READ : Luke 18:1
And he told them a parable, to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor regarded man; and there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, `Vindicate me against my adversary.’ For a while he refused; but afterward he said to himself, `Though I neither fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will vindicate her, or she will wear me out by her continual coming.'”
Luke 18:1-5 rsv
The poetry of Robert Browning was much loved and discussed by his contemporaries. While the poet was still alive, there were “Browning Societies” that gathered to talk about his work. Once the famous man attended one of those gatherings, incognito. As the group was discussing one of his poems, two members were in sharp disagreement about what it meant. Browning listened for a while, and then, without revealing his identity, rose to explain what the poem was about. The members of the club listened respectfully, but after he had finished, they all felt quite sure that their visitor had misunderstood the poet’s intention. Imagine that! You write a poem and you tell people what it means, but they like their own interpretations better!
I wonder if that sometimes happens with the parables, the stories that Jesus told during His ministry. Scholars debate about what they mean. If the Lord came into our learned gatherings and told us what He was trying to say in a parable, would we take Him seriously? Sometimes we aren’t clearly told in the Gospels what these stories of His were intended to convey.
Here is a story we can be sure about. In this case, we are told in advance why Jesus told the story. Next we hear the parable itself. Then the Lord draws certain lessons from it. Finally, He raises the question of what we will do about it. We don’t have to be in any doubt as to what the story means, why Jesus told it and what He wanted to happen as a result. There’s a vital clue right at the beginning. The whole passage is a call to lifelong prayerfulness.
Read Luke 18, beginning at verse 2:
“In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor regarded man; and there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, `Vindicate me against my adversary.’ For a while he refused; but afterward he said to himself, `Though I neither fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will vindicate her, or she will wear me out by her continual coming.'”
That’s the parable, just as Jesus told it. Try to get this incident clearly in focus. The first character to appear is a judge, about whom two things are said. One – he has no fear of God. That is, he doesn’t take God seriously. He lives his life as though God does not exist. God is not in his thoughts and plans. Though he is himself a judge, he never considers the fact that he is accountable for his own behavior. He never thinks of making the will of God a reason for what he does. He is a practical atheist.
The second thing about him is that he doesn’t “regard man.” That is, he doesn’t care about human beings. Their welfare, their happiness, their finding justice makes no difference to him. He doesn’t carry on his work with any sense of responsibility to people. He scarcely gives a thought to what effect his judgments will have upon others. This man is about as self-contained as a person could be. He cares only for himself. He makes decisions solely on the basis of his own opinions, with a view to his own best interests.
This is a strange sort of person, to be in a strategic place of responsibility, but there he is, passing out verdicts without conscience. He doesn’t care what God thinks about what he is doing, or how the persons involved may be helped or harmed. Can you imagine being judged by someone like that?
The second character in this little drama is a widow. She represents those who have meager resources, little influence, and no one to speak in their defense. They’re the little people of society often overlooked, easily preyed upon. Apparently something like that has happened in this widow’s case. She has been wronged, defrauded, robbed of something, abused in some way. She comes to the judge, quite understandably, with an appeal for justice. She says, “Vindicate me against my adversary.”
Maybe it’s a wealthy landowner that has gobbled up her property, or a con artist who has cheated her. What can she do against a powerful adversary? It’s no contest. She’s an easy mark. She can only plead her case with the authorities.
One thing is notable about the way she does that. She doesn’t take “no” for an answer. She keeps coming back with the same request. Over and over again, she appears at the judge’s door. Everywhere he goes, she is waiting for him, asking if he has taken care of this yet. She is tireless in pressing her need upon him. She may not be powerful, but she is persistent. She gives this judge no rest.
How does the judge react? As we would expect, he doesn’t know or fear the God who is on the side of the oppressed and maligned. He never trembles under a sense of personal accountability. He doesn’t expect any final assize, any great judgment day. And this woman is nothing to him. Why should he take her part, especially if her adversary (as was probably the case) is rich and powerful? There’s nothing about her or her cause that awakens his interest. His answer when she first appears is a flat “no.”
But after awhile, as she appeals to him hour by hour and pesters him at every turn, he begins to reconsider. “This woman is obsessed. She never lets me alone. She’s here all the time, knocking at my door, waiting in my office, accosting me every time I step through the door. It’s a bother to me personally. And what are people going to think? She makes a spectacle of herself in all these impassioned appeals for justice. If I don’t do something, I’m going to look bad. Or else I’m going to get an ulcer or be utterly worn out.” He says, “Though I neither fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will vindicate her, or she will wear me out by her continual coming.” So we not only learn what he does, but we look through a window into his mind and heart. We understand also why.
