20 October 2019Luke 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
Jesus often spoke in parables to teach his disciples lessons about faith and service. In the parable of the persistent widow and the unjust judge, Luke tells us the purpose of the story is to teach the disciples that they should always pray and never give up hope. Readers today may miss that parables often use very exaggerated images (eg the mustard seed growing into the greatest of trees) or set up extreme contrasts in order to make the intended point.
The parable of the persistent widow is situated at an interesting juncture in Luke’s Gospel. It is preceded by some of the most familiar stories of Jesus, such as the parable of the Prodigal Son (15:11-32), the wise steward (16:1-9), and Lazarus and the Rich Man (16:19-31). These parables lead into key passages in Luke 17 on the meaning of faithfulness and discipleship. Importantly, Luke 17:11-18:8 also has Jesus’ description of the coming of the Son of Man, an apocalyptic figure who will inaugurate the reign of God’s justice. The parable of the widow and her persistent cry for justice before an unjust judge serves as an illustration of how the followers of Jesus are to act as they await the Parousia – the end of the world as it is or the coming of God’s justice and everlasting reign. The disciples are to pray, watch, and continue to hope for God’s kingdom to come on earth. With that reign will come justice and vindication for all of those who were persistent in their faith before the corrupt systems of the world that left them impoverished and persecuted.
The widow in the parable is a victim of what might be a wealthy opponent and of a legal system that fails to protect her rights. It seems that she cannot get the judge even to hear her case, perhaps because he gives preference to her rich adversary. The widow is the person in the story with Luke’s readers may identify. Instead of shrinking away and giving up, the widow keeps pestering the judge until he finally, somewhat contemptuously, relents, hears her case, and rules in her favour. The judge is not meant to be a stand-in for God. In fact, in this parable we see Jesus setting up an extreme contrast between the corrupt judge and God, the ultimate source and deliverer of justice. The point is that if the widow could persist and finally find justice before a judge who was immoral and unjust, how much more will the followers of Jesus be vindicated by God when the Parousia comes.
The text ends with a very important question. When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth? The question raises the possibility that the followers of Jesus may lose heart and hope in the interval between his ascension and the second coming. Perhaps they will put their trust in wealth, political demagogues, or some other unjust system of the world. The question of whether faith will continue on earth until the coming of the Son of Man issues a challenge to the reader and hearer to be prayerful, watchful, and hopeful at all times.
- Have you experience times when you lost heart and felt hopeless? How does faith help us through such tough times?
- What is the role of Christians in helping others maintain hope?