When Luke wrote the stories of Christ’s life down in his Gospel, he made sure to record how Jesus wants His followers to live life for Him. Many times, Jesus chose to explain it through stories of His own, called parables. In our parable for today, Luke said Jesus told it “…to show them that they should always pray and never give up.” Here is the story:
“‘In a certain town there was as judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. 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 nor care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming.”’”
Then Jesus explained what He meant by the story:
“‘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.’”
Do you see how Jesus makes an argument with this story? If even a wicked judge will listen to someone who harasses him with her appeals…and even if it is a lowly widow…what will a good and gracious Lord do for those He loves ardently? If even a weak, corrupt person will give in to urgent appeals out of annoyance, what will the pursuing, initiating God do for His own lavishly adored children?
It is important to remember that these verses are first and foremost about the return of Christ, for that will be the time when everything is made right. Every injustice and wrong will be turned on its head, and God will make all things new. It is worth spending a great deal of time in earnest prayer about that epic day…for when we finally understand the tremendous goodness awaiting us, all the things of this world will be like tin cans to diamonds by comparison (see 2 Corinthians 4:7-18 and Colossians 3:1-4).
We know that total justice will be exercised at the end of time, and that can be an incredible comfort. But God also works to bring goodness and righteousness for His followers who are suffering right now. His chosen ones should not lose heart! They can cry out to their Father, knowing that He is not a stubborn, mean-spirited judge. He will hear our prayers. He might take more time bringing His help than we want Him to, and there may be days when it feels like our prayers have gone unheard. And with some things, we may have to wait until we have joined Christ in Heaven to see full healing and the full righteousness of God. But those who persevere in faith will see the deliverance of the Lord in the end.
As Jesus finished His story, He asked, “‘However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?’” Why do you think He asked this? Was He worried? Is there a chance that there will not be a single faithful person left when He returns? Why would He ask that?
Well, Jesus was issuing a challenge. Nobody knows the time of His return. It could happen tomorrow. It could happen in a hundred years. But each generation is to live and pray as if He might come today because when He does come, He will be looking for those who are earnestly faithful to their Mighty King. We can read Jesus’ question as, “When I come, will I find you being faithful?”
In many ways, this was also a mournful question. For all that Jesus was doing as He preached and healed the people of Israel, for all that He was willing to do for us in His excruciating sacrifice on the cross, the hard-heartedness of humanity is still capable of faithlessness…we still prefer sin and self-sufficiency over the Lover of our souls. If you think about how great the love of God is for us…He sent His own Son to die on our behalf…it is stunning to think how sorrowful it must be that so many of us continue to reject Him and run away. And yet generation after generation, He perseveres in His mercy and love, pursuing a race that bent on it’s own destruction.
That must be part of Christ’s reason for telling the story of the widow. Rather than run away from her judge, she ran to him, seeking his help and protection even though he was totally unworthy of her trust. In the days of Jesus, a widow was a very vulnerable woman. She wouldn’t have a husband to watch over her or protect her against greedy and sinful men who might take advantage of her weaker position in society. But when we picture a feisty widow going to a hardened judge appealing to him over and over again for justice, crying out for help, and driving him to move on her behalf, we have a different image entirely. The widow was not without a way. Her determination changed her story. There was something she could do, and even if circumstance were against her and the judge was a bad man, it was something she could work with. And she did.
A widow is a powerful image of someone who is defenseless. That is how many of us often feel in this harsh world. Many of us feel overwhelmed by circumstances that seem impossible. But there is Someone we can go to. In fact, there is Someone we are meant to go to. He is supposed to be our hope and trust. The great, big, magnificent difference is that our Judge in Heaven loves us and longs to give us justice, mercy, and peace. We can come to His throne with our prayers in freedom and confidence at all times.
If you think about that, it is a pretty stunning truth, and the fact that we often are not amazed is because we haven’t really grasped it. The God who created the universe wants to hear from us…a lot. With this parable, Jesus is telling us to PESTER GOD continually and relentlessly in prayer because God wants to be the center of how we think about getting our needs met.
After telling the story about the widow, Jesus told another parable. This time, He gives an example of two people saying their prayers. One of them comes with beautiful humility. The other comes with a much different attitude. He is obnoxious. The only problem is, there is a powerful temptation in every human heart to be just like him! Stories are a powerful way to help us see how ugly certain attitudes and behaviors are in the characters that might be the very same ones we harbor in our own hearts…and that can be a strong motivator for change. Listen to what Jesus said:
“‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, robbers, evildoers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”’”
Wow. That guy sure sounds spiritual, doesn’t he? This is what Jesus said about the other man:
“‘But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”’”
Then Jesus said:
“‘I tell you that this man [the tax collector], rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.’”
The disciples were shocked. What? The twist at the end of the story was a bit too much for them. In Israel, tax collectors were considered the scum of the earth. Regular Jews wouldn’t even eat a meal with them. But a Pharisee would be considered a highly honored guest.
Jesus was explaining that it is the person who comes before the Lord with humility who pleases God, even though he truly is sinful. The Pharisee who came before God with arrogance was an offense! He took prayer, a sacred, solemn gift that should bring us in to humble, repentance and gratefulness before Almighty God, and used it to feed his own selfish pride. And that pride is not usually satisfied with silent thoughts. A person of pride demands that others submit to his superiority. Did you notice that the Pharisee got up and prayed in the middle of the Temple? This kind of pride not only seeks to diminish the value of others, it wants others to feel diminished in the face of its own greatness. The Pharisees were using the holy things of God to elevate themselves like mini-deities over the people.
The most important thing about our lives is whether we relate rightly to God. It is the most critical thing to get right. The Pharisee in this story wasn’t really praying to God out of worship and love. He was really worshipping himself, and his competitive malice towards sinners showed how little he really cared for God’s other children. He was doing all the right things for all the wrong reasons.
The tax collector didn’t have time to judge others or to condemn them. He was too busy coming to God with his own repentant desire to be made right before his Lord. That greatly pleases God, and it is the truest way to honor His Word.