In Luke 18 we have an interesting story that often leaves people with the wrong impression about God. “He said in a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor regarded man; and there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Vindicate me against my adversary.’ For a while he refused; but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will vindicate her, or she will wear me out by her continual coming.’ “ (v. 2-5)
Jesus makes it clear that this story is about praying because he introduces the story by stating, “And He told them a parable, to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart” Luke 18:1. So, what is God saying in this parable of the judge and the widow? Are we to pester God until He can’t stand it anymore so that He finally answers our prayers? Does God have no regard for us and see us only as pests that bother Him with our petitions?
I think we all know the portrayal of the judge in the parable is not the God we know. So what is going on? First of all we should define what exactly a parable is and how they work. In his book, The Parables of the Kingdom, C.H. Dodd defined a parable as, “a metaphor or simile drawn from nature or common life, arresting the hearer by its vividness or strangeness, and leaving the mind in sufficient doubt about its precise application to tease it into active thought.” p. 5
Dodd is telling us that the meaning of most parables is not obvious and if we assume we know what Jesus is talking about, we are probably missing the point. The result is that often times we think we know what the parable is saying so we skip over it and miss the real point of its teaching.
I love Dodd’s definition of how a parable holds an element that is strange or unusual. The people in Jesus time would have noticed the unusual and said, “hey that’s not how farmers work,” or “that’s not what Kings do.” These strange and unusual elements in the parable would make the audience think deeply about what they were hearing and challenge their assumptions regarding what they thought they knew.
Also parables do not define things precisely, but use comparisons to describe aspects of how God acts or interacts with us. Now here is a key for understanding parables. The fact that we say A is like B does not mean that A is identical to B in every respect. Everything in a parable does not have to be defined in a spiritual connotation, and just because something is similar to something else it doesn’t mean we have to assume what is being said in the parable is exactly as we understand it in real life.
With that all being said we can ask ourselves what is the parable of the judge and the widow saying about prayer? In order to get a real picture of what is going on we should include Jesus interpretation of the parable. “And the Lord said, ‘Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God vindicate his elect, who cry to Him day and night? Will He delay long over them? I tell you, He will vindicate them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of man comes, will He find faith on earth?” Luke 18: 6-8
There is a lot going on in Jesus’ explanation of the parable and a number of clues about how to understand the parable. The parable is not about Jesus or God, it is about an unjust judge that doesn’t fear God or man. This is a parable of opposites. We can draw conclusions regarding how God responds to our prayers by contrast to the way the unjust judge responds.
We are not nagging widows who have to constantly badger the judge until he gives us what we want. We are sons and daughters of the King and He readily and willingly hears our every word of request with open arms and an open heart. God loves us unconditionally and longs to give us gifts that make us happy and fill us with joy. We are not pulling occasional appeasements out of God through our prayers in order to just shut us up.
In Matthew 7:9-11 we have these words of assurance, “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him.” God is not withholding His blessings from any of us. In fact it is just the opposite, He longs to pour His blessings, as a good Father, out upon us. “The LORD is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him, in truth” Psalm 145:18. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” Matthew 7:7. Do those texts sound like God is an unjust judge being miserly about answering our prayers?
The parable of the unjust just teaches us that God is just the opposite of that man. He doesn’t have to hear us begging Him hundreds of times before He answers. He never becomes angry and frustrated with us and only answers us to be rid of us. He answers our prayers because He loves us and loves to hear from us.
Jesus tells the people that they need to always pray and not lose heart (v. 1) and that seems to me to be the key to the parable. Jesus closes the interpretation of the parable by asking, “Nevertheless, when the Son of man comes, will He find faith on earth?”
We should always pray and not lose heart in our prayers just because they are not answered in the manner we long to see them answered. In verses 7 and 8 God assures us He hears, vindicates and answers our prayers speedily. The question is simply do we have faith to trust in God regardless of how we perceive the reality of the situation we pray about?
In our prayer life we need to remember God is a just judge and He hears our prayers lovingly and with joy. Please, never lose heart or faith in the assurance of God’s love and desire to answer our prayers. Yes, they may not be answered, as we want them at the moment we speak them, but God’s will is to be done. And if we could see down the road we would understand why God works the way He does on our behalf and the people we pray for. Prayer is trust and through the exercise of prayer we grow in trust.
* Please remember to pray for the thousands of Christians who are suffering persecution for their faith in Christ, for many even unto death. Go to http://thebeggardanced.com/nine-oclock-club/ for some of their stories.