And [Jesus] told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. 3 And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ 4 For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” 6 And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. 7 And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? 8 I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
Dear Fellow Redeemed:
Last week, after Jesus had warned His disciples about temptations to sin, they had responded, “Increase our faith.” Just before today’s text, Jesus has told them that before the coming of God’s Kingdom
He will have to “suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.” He talks also about
the suddenness of the kingdom’s coming (Luke 17:20-37).
Knowing He is saying difficult things to them, He emphasizes the trustworthiness of God. He encourages faith that turns to Him in times of trouble.
A couple more chapters ahead in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus will say, “Beware of the scribes…who devour widows' houses and for a pretense make long prayers (Luke 20:46,47). There, Jesus is focusing His attention on the hypocrisy and cruelty of the Scribes because of their treatment of widows. In our text for today, Jesus gives us the other side of that scenario: the plight of the poor widow who begs for justice in such a situation.
Now, we don’t know for sure that in this parable the one she calls her adversary is a scribe. It could be; or it could be someone else in a powerful position who is treating shamefully a person who is very vulnerable in society. Widows were not included in the inheritance laws of the Jews. They had no real voice. This widow is doing the only thing that is within her power to do. And in the parable she is in the unfortunate circumstance of pouring her heart out to a judge who seems to take pleasure in not caring about people.
This judge may represent a certain sort of Jewish judges who were known among the people as Robber-judges because of their tendency to draw a large salary from the temple treasury, and to be arbitrary in their duties. The Jewish Talmud says of them that for a dish of meat they would pervert justice (Edersheim, p.674). Jesus says of the judge in our text, that he neither feared God nor respected man. It’s hard to imagine, in a situation like this, that justice could be done, though the woman has kept coming to him. The judge’s inner thought about the woman is: [She] keeps bothering me.
But he gets so tired of it. It’s cramping his style. He can’t bear seeing this person any longer, or hearing her complaint. What a guy. So, out of exasperation, the judge finally determines to do what it has been his duty to do all along, and give the woman justice.
Now, we always fit somewhere into Jesus’ parables. Where do we fit here? It isn’t justice for ourselves that we’re seeking from God. It wouldn’t make any sense for us to ask for that. The wages of sin is death, Paul writes (Romans 6:23). That’s justice. Were we to beg God for justice, we would be begging Him to uncover the vileness of our sinful flesh, and to put to it the punishment that it rightly deserves.
Rather, we rejoice with the Psalmist, who writes: He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities (Psalm 103:10). We rejoice that He gives us mercy, rather than justice. He’s the One Who says in our Old Testament lesson: I know the plans I have for you…plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11).
Remember what the point of all of this has been: Jesus has been encouraging strong faith in His disciples. He wants them to trust so entirely in God’s goodness toward them, that they will not give up asking Him for it. The “not lose heart” portion of Jesus’ statement is arguably the most important part.
He is exhorting this because losing heart is what we tend to do. Remember that Jesus has been talking about the coming of God’s kingdom. He knew that the kingdom wasn’t going to come in the lifetimes of these disciples. Some of them would grow old in this world waiting for it. They would see their Lord crucified while they were waiting. They would experience persecution while they continued to wait. No doubt they were praying for the coming of His kingdom (just as we do when we say in the Lord’s Prayer, Thy kingdom come). But it wasn’t coming…immediately, right? And it isn’t (so far) in our time either. Saint Peter addresses this in his second letter. He writes: Do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance (2 Peter 1:8,9). The Lord has His good time, and it is determined by Him in mercy, so that the most possible can be saved.
But as we continue to pray Thy kingdom come, we continue to suffer the difficulties of this world. Our bodies keep getting older and frailer. We suffer disappointments in our work and in our relationships. We endure things like pandemics. We fall into temptations that burden us. Haven’t we experienced the kind of desperation about which Jesus is warning His disciples in our text? Haven’t we wondered as we continue to pray, whether God is really hearing us? Haven’t we wondered whether He is like a judge who just sees us an irritation?
Look how Jesus addresses that in this parable. He says, Will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Now, we said that it wouldn’t be useful for us to ask for justice from God; and here, it’s talking about Him giving us justice. Jesus’ disciples can put their entire trust in God’s goodness because He is just, and He’s merciful. It is just that we pay the price for our sins. But God has enacted that justice upon His own Son instead. Jesus took the wages of your sins. God dealt with Him according to your sins; He repaid Him according to your iniquities. He was able to have plans for your welfare, by having plans for His evil. Jesus put Himself fully in God’s hands of mercy to make up for your having grown weary and doubted that mercy. Your sins are forgiven in Him.
You aren’t, like the woman in the parable, going to overwhelm God with your prayers so that He relents like the unrighteous judge did. That isn’t the comparison here. Rather, Jesus wants you to have faith that clings to God’s mercy no matter how long it takes. He’s the one of Whom St. Paul writes, “The Lord knows those who are his.” He wants to help you. He wants to be merciful to you. Your cries to Him are heard and responded to.
He has gathered you with other believers in a place like this so that He can hear your prayers, and so that He can fortify your faith through preaching like this. Jesus wanted you to always pray and not lose heart. It’s so important to Him, in fact, that He has you come forward to His Table to receive from Him the very special gift of His body and blood joined with bread and wine. Please don’t minimize it in your mind by thinking of it as a symbolic eating and drinking, that merely reminds you of Christ’s body and blood. Then it isn’t anything all that important, is it? Then it isn’t giving you anything substantial. Recognize the redeeming body and blood of the Lord present in it. Recognize what St. Paul says about it, that the cup is the communion of the blood of Christ, and that the bread is the communion of the body of Christ. It isn’t meant merely to remind you of something that gives you a nice feeling in your heart; it is to be what sustains you in this world during this difficult time between Christ’s ascension into heaven all that time ago, and His coming in glory to bring you to be with Him in His kingdom. It sustains you in the faith that clings to God’s mercy as you pray day after day, year after year Thy kingdom come.
Jesus’ question at the end of the text is a commentary of sorts, on the state of things. It was a rallying cry for the fledgling church then, and it continues to be so in our own day. Will there even be those who believe like this, so as to always pray in faith when Christ returns? What work there was for the disciples to do. What work for us! Our prayer for God’s kingdom to come implies also a prayer that He prepare us, and prepare everyone for its coming.
Let us pray. Lord of the Church, give us faith that clings to God’s mercy. Enable it to be an enduring faith no matter how long the prayer, Thy kingdom come, must be prayed. Give us hearts that long to be merciful as you have been so to us. In the Name of the One Who trusted perfectly in our place, and Who bore for us the burden of Divine justice, Amen.