16 October 2016

Luke 18:1-8

“Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.” (v. 1)

Psalm: Psalm 121


Luke introduces this parable of Jesus by saying it was about prayer. The temptation is then to see the judge as being an image of God - both answering the pleas of those in need. But to do so risks a disturbing image of a God who doesn't really care and only answers because he has been worn down.

Although our translation (in the NRSV) states that the judge succumbed out of fear of being worn out by the widow's pestering, the literal translation is far closer to fear of physical violence. Therefore, rather than the judge being an image of God, he should be contrasted with God. If this unloving, unjust judge can still answer the pleas of a widow, how much more readily will the God who is loving and just respond to our prayers?

However, if that was the sole purpose of the parable, we may think that Luke was getting a bit repetitive. Earlier in the Gospel (Luke 11:5-8) Luke has already told a parable about the need for persistence in prayer. So why is another included?

The answer appears to lie in Jesus' closing challenge: "And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" (v. 8). The early hearers of Luke's Gospel were living through difficult times. They had expected Jesus to return quickly and usher in God's new kingdom, but it wasn't turning out as they had expected. Instead they were being persecuted.

The widow was often an image of one who is helpless and dependent upon others. Maybe this summed up how many in the early Church were feeling. In the midst of this persecution was the temptation to give up, to stop praying, to lose faith. Perhaps  this is the different angle of this parable - persistence in prayer isn't just about getting the things God's people wanted, but also receiving the strength to continue in the face of adversity.

To Ponder

  • What are the reasons that might tempt you to give up praying?
  • What keeps you carrying on?
  • How do you respond to the thought of Jesus returning?

Bible notes author

The Revd Will Fletcher

Will is a presbyter stationed in the Sheffield Circuit. He has oversight of one multisite church (The Beacon Methodist Church) which is spread over three locations in western Sheffield.