Monday, March 22, 2021

Luke 18:1-8

Luke 18:1–8 (ESV): The Parable of the Persistent Widow


This passage recounts one of Jesus’ more commonly known parables. In it there is a judge “who neither feared God nor respected man” (verse 2 (ESV)), as well as a widow who kept going back to that judge demanding justice against her adversary. The judge refuses her at first, but he eventually gives in. Though maybe not for the most ethical of reasons:

"For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself,‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” (verses 4–5 (ESV), Jesus speaking)

Jesus then uses the example of this judge to compare him to God: If this unrighteous man will give justice for the wrong reasons, how much more will God, who is righteous, provide justice to His elect? “I tell you,” Jesus says, “he will give justice to them speedily” (verse 8 (ESV)).

And then Jesus finishes this teaching with a rhetorical question: “Nevertheless,” he asks, "when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (verse 8 (ESV))


It’s not a minor detail that the person demanding justice in this parable is a widow. Widows in Jesus’ day were powerless; they had no resources of their own. So if the judge hadn’t delivered justice for her, she’d have had no other recourse. What else could she possibly do? Really, her persistence was the only asset she actually had! And when we go before God ourselves, we should view ourselves as similarly powerless before Him.

The obvious moral of this story is that when God’s people are crying out for justice from Him, they should be persistent about it. We shouldn’t just pray, see that nothing is happening, and then give up. In fact, I think we sometimes take the opposite message from this story as we should: at a glance, it would be easy to read this parable and come away thinking that it means that God—who is righteous, and not like the judge in this story—will speedily answer our prayers for justice. If we pray for justice, He’ll immediately answer. (After all, Jesus even uses the word “speedily!”) Instead, I think Jesus has the opposite situation in mind: What about when we pray for justice, and it doesn’t seem like God is answering? Those times when it seems He is silent, or unwilling to deliver justice? It is at these times that we should remember that God is not like the judge in this parable. God is just and righteous; God will answer our prayers for justice. When it doesn’t seem like the answers to those prayers are coming quick enough, that is when we should remember this parable. If we jump on the easy (and incorrect) interpretation of this parable there will be times when it seems like God is silent, or unwilling to deliver justice, and then we’ll give up on Him, thinking he’s no better than the judge in this parable. But if we remember who God is, we’ll have faith that, even if it doesn’t seem like it to us, He is answering our calls for justice “speedily,” from His perspective.

And then Jesus ends this parable/teaching, about God’s faithfulness, with a rhetorical question as to whether He’ll find faith in us when He returns. To me, this question sounds somewhat pessimistic. “I’ll be faithful to you,” he seems to be saying, “but can I trust you to be faithful to me?” My study Bible take a more positive approach, interpreting this rhetorical question as Jesus encouraging his listeners to constant watchfulness and prayer, which is definitely in line with the overall parable. I’ll admit that I sometimes get a little overly pessimistic about the Church, viewing us as doing a very poor job of living up to God’s standards, but I sometimes need to remind myself that we do have His Spirit, and He will preserve His Church, and the Church has been going for over 2,000 years, so… perhaps there’s hope for us after all.

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