My wife and I are not parents yet, although we hope to be someday. But certainly many parents can relate to the family vacation taken in the car. It will not be too long before the kids in the back will begin asking, “Are we there yet?” Usually it is not a quick answer that will satisfy them, and so they will persist: “Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” Ever been there? Ever answer, “We’ll get there when we get there”?
In one of his most powerful parables, Jesus addresses the persistence a disciple needs in prayer by describing a widow who has child-like persistence. Luke 18.1 sets the scene for us: “And he told them a parable…” That is, Jesus told his disciples (17.22) a parable. What was the parable about? “…to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” In other words, that they should have a persistent prayer life, speaking often with God.
The Persistent Widow
The first character we are introduced to is a judge. Jesus gives us the specific details that he “neither feared God nor respected man.” So here is a “man’s man,” who needs no one to tell him what to do or how to do his job. He is self-sufficient. The next character is a widow. She is the picture of helplessness, no one to depend on. Unlike the judge who needs no one, this widow does need someone, anyone to help her. Someone has harmed her and she has no husband to give her the protection. She turns to the judge for help.
Here is where it gets interesting: it not simply a one time affair with this widow – again and again she keeps coming back to this judge probably with the same plea, “Give me justice against my adversary.” This man, it would seem, refuses to grant it. According to the Law, this man was under a curse because of his refusal to grant this widow justice (Deut. 27.19). Apparently his punishment was seeing this widow over and over. For a while he could do it…but eventually she wore him out. His final assessment: He will give her justice lest she totally wear him out with her persistence. Although he neither feared God nor respected man, he granted this woman the justice due her.
The Persistent Elect
This parable is about the elect, the chosen of God, and their prayer life. Jesus says, “Listen to this unrighteous judge.” There is something we need to understand about God even from this bad dude. How much more will God, who is righteous, answer the constant pleas of those he has chosen as his very own possession. Connect “day and night” in v.7 with “always” of v.1 – pray all the time. Not necessarily pray more, although this teaching directed to a Jewish audience would imply that, but pray and keep praying and don’t stop. The Jews thought three times a day was plenty of prayer. For us today, we think meals and morning and evening prayers will do. Jesus teaches to “pray always.” Said by Paul, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5.17).
There’s a promise here: God will hear and “give justice speedily.” That is, he will right the wrongs committed and deal out retribution. Too often we want to deal out our own vengence; God says, “Vengence is mine, I will repay” (Rom 12.19; Deut 32.35). What are we to do when wronged? Pray and keep praying and don’t stop praying to God.
There is one final note: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” This is an invitation. We may have faith now, but will we continue to have faith in God when we may not see the answer to our prayers right away. What if it does take to the Day of Judgment for your prayers to be answered and justice to be served. Will your faith still be intact? Will Jesus find you engaged in constant prayer? Or will he find you in spiritual slumber? Will he find you lukewarm in your Christianity (and therefore your prayer life)? Its a challenge, yes. But that is the nature of our Lord: He is always trying to make us better.
Acknowledgements: Thanks to my good friend Justin White for your input and thoughts concerning this parable.