As usual, today’s Gospel comes in a larger context. Once again, we are reminded that while chapter and verse numbers are useful aids for finding places in the Bible, they are not inspired. They often create an artificial boundary in the text when there is no such boundary in the original.
Jesus has been talking about the end of time. And He has also been talking about the persecution that the church will endure before the end of time comes. At times that persecution will be so severe that God’s remnant will eagerly desire the end of time to come quickly. Jesus said to the disciples, “The days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it.” (Luke 17:22) Jesus encouraged the disciples not to lose heart in the middle of persecution. For when the time is right, the Son of Man will come to judge the living and the dead.
Here is where today’s Gospel begins. In light of the fact that the church will be persecuted in this world, Jesus told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. (Luke 18:1) Jesus instructs His church to pray while she is in this world.
The judge in the parable was not worthy of his position. [Jesus] said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man.” (Luke 18:2) This judge was interested in his own comfort and didn’t really care about the cases that came before him. He wasn’t interested in the law of God and he wasn’t interested in the opinion of people. He was just interested in his own convenience. How would you like to come before this man in a legal dispute?
Unfortunately, the widow in today’s parable had no choice. Widows in biblical times had no power or economic clout. They were among the weakest, most vulnerable members of society. For this reason, Old Testament law stipulated that the worshiping community care for them. Moses said, “Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. (Deuteronomy 27:19) Jesus did not give the details of the woman’s case. The details of her case are not relevant to the point of the parable. What we do know is that this woman went to someone who should have helped her in her quest for justice.
The judge saw no gain in helping the woman, so he decided to ignore her. For a while he refused (Luke 18:4) He hoped she would just give up and go away, but she didn’t. Every morning he entered his court and there she was making her petition. Eventually, he got sick and tired of seeing her. After a while, he said to himself, “Though I neither fear God nor respect man, 5yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.” (Luke 18:4–5) Ultimately, the widow wore the judge down. He did not hear her case because it was the right thing to do, but because he was sick and tired of seeing her in his court every day. He simply wanted to get rid of her.
This parable is a parable of contrasts. Jesus contrasted this unrighteous judge with God, who is righteous and holy. He said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. 7And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? 8I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily.” (Luke 18:6–8) With these words, Jesus taught His disciples that if an unrighteous judge will give justice just to get a nagging widow off his back, how much more will the God of love and mercy ultimately bring justice to His people. The judge didn’t want to hear from the widow. God wants to hear from us.
The contrast between God and the unrighteous judge is not the only contrast in this parable. There is also the contrast between us and the widow. Although Jesus did not tell us the details of the widow’s case, we do know that it was a good case. On the other hand, our case before god is the exact opposite. In fact, if we ever came before the court of the Holy and Almighty God, He would immediately find us guilty and sentence us to nothing but punishment here in time and forever in eternity. The widow had good reason to ask the court to act. We have good reason to ask the court not to act. We, by nature, have no rights in God’s court.
But God loves us so much that He worked out a plan to give us those rights. He sent His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, into the world in order to redeem the world. Jesus Christ endured the punishment of the guilty verdict we deserved. He opened God’s court to all when He died on the cross and then rose from the dead. Although we have no rights in God’s court, He gives us rights for the sake of His belovéd Son Jesus Christ. We receive those rights when the Holy Spirit works faith in us.
The judge, who neither feared God nor cared about his fellow man, finally did the right thing just to get the widow off his back. How much more will God, who sacrificed His only begotten Son do what is best for us? When it comes to God, we’re assured that God listens and will surely grant grace to those who cry out to him.
In this parable, Jesus teaches us to pray continually and never lose heart. Why? Because his promise is that he will grant vindication and justice for his chosen ones and will do so quickly. However, the vindication and justice he grants is not what we deserve. He does not bring about the justice dictated by the law, but the justice dictated by His love and grace. Jesus shows us that God’s justice is not rightly understood until you first understand God’s suffering love, a suffering love that has as its aim to make the sinner whole and the ungodly just. This suffering love is even for people like the unjust judge, and it is for you and me as well.
Luther, when he teaches about prayer in his Small Catechism, says that we are to be confident when we pray. We “ask Him as dear children ask their dear father.” We are God’s children for the sake of the innocent suffering and death of our Savior, Jesus Christ. God deeply longs for us to approach him, describing to him the needs of our lives and the longings of our hearts. Do we do it once? twice? No! We pray continually. We never give up.
The most profound prayer we have is the prayer that Jesus Himself gave to us. In a few minutes we will join together in that prayer. Shortly after that, God will answer that prayer in a very special way. What better way is there for God’s Kingdom to come on this earth than when it comes in the true body and blood of our savior, Jesus Christ. Then with that body and blood we receive forgiveness for our trespasses. For Jesus himself said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:28) All this comes to us when our daily bread comes together with God’s Word according to His command. Is it any wonder that we pray the Lord’s Prayer shortly before we receive this very special answer to this prayer?
We are children of God for the sake of the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. As such, we already have God’s Kingdom among us. However, we are not fully aware of His kingdom as the Apostle Paul wrote, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:12) So we pray continuously. We pray especially for the end of time when we shall see Jesus face-to-face. We pray for the final day of judgment.
After Jesus finished telling the parable He asked, “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8) Will he find faith that is persistent and loyal? And the answer implied in the question is yes, he will! He will find people like those mentioned throughout the Bible who prayed without ceasing. He will find faith in people like the tax collector, who humbled himself and beat his chest imploring God for mercy. He will find faith in people who, like the little children, look to Christ and trust him implicitly. He will find faith in people like the blind beggar, who cried out to Christ for healing and mercy. He will find faith in people like you and me. For we, too, are a people who stand before God imploring Christ for mercy and leaning on him for everlasting hope.
So can we pray and not lose heart? Yes! Can we pray and not give up? Absolutely! For we know to whom we belong. Jesus Christ shed His blood in order to ransom you from sin. You belong to Him. You are part of His family. He has won eternal life for you. Part of that eternal life is the right to open your heart to God in prayer. The Apostle Peter wrote, “[Cast] all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7) He cares for you and, unlike the judge in today’s parable; God wants to hear from you. You are his beloved child. Pray continually and do not lose heart. Amen.
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