I wonder: "Do you consider yourself to be a praying person?"
It is quite possible that nobody has ever asked you that question before. It is equally possible that you have never even stopped to ask yourself that question. But for all that the question is important, very important indeed. Are you a praying man, a praying woman?
In Lk.18:1 we find that Jesus is still addressing himself to those who want to be numbered amongst his followers. The "them" in v.1 refers back to Lk.17:22, where turning from the Pharisees, Jesus speaks to the disciples. Now he tells them how they ought to conduct themselves if they are truly to be his followers.
Luke doesn’t hold anything back but straightaway tells us why Jesus told the parable that he is about to record: disciples are to be people who pray and people who, refusing to be discouraged, keep on praying.
If you think of yourself as a follower of Jesus Christ this morning how well are you doing when measured by this yardstick? If you are not yet a disciple then no amount of praying will make you a Christian. You can pray and pray and pray until you’re blue in the face but unless you begin with turning from your sin (what the Bible calls repentance) and asking God to forgive you on account of what Jesus has done then you will never become a true Christian. You will simply be another one of those millions of people who "pray" without ever being in a right relationship with God – and what a dreadful position to be in, apparently so near and yet in reality so far.
This morning as we think about this parable that Jesus told we must keep in mind that he is telling his followers how they are to behave. If you are a Christian he has something to say to you about your behaviour. If you are not yet a Christian then you can still listen in because this is what he will expect of you should you become a real Christian.
A Story with a Lesson to Teach
The parables that Jesus taught are all stories that are designed to teach a spiritual lesson or to communicate a spiritual truth. Luke leaves us in no doubt whatsoever as to the lesson that this particular story is meant to teach: disciples are to pray and to go on praying; they are not to lose heart and give up.
The story is usually referred to in one of two ways: some call it the "Parable of the Unjust Judge" while others prefer to name it the "Parable of the Persistent Widow". The reasons are plain to see: the story concerns two principal actors – a judge and a widow.
Let’s look at these two characters in turn:
This was a man with a reputation and one that he was proud of!
He was a godless man having no respect for, or fear of, God. We are not off to a good start with such a person. Immediately we are a bit suspicious – and our suspicions are soon confirmed when we read that he had no particular regard for men either.
Now I know that not being dependent upon the opinions of mere men might usually be considered a good thing in a judge – he would be free to offer impartial decisions and not allow himself to be swayed by what others thought of him.
But in this case this independence of thought is not a positive factor. Here we are confronted with a judge who recognises no higher authority than himself and is indeed a law unto himself. In short he is a selfish man who is driven only by what he considers to further his own personal interests.
As a judge he ought to have been directed by matters of justice but, while he possessed the ability to discern and recognise justice when he saw it, he was not however driven by a determination to see justice prevail.
In short this was not the kind of man that you would want to sit in judgment over you. He well warrants the description he has acquired for himself of the "unjust judge" – he was not a man of quality and there was nothing about his character that would have served to encourage the widow in her quest for justice.
Before we get to the specifics of this particular widow let us first notice quite simply that she was a widow. As a widow she was one of those disadvantaged members of society. A widow’s position was fragile and widows were often lumped together with those other groups – orphans and foreigners – who were at the bottom of the pile where they had little influence or security. A widow was typically someone on her own with no-one to look out for her and her interests.
So the woman in Jesus’ story was not in a strong position – widows could be easily exploited. And this particular widow’s experience looked like it was heading that way too.
She had an adversary at law and although she was in the right – the justice of her cause is underlined again and again in Jesus’ story – she was not able to gain the justice she and her case merited.
Humanly speaking things did not look promising for her. Yes, she had right on her side but that was about it apart from, of course, her indomitable personality. Having gone to court she was not about to give up at the first rebuttal. If the judge in question was not prepared to give her the justice that was rightfully hers she’d just keep right on coming to him with her repeated plea:
v.3b "Give me justice against my adversary."
The Judge is Worn Down
As we hear the story it doesn’t seem that the judge had found against this widow’s claims but rather he couldn’t be bothered to do anything about them!
With self-interest being his chief concern he probably looked at this poor lady as being unable either to bring a bribe which might have influenced him or even to call upon the support of influential members of society. Whatever his reasons he apparently did nothing, he certainly did not give this widow the justice she sought.
The judge had simply put her off and he fully expected that that would be the end of it all. He had not reckoned with the persistence this redoubtable lady!
She didn’t consider the apparent hopelessness of her situation and she refused to buckle instead she adopted the strategy that would in the end prove to be effective.
It got to the stage that the judge dreaded seeing her coming. For a while he persisted in not dealing properly with her claims but still she came and always the same plea: "Give me justice, give me justice."
