:8a

And there’s the rub of this text. It’s all pretty easy until the end. Our idea of quick justice is not quite the same as God’s. In fact, in other places we are told that the vengeance of man does not necessarily accomplish the will of God. The voices of the martyrs under the altar in the book of Revelation cry out for justice.

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood? Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer…” ~Revelation 6:9-11

But I do think this tells us that God will listen because he does care about people and that he will see that justice is done (in both qualities God is unlike the unjust judge). Having trouble believing that? We have watched what we perceive to be unjust and inhumane actions go unaddressed, it seems. Perhaps this is why Jesus asks a final question:

However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

So why does Jesus want us to persistently bring our troubles before God?

– Because He cares and He listens.

– Because He is going to act – and since He is the ultimate judge, his decision about when and how to act will be right.

– Because in doing so we demonstrate our faith while we walk in the travails of this planet.

– Because when Jesus comes again, we would desire for Him to find us serving Him faithfully.

What are your observations about this great parable?

Thanks for reading

John