Something (Not Quite Simple) To Keep Reading and Keep Praying

Luke 18:1-3, Jesus’ parable of the persistent widow, is interesting to me. In his one-verse introduction to the parable (18:1) Luke, the gospel writer, gives its meaning and the reason Jesus told it. He says, “Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show they that they should always pray and not give up.” 

In the parable and in its further explanation, (verses 2-8) we encounter the cast of characters. There are only three. First there is a judge who does not fear God or care about people. Second there is a widow who persistently comes to the judge with the plea, “Grant me justice against my adversary.” The third character is the woman’s adversary, who owes her justice. Because he won’t act, she needs the judge to compel his action.

We learn from Jesus that the judge, though he cares for nothing beyond himself, will eventually give the widow justice though he does not care for God or people. He will do this for entirely selfish reasons, because she is wearing him out.
In his explanation of the parable (verses 6-8) Jesus introduces a fourth character- God. Jesus says, “And will not God bring 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 speedily.”

Jesus is comparing the judge in the parable who does not care for God or people with God Himself who loves people and is passionate about His own Kingdom. He will see that those who call to him for justice get it, and get it speedily.

However, one of the difficult details of this parable is that Jesus seems to see problems which are not readily apparent to us. He adds to the affirmation that his elect who cry out for and seek justice will get it speedily, the warning, “However when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

Since Luke has already told us that Jesus tells the parable so that we will always pray and not give up, it seems apparent that Jesus is really concerned that we may give up praying to the effect that when he returns there will no longer be faith on earth! For individuals like you and me this parable probably means that we need to pray our whole lives and not give up! For a community of faith it might mean that they pray for millennia and do not give up. Jesus seems to believe that we have a very short-term view of how long we need to keep praying. Yet at the same time, as I said, Jesus talks about God answering our prayers speedily! After all, God, unlike the unjust judge, does care about His kingdom and He does love people, and so Jesus affirms that those who pray persistently will find God acting speedily! This all seems very hard at least for my mind to understand, unless Jesus is pointing out that in the time frame he inhabits, God acts speedily, but in our time frame and in our experience, it may seem to be taking a long time or even a lifetime for his speedy answers to occur. I am not quite sure.

But without doubt, the main affirmation in the parable is to keep praying to God for justice against our adversary (and I am going to argue in the next sentences that our adversary is the devil.) There is another verse in Acts about a certain kind of injustice (illness) which I find illuminates the verse we have been discussing. Acts 10:38 says “how Jesus of Nazareth went about doing good and healing all those who were oppressed by the devil.” In Luke 18 the widow is asking for justice against her “adversary.” In Acts 10:38 we learn that Luke says our adversary the devil is responsible for disease, and that Jesus heals disease. Matthew 8:17 and Isaiah 53:4 both show that Jesus has borne our sicknesses on the cross and has paid the price for them. 

Therefore (I would say) even though the parable in Luke 18 is about all injustice, it is unjust for our enemy or adversary the devil any longer to keep in sickness (Acts 10:38) those who belong to Christ and for whose healing Christ has already paid the price. We can pray to Christ on that basis just like the widow prays in Luke 18.

Yes, there are aspects of this parable that are beyond my understanding, but the things I do not fully understand about it do not keep me from doing what Jesus told the parable to get us to do--keep praying expectantly!

Mike Endicott sent this. I am adding it at the end. 
This quote below is a good one for me to add to my own pondering:

   "According to Jesus, by far the most important thing about
praying is to keep at it... Be importunate, Jesus says--not,
one assumes, because you have to beat a path to God's door
before he'll open it, but because until you beat the path maybe
there's no way of getting to your door."
   ... Frederick Buechner (b. 1926), Wishful Thinking: A
         Theological ABC, Harper & Row, 1973, revised,
         HarperCollins, 1993, p. 70

Winfield Casey Jones is a retired pastor and can be reached at wrjones2002@gmail.com. This column first appears in the Pearland and Friendswood Reporter News.

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