Finally he could take no more of it. His character didn’t change – it wasn’t that he turned over a new leaf and determined to be a better judge from now on. Nothing of the kind – but he realised he could best serve his own interests in giving this woman the justice she so earnestly pursued. This is how Jesus’ describes his thinking:
v.5 "this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming."
The words "beat me down" literally suggest being hit with a blow in the face – the kind of blow that leads to a black eye. Now the text doesn’t suggest that the judge gave ground out of fear of a physical attack but it surely does serve to indicate the passion with which this widow pursued her case!
And so her persistence finally won the day.
And the story is told to teach Jesus’ disciples that they need to pray and to go on without losing heart.
Comparisons and Contrasts
Well, we have thought about the story that Jesus told and now we have to consider just how such a story is going to bring about the results that Jesus intended?
In order to do this we must be aware of the following differences:
The widow is presented to us as a petitioner. She has her request to put and she does that very effectively too. She thus is an example to the disciple who must learn from her as he/she learns to pray.
How well do we compare with her? What truths are there in her experience that will serve as encouragements to us and from which we will do well to learn.
On the other the hand the judge is the one who receives the widow’s petitions. However when we think of the judge who heard the widows requests and God who hears our own we are no longer in the realms of comparison so much as in contrast. The overriding factor is not the similarity but the enormous difference that exists between this unjust judge and our glorious God.
Firstly, what lessons are we to learn from the widow?
She has a just cause
She is only too aware of her need
She cannot secure justice by her own efforts but does not sink into inactivity
The outcome is important to her and she is passionate about it
She doesn’t lose heart despite the circumstances that might well push her to do so
I want to suggest to you this morning that your prayer life as a disciple of Jesus Christ will only be successful to the extent that these things that characterised the widow in the parable characterise us too!
We will find it hard to pray perseveringly if we are not convinced that our requests are just. If our prayers are full of selfish self-interest then we will find ourselves resembling the unjust judge rather than the widow. It will be difficult to pray on and on when our core motivation is all wrong.
We won’t pray either if we are blind to our need or if we fail to appreciate the seriousness of our need.
Focusing upon our own resources may lead us to abandon hope leading us to spiritual passivity. We might denigrate our praying by saying to ourselves and perhaps to others that all we can do is pray – as though prayer was somehow insignificant when in fact to truly pray is the most we can do!
Sometimes we are quite simply not that concerned about whether we get what we ask for in prayer. The shallowness of our concern may be exposed by how ready we are to give up. How easily we even come to forget what we have at one time asked for! You do not have, because you do not ask and go on asking!!
Sometimes we focus too much on the obstacles and difficulties and stop praying as if the obstacles and difficulties were actually too great for God.
We began the service with some verses about Elijah and his prayer life. He wasn’t a spiritual super-hero indeed he was just like us but he prayed and prayed seriously. Do you remember how he prayed for rain to fall again after he previously prayed for a drought that lasted 3 and a half years? He prayed and sent his servant to see if there was any sign of his prayer having been heard and answered – and he did this 7 times before the slightest evidence was discovered. How passionate and engaged he was! Are we believers? Then where is our own passion and earnestness in prayer? And does it last? Or do we blow hot and cold? Where is the consistency in our lives?
Before we finish we must also learn our lessons as we examine the contrasts that are laid before us concerning the judge and our God.
Jesus summed up his parable by basically saying that if the unrighteous judge might be brought somewhat reluctantly to do the right thing for the widow then how much more likely it is that the elect (Jesus’ disciples) will get what they need from God!
Notice the description "the elect" – these are the ones that God himself has chosen! The rest of the NT fills in detail as to what God has done for the elect – he chose them before the foundation of the world to be saved by means of their union with the Christ he chose in his love to send for them! He has worked by his Spirit to draw men and women and boys and girls to Jesus for none can come to Jesus unless the Father draw them. He has so ordered the minutest details of our existence compelling each one to work in favour of our eternal spiritual well-being!
A God who has done all this and more will surely not refuse the persevering prayers of his people! And notice too how Jesus assumes that his followers will pray urgently and at every opportunity – when he refers to those "who cry to him day and night" v.7 he is not emphasising the length of our prayers so much as the repeatedness of them – those who pray in the day-time and the night-time! But pray his people will!
Such a God will answer appropriate prayer and answer it speedily too – not perhaps always as instantly as we might like or perhaps he does answer even quicker than that but it may take time for the answers to be received at our end.
May God enable us to learn our lessons from this parable. May we become more and more those who pray, those who don’t lose heart, and those who don’t give up.
The parable and explanation is brought to a sober conclusion as Jesus reflects a little on the matter of his return. When he returns will he find faith, this kind of faith, amongst his followers on earth? If he came today would he find it with us as individuals?
May those of us who profess to be disciples of Jesus Christ live in the way he expects his disciples to live!
And may those who are yet to call upon the name of the Lord to be saved do so and so begin the life of true praying Christian discipleship.
And to God be the Glory.