Episode 109 - The Parable of the Persistent Widow

May 17, 2016

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After describing to His disciples how His kingdom would be established, Jesus encourages them through a parable to be persistent in prayer. God would indeed bring to pass everything He has promised, despite a seeming delay. This episode looks at the parable of the persistent widow from Luke 18.

This video is part of the Opening Up the Gospels series.

Hi I’m Josh Hawkins, this is episode 109 of Opening Up the Gospels. In the last episode I developed a commonly misunderstood passage from Luke 17 where Jesus told His disciples how His kingdom would be established. At that point in the Gospels, Jesus had been on His way to Jerusalem for the Passover with a band of pilgrims from Galilee, and so it makes sense that the Pharisees would come to Jesus with the question of when everything they were looking for would come to pass. I talked about how Jesus was not spiritualizing, reworking, reimagining, or redefining what the kingdom of God was, but rather was correcting the Pharisees expectations that it would be established by the strength of man in some insurrection movement or revolt. His kingdom would be established by God’s power alone on the Day of the Lord. And on that day, the wicked would not be able to escape the judgment - like the flood and like Sodom and Gomorrah, the unrighteous would perish and would not inherit the promise of the resurrection and the restoration of Jerusalem and all of creation in the age to come. Well in today’s episode I want to look at a parable in the next chapter, Luke 18, that is deeply connected with what Jesus just said to His disciples about how His kingdom would be established. So let’s read from Luke 18: And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘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.’ ” (Luke 18:1–5 ESV) Jesus begins this section by continuing to address His disciples, the same crowd that was following Him and heard Him speak about the coming of the kingdom back in Luke 17:22. He tells them this parable for the purpose of encouraging them to persevere in prayer. But why? Why should they keep praying and not give up and be discouraged? We can’t read this parable in isolation from the subject that Jesus was just talking about. He’s not saying “just keep praying and you will get what you ask for” in a generic sense that can apply to anything. As we will see, Jesus is connecting perseverance in prayer to Israel's hope for vindication, justice, and deliverance that will be established when His kingdom comes. The purpose of this parable is to show that even though a worldly, wicked judge finally gives a persistent widow what she deserves, the God of Israel is not like that - He will gladly and speedily vindicate His chosen people who cry out to Him day and night. Jesus begins by telling His disciples about a judge in a city who had no regard for God or for people. There are different kinds of judges that both the Talmud and the historian Josephus write about in Israel at the time that walked in gross injustice and flagrant bribery. This non-Jewish, Roman-appointed kind of judge is likely what the disciples were thinking of as Jesus told the parable. In the same city is a widow, and Jesus says that she kept coming to the judge over and over again seeking vindication and justice. She had been unjustly treated somehow. Perhaps what she possessed had been taken away. Maybe something that she was entitled to was not given to her. Maybe she was being taunted over and over and over again because of her circumstances. Whatever it was, she was looking for the God-hating, people-hating judge to do something about it. She knew her cause was just, and though she went home disappointed many times, she would come again and present her case. And what happened? She got on his nerves because of her persistence, and the judge got sick and tired of her. Even though she couldn’t bribe him, and even though she probably had little to no influence in the city, he finally gives her justice as she had asked. Now that Jesus has told this story, what is the lesson He is going to teach through it? Let’s keep reading in Luke 18: And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge 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. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:6–8 ESV) The application point for the disciples is simple to understand when we don’t forget the context. The Lord is the righteous Judge, and He is not like the unrighteous judge in the parable. He will grant vindication and justice to His chosen people Israel because that’s what He’s banked His own reputation on, and He won’t do so begrudgingly. Now there are a few important points to consider here in Jesus’ lesson. Like the widow in the story, Israel is “widowed” in the sense that their God is absent. His glorious presence had left the temple in Ezekiel’s day, and since then, He had not returned to dwell with them. There were so many promises God had made through the Law and the Prophets, and it seemed like He had abandoned them. Remember, 400 years had passed between the time of Malachi and the coming of John the Baptist. So many feelings and ideas and thoughts had developed in the minds of the Jewish people during that period regarding those promises because of God’s absence and silence. But Jesus is saying that God is not like the unrighteous judge in the story. Though there is a seeming delay in the vindication and hallowing of His name and the restoration of Israel, it is not because God is slacking off and has lost interest, as 2 Peter 3:9 says, but because He suffers long and is patient. God is completely unlike the unrighteous judge. Now I don’t believe that Jesus means for his hearers to understand the phrase “cry out to Him day and night” as a literal 24 hour continuous