Why did Jesus tell this story? We aren’t left wondering about that. Here’s the reason: “He told them a parable, to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” Jesus believes that His followers ought to pray, that it’s necessary for them to pray. Further, they ought to pray always. That probably doesn’t mean nonstop praying, so much as ever-renewed praying. It’s not continuous, but continual. Jesus believes it’s tremendously important that people keep on praying throughout their lives. He would say to you that if there is a concern on your heart, something you deeply want God to do in your own life or the life of someone you love, if you’re burdened for someone, or longing to see God work in your world, then keep at it. Keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking until the answer comes.
The thing we mustn’t do is lose heart. The Lord knows us well. He understands how tempted we are at times to become discouraged, to get weary when prayers don’t seem to be answered. Our confidence begins to wane. We wonder to ourselves about all this praying, whether it really does any good. We’re sorely tempted at those times to give up, to abandon the quest, to stop praying before the answer has come. Jesus tells this story precisely so that we won’t do that. He wants us to take fresh courage and be able to hang in there with our prayers.
After He tells the story, we hear Him interpreting it for us, applying it to our lives. “And the Lord said, `Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God vindicate his elect, who cry to him day and night?'” (vv. 6-7).
Do you see what Jesus has done in this story? In the judge He has given us a picture of someone totally unresponsive to appeals for justice. If there were awards in this man’s graduating class, he would have been cited as “least likely to help anyone.” He doesn’t fear God, remember – no basis for appeal there. He doesn’t care about people – nothing inwardly moves him in that direction. But as you listen to what the judge says, you realize that even a heartless person like this will respond to repeated, passionate requests. This woman’s persistence conquered his resistance. Though there wasn’t a shred of godliness in him, or one drop of “the milk of human kindness,” he helped her because she wouldn’t leave him alone.
Now this is a clear argument from the lesser to the greater. If an absolutely heartless judge will do that for a persistent widow, how much more will God, the God of grace and faithfulness, respond to His own chosen ones when they cry to Him day and night? Is it conceivable, asks Jesus, that their prayers will go unheard? That they will be ignored and rejected? No! If a wicked man can be prevailed on to give help, how much more will the Father of mercies, the giver of every good and perfect gift, yield to the prayers of His children?
Could we possibly have a more powerful encouragement to keep on praying? Jesus is pointing us to the character of God. God loves us. He has chosen us. He wants the best for us. He delights to give us good gifts. So, Jesus teaches even though the answer may be long in coming, it will appear, surely. Perhaps suddenly.
Could your heartfelt prayers be wasted then for the conversion of a loved one, for the renewing of a congregation, for some deep inward transformation in your own life? It simply cannot be that your repeated, urgent pleas would be finally ignored. Everyone, says Jesus, who asks receives, everyone who seeks, finds. To everyone who knocks, it will be opened. Sooner will the heavens fall, than will the God who hears prayer disregard the pleading of our hearts.
Sometimes the answer is a long time in coming, isn’t it? People suffering under oppression sometimes cry out for long years and the heavy burdens don’t seem to lift. You’ve pleaded for someone close to you to have a change of heart, but the years have gone by and it hasn’t happened. You’re weary and your strength is small. You’re losing hope. But that’s what Jesus says you mustn’t do, because God is faithful.
Let’s review. Jesus lets us know why He is telling this story. Then He gives us the little vignette from life. Then He tells us what it is supposed to mean. Finally, He leaves us with a question, “Nevertheless, when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (v. 8). You would think so, wouldn’t you? After He made this so plain, after He told us so clearly to keep up our praying, wouldn’t you think that we would believe Him and venture on His promises? Wouldn’t you expect that we would persevere no matter what? You’d think so, but we are slow learners. Maybe that’s why Jesus goes over the same ground again and again. “Ask and you will receive. Seek and you will find. Knock and it will be opened to you” (see Matt. 7:7). For everyone who asks, receives, and he who seeks, finds, and to everyone who knocks, it will be opened. Six times, the same lesson. We need to know it in our bones.
I don’t believe there is anything in this world as important to the fulfillment of God’s purpose as a praying people. How is God’s name going to be hallowed in this world? How will His kingdom come, how will His will be done? By His sovereign grace and power, of course! But, not without the prayers of His people. Jesus Christ is looking for people who will keep on praying ardently for a lifetime. He was surprised and delighted here wherever He discovered real faith. He is wondering now about how much of it will be around when He returns. Doesn’t that make you want to say, “Lord, I want to be one of those. Whatever else I do or don’t do in life, I want to be like that nameless widow. I want to keep coming, to keep appealing to You. And I want to do it in the confidence that because of Jesus Christ and in His mighty name, those prayers will never, never, never be in vain.” Prayer is like seed sown on the heart of God; a harvest is coming. It’s like water accumulating behind the dam; the pressure builds. Lord, teach us to pray. And so make us strong by Your Spirit that we will never, never lose heart. Amen.