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The Parable of the Persistent Widow for Today

(Photo from: http://access-jesus.com/Luke/Luke_18.html)As the future grows bleak and some wonder what it might hold or how bad it may get, it is important to remember that Jesus taught that just prior to His coming, things would get really bad, nothing like what we may experience in the next few years.  I’m not one who carries a sign and cries, “the end is near!”  I don’t even spend much time studying end-times prophecy.  I am one, however, who takes seriously Jesus’ admonition to watch and be ready; with “being ready” as the thrust of that admonition.

With that in mind, however, Jesus does offer some help for when times are tough. While Jesus was talking about really tough times- like when you don’t pause to gather your belongings before high-tailing it out of town, or you dare not attempt to go back to your house from the field before running for safety; I believe that the help He offers is also available today when Christians feel like things are bad enough to call on Him, really call on Him.  Let’s look at this parable to see how to access that help:

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?” (Luke 18:1-8, NIV)

To correctly understand this parable of the Persistent Widow found in Luke 18:1-8, we must be sure that we understand the preceding passage which has Jesus telling His disciples about coming trouble.  This passage in Luke 17:22-37 equates the days before Jesus’ return with the days before the judgment of the world in Noah’s lifetime and the days before the judgment of Sodom in Lot’s lifetime.  Jesus makes clear that life will be going on as usual, eating, drinking, marrying, etc.  This seems to agree with other statements of Jesus where He makes clear that people of the earth cannot fully know the day or the hour of His coming.

This passage in chapter 17, however, indicates extremely difficult times, from which escape will be difficult and those being plucked away in that persecution and/or judgment will be swift and apparently indiscriminate.  It is in these terrible days that Jesus says the disciples will be driven to long for the day when He was physically with them, offering His sound wisdom, comforting words, and powerful intervention.  His disciples of future generations will also long for days that they had not known, but will greatly desire Jesus’ physical presence.

It is to these fearful days that Jesus brings the teaching on prayer that we find in the parable of the Persistent Widow.  The Biblical author introduces the parable with his suggestion of why Jesus shared this parable with his disciples:  “to show them that they should always pray and not give up” (v. 1).

The judge that Jesus describes is one likely not recognizable to Christians today.  21st century judicial systems, at least in the developed world, are generally fair and impartial so that someone bringing their case before the court can be reasonably assured of fair and just treatment.  Today’s Christian needs to try to imagine a judge who has no regard for the rule of law, no fear of personal retribution for his rulings and no real concern for people who come before his bench.  This is the type of judge which Jesus presents in this parable.

The widow who Jesus introduces could be more easily recognized by 21st century Christians.  Many people today know that little old lady whose husband died years ago and who either never had children or whose children don’t live near her and therefore offer her little assistance.  Before he died, her husband squeaked out a respectable, but meager, living which now barely provides for the essential needs of his surviving wife.

Now this widow finds herself in need of legal help, “justice” as Jesus puts it.  As she peruses the docket, she discovers that her deepest fear is realized.  Again, her case was assigned to the worst judge in the county, the one who seems not to care at all about her case and has little concern for how much she needs his help.  But again, just as she has done countless times before, she patiently pleads her case to the inattentive judge, hoping that maybe this time he will show some compassion and find in her favor.

But relief, yet again, eludes her.  Once again the judge denies her request and once again she goes home discouraged, hopeless, alone.  But still, as often as she can get her case on the docket, she goes back to the courthouse.  And just as often, she gets that same judge who continuously denies her request.  Until one day, after countless retellings of her complaint and repeatedly hearing the “whack” of the gavel accompanied by the angry word from his lips, “denied!” she hears the unexpected.  The judge relents; he gives in to her request and grants her relief.

The judge readily admits that  he has little concern for her case, that he does not care whether she gets the help she needs or not, but he is sick and tired of her constantly coming before him and wasting his time with the same old complaint, week after week.  So to finally be rid of her, he grants her request.

In our passage, Jesus contrasts this judge who “neither feared God nor cared about men” (v. 2) to the Heavenly Father.  All of the original readers would understand that the Heavenly Father is nothing like this unjust judge.  Christians today, with the benefit of the rest of the Bible, know that God cares about all of His creation.  He cares about the needs and burdens of His children, His disciples.  Everyone who knows God knows that He hears their prayers.  In this contrast Jesus asserts with His ratorical question what should be obvious to all who believe, “And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night?” (v. 7)

But Christians should be careful not to confuse this loving and caring God with a judge similar to one I came before once as a teenager during my wild oats-sewing days.  I found out after I got off with a minimal fine that he was known as the “freedom judge” because he so often lets people off, or with only minor fines.  God will not give to those who ask Him anything they want.  He will not just be the go-to-God for any whimsical desire or shallow plea.  To see the answers that God wants to provide, believers need to seek, as they  pray, the divine will of God in their situation.  It could be deliverance, healing or rescue.  Or perhaps it could be grace to persevere in the midst of trials or inner peace that allows one to live within  a society without peace and full of turmoil.  It may be  healing, deliverance or rescue that is provided by the passing from this life to the next.  Or, sometime in our future, it may mean martyrdom, dying for your faith.

So Christians today need to be aware that there are difficult days ahead.  They may feel that after the recent election that this country is in the midst of those days, but rest assured that this is nothing compared to the days that are coming just before Jesus returns to the earth.  There will be persecution; there will be great fear as everyone wonders who can be trusted or who may be watching who to report to the authorities for their Christian witness.

When these days come, or even when Christians experience difficult days in their lives today, Jesus wants them to remember that God will hear their prayer for help.  He will see as they earnestly come to Him with their request, praying for the will of God to be accomplished in their lives and their world.  But as this parable reveals, it is those who pray persistently, who come to Him “day and night” (v. 7) who will receive His sure and effective answer.

Jesus concludes this parable with the rhetorical question, “However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (v. 8) The Christian’s faith grows with every answer to prayer that God provides.  The Christian’s faith grows as he or she observes God’s hand at work.  The Christian’s faith grows as obedience and holy living produces the promised results of an abundant and full life.  So as Christians live their lives as the Scripture teaches, their faith will ultimately grow and this faith, along with that of millions of other Christians around the world who have also persevered, will greet Jesus when He comes in the air to receive them unto Himself, answering His question with a resounding, “Yes, He will find faith on the earth!”

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