And Not Lose Heart (Luke 18)
1. "[H]e told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart" (v1). It's really nice when the Gospel writers tell us why Jesus tells a parable before He tells the parable. That way we can see what exactly Jesus was addressing so that we don't have to worry about different interpretations of the parable. What we do have to worry about is what does it mean for us to "not lose heart"? It simply means that we should not become discouraged no matter how our lives seem to be turning out. But Jesus also leaves us with the answer--we "ought always to pray" (v1). Let's look at the parable to see how Jesus shows this to us.
2. A widow in town has been wronged by one of her neighbors. She comes to the judge in the town, but he has the reputation for only doing what benefitted him. If the case wasn't exciting to him, he didn't bother hearing it. He would just dismiss people because they were boring him with their problems. But this widow would not be turned away. She came back again and again and again for the judge to hear her case. Each time she comes before him, he refuses to hear the case. Finally, he says, "Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming" (vv4-5). The judge vindicates her and forces her neighbor to repay the damage that has been inflicted upon the widow. He does this not because he cares for her case, but because he wants to be rid of this pest.
3. Why does Jesus tell this parable? Because some times it seems that God isn't listening when we pray. Jesus is especially insistent on this point because the previous conversation in the Gospel of Luke covers the coming of the Kingdom of God--which we pray for in the Lord's Prayer. We pray, "Thy kingdom come." Does it come simply because we asked for it? No. We believe "The kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may come to us also" (SC III, "Second Petition"). So it comes without our prayer, but "God's kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity" (SC III, "Second Petition"). This seems so simplistic to us. God's kingdom comes through His Word both spoken and given to us through the Sacraments. We tend to overlook this when we're waiting for the Kingdom of God to come. We tend to only think about the final coming when Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead. We tend to overlook that the Kingdom of God is coming to you right now as I speak to you from God's Word. By nature, we want the flashy, dramatic pyrotechnics that may accompany the Second Coming. As St. Paul writes to the Corinthians, "But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God" (1 Corinthians 1:27-29). God has always done things that baffle us "For the foolishness of God is wiser than men" (1 Corinthians 1:25). So Jesus invites us to be persistent in our prayers--"to always pray" (v1).
4. Jesus gives us the example of the widow for us to follow. She "kept coming to him" day after day (v3). In this parable, we see why the basic definition of a parable is "an earthly story with a heavenly meaning." Jesus is telling the story from the earthly point-of-view where it doesn't always seem that God is listening. Jesus reminds us that God's time is not our time and that we often fail to see when God answers our prayers because they aren't the answers that we hoped for. Jesus encourages us to be persistent like the widow. We shouldn't only pray for the needs and wants that we have in our lives, but we should also pray for the wisdom to see the answers that God does give us. This we do in the Lord's Prayer as we ask for God's kingdom to come and His will to be done. Not that it just comes, but it comes to us to so that we may know that it is here among us throughout our lives. That's why when Jesus gave the Lord's Prayer to the disciples He said, "When you pray, say" (Luke 11:1). We pray because we've been commanded to pray and because God has promised to hear our prayers.
5. That's the main difference between the unrighteous judge in Jesus' parable and God the Father. The unrighteous judge doesn't want to hear anything unless it's going to benefit him. God hears everything--every petition, every praise, every curse, everything. From this He will judge us on the Last Day. Where the unrighteous judge was slothful in his judgments, God will be very swift. Jesus explains the parable in its context of the coming of the Kingdom of God which He had just finished discussing with the Pharisees. He says, "And will not God give justice to His elect, who cry to Him day and night? Will He delay long over them? I tell you, He will give justice to them speedily" (vv7-8). God's justice will be swift when it comes. God doesn't wait for you to deserve anything you ask for. He gives all these things to you freely for the sake of Jesus Christ. That's another difference--God gladly answers your petitions instead of being frustrated with the constant annoyance and giving in so that you'll be quiet about it. God wants you to bring your petitions to Him. That's why He gave us the Lord's Prayer in the first place--so that we'd know how to pray and what to pray. And He encourages us to be persistent in our prayers to show our faithfulness to Him.
6. So Jesus ends our reading with a rhetorical question: "When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?" (v8). When He returns again to judge the living and the dead, will He find people still persistent in prayer? Or will He find people who have forsaken prayer in order to take care of their desires on their own? May you always model yourself after the widow and be persistent in your prayers to God your Father so that you may be found faithful when He returns. Amen.