Luke 18: 1 – 8 The parable of the persistent widow
Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, “Grant me justice against my adversary.”
‘For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, “Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!” ‘
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? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?’
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This parable is odd. Other parables that Jesus told were razor sharp. Each character was carefully drawn to illustrate precisely what the teaching was all about. Think of the sower of seed (Luke 8: 1 – 15), the good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25 – 37), and, especially, the prodigal son (Luke 15: 11 – 32).
By contrast, this parable has as a main character, an unjust judge. Furthermore, the story seems to encourage us to pray to God with the tenacity that we would show if he were an unjust judge.
Mosaic Law made provision for widows:
Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. (Exodus 22:22)
He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. (Deuteronomy 10:18)
When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. (Deuteronomy 24: 19 – 22)
In showing hardness of heart towards the widow, the unjust judge was clearly ignoring the spirit of the Law, even if he were not strictly obliged to act for her. Can we really say that the unjust judge represents God the Father in his approach to the petitions of believers?
Instead, let’s try focussing on the widow.
She was persistent. She harried the judge; she stalked him; her behaviour towards him was plainly threatening and potentially violent, as we see when the judge says, ‘I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!”
Is that really how we’re supposed to approach God with our prayers of intercession?
The take home message is clearly, “Keep praying for what you need, and don’t be put off if it’s slow in coming. Keep praying!”
Even St Luke seems to think that the parable needs explanation, because he explains right at the start what the parable is meant to teach us. “Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.”
Both parable and the teaching based on it seem unhelpful in some circumstances. We’ve all prayed earnestly for people and situations and the prayer hasn’t been answered in the way we would expect. The widow would, I am sure, have shouted at the judge!
But isn’t it more productive to think harder about what we are actually praying for? After all, if God is to grant our petition, it has to be in accordance with his will. If we are not to be disappointed, perhaps we should spend more time and effort in listening to God and seeking his will.
What do you think?
Thank you that you are not an unjust judge, but rather a merciful father who knows what his children need before they ask. Help me to pray as you would wish me to pray, so that I may be better aligned with your will, and walk more closely with Jesus.
In Jesus’ name, Amen