span of time, as in they should be praying for vindication round the clock. I don’t think that’s wrong or inherently bad, but I don’t think that’s what Jesus had in mind. Remember, Luke began this section by saying that Jesus’ parable was to encourage His disciples to "always” pray. He simply means to pray “at all times”, in the sense of "under all circumstances”, because there will be plenty of times where it is going to seem like an answer will never come. The seeming delay will cause them to lose heart, be discouraged, and give up on their confidence. Even in Jewish writings it’s argued that a man should never be deterred from or cease praying. The lesson Jesus is giving is not that crying out day and night is the catalyst that brings Israel’s vindication, but rather they are to persevere in patient prayer because Israel will be vindicated and restored. The absolute certainty of what they are asking for is what should lead to continuing in prayer and believing God for the answer, even when every circumstance seems to indicate that the answer is not coming. Does that make sense? That’s such an important distinction. Jesus is not saying: “Israel, if you pray enough, if you fast enough, God will answer you.” He’s saying “Faithful Israel, God is going to answer you. He’s banked His own name and reputation on it. Don’t give up praying and trusting, even when everything else crumbles around you and you think there is absolutely no chance whatsoever that God is going to answer. He will. God is not like this unjust judge that needs constant pestering to change his mind, so you don’t have to be like this widow and lack confidence that He is going to bring the vindication He’s promised.” Jesus says that God will bring justice to His chosen people Israel “speedily”. Now don’t forget everything He has been saying to His disciples in the previous chapter, that God would establish the kingdom suddenly from the heavens. God will bring forth His promises on the Day of the Lord, and will bring that vindication and deliverance they are seeking. In many of the past episodes, we’ve looked at how the prophets said that God would vindicate His name and restore Israel. He alone would do it, as we saw in passages like Ezekiel 36 from Episode 50 and 64. In the last episode I mentioned a group in Israel at the time of Jesus called the Zealots, who believed that the promises would be established by the strength of man in partnership with God. I believe Jesus is speaking this parable to His disciples as a contrast to the Pharisees who were sympathetic to the Zealots. They were the ones who had lost heart. They had given up their confidence in God to establish His promises and vindicate Israel, which is why they sought to either bring them to pass themselves or somehow merit God to do it by their piety. Jesus says that it has nothing to do with the strength or piety of man, and affirms that God will indeed do what He’s promised. It will happen suddenly on the Day of the Lord, just as the Law and prophets declared. He’s not telling them to take things up in their own strength and “do battle in the heavens” in partnership with God to bring forth His promises, He’s telling them to “watch and pray” - to wait patiently, prayerfully, and expectantly. Now we can’t forget someone who Luke introduced us to back in chapter 2 of his Gospel, because I believe she is a perfect picture of what Jesus is calling His disciples to in this parable. That person is Anna. I talked about her back in Episode 26. Look again at what Luke says about her, and notice the parallels with what Jesus is saying in this parable: "And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem." (Luke 2:36–38 ESV) Do you see the connections now between Luke 2 and Luke 18? In Luke 2 we see Anna, a widow, who was patiently waiting for the “redemption of Jerusalem”, and responded by worshipping God with fasting and prayer night and day. Now in Luke 18, Jesus is telling a parable about a widow who comes to an unjust judge over and over, and then uses that as a lesson to encourage faithful Israel to continue to cry out day and night not because that will force God to finally do something, but to simply respond to God by not giving up in watching and praying in light of their promised vindication and redemption. Just a chapter before Anna in Luke 1, we see the angel Gabriel telling Mary that she would have a son that would be the one to fulfill God’s promises to David in 2 Samuel 7. Jesus would be the promised descendant who would sit on David’s throne in Jerusalem and rule over Israel forever, establishing God’s kingdom of justice and righteousness where Israel would dwell in the land in safety from her enemies. Anna is a picture of faithful Israel: she is assured, hopeful, and prayerful. Her life of worship showed that she honored God, believed His promises, and did not waver in her confidence. This is exactly what Jesus is encouraging His disciples to through this parable. Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem for His death, and His kingdom would not be established by a revolt or in the timing that the Jewish authorities thought it would. But just like the widow Anna, the faithful in Israel should not give up on God, but to pray, ask, and remain confident in all that God has promised, even when it seems like the long hoped for vindication and salvation will never come. This is Jesus’ exhortation to His disciples through the parable. Well in the next episode we will continue looking at Luke 18, where we'll see Jesus telling another parable about a Pharisee and a tax collector. We’ll see how self-righteousness is something that God absolutely detests. In the meantime, you can go back and watch any of the episodes you’ve missed in this series on my website, www.joshuahawkins.com/gospels. God bless, and come back next time.

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