Powerfully Persistent Prayer
Text: Luke 18:1-8
Proper 24, C
“The squeaky wheel gets the grease” an old saying goes. But boy is it true! Even children understand. “Can we dad? Can we? Dad can we?” is the constant barrage. “Yes Fine! Enough already!” Score one for persistence. But even grown ups know how to play the game. Since the days of Star Trek, doggedly determined fans and their letter writing campaigns have often been able to bring their beloved TV shows back from cancellation. Score one for the little guy. Just a few short months ago fans began a boycott to have an entire season of a hit TV show rewritten because they didn’t like the way it ended. We shall see what comes of it. But whatever the results, know this, persistence can be a powerful thing.
I suppose that for this reason the parable of the persistent widow seems only natural to us. Someone with no other recourse persists until she wears down all resistance. Score one for the little guy (or woman in this case). What is the real eye opener here, is the reason for which Jesus tells this all too familiar story. (1) “And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” This story is to serve as an example of why we should be powerfully persistent in our prayers. We are to be as tenacious in our prayers before the Lord, as this widow was in her petitions before the unrighteous judge.
And make no mistake, this widow provides us with a great example of the power of persistence. (2-3) “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.” Someone was trying to twist the law against this marginalized woman. They were trying to take advantage of her. But she wouldn't stand for it. What was being done to her in secret, she would bring out into the public eye. She is protected under the law, you see: (Deut. 27:19) “Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.” The law is on her side, so she demands her rights before the judge. And she won't stop until she is vindicated. She will persist in her petitions until she prevails.
But this is where things start to get messy. If the poor widow is an example for us in praying to God, then the unrighteous judge becomes a terrible and problematic example of how our God deems to answer us. Consider this: (4-5) “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 has done it to us again! Just like the story of the unjust steward, here we have godly examples being made through provocatively worldly people. A godless man with obvious contempt for everyone, is meant to be a picture of our God and Father?!
The judge is moved by no consideration of fear for God, concern for man, or for concern for doing that which is right and just. He has turned a blind eye to the very one he should be looking out for! He is moved only by threats to his own comfort and well-being. In the end he is only afraid that this widow will literally “give me a black eye.” Is it fear for his safety or his reputation? Who cares! If anyone deserves a black eye its this guy. HE IS THE VERY OPPOSITE OF WHAT GOD IS LIKE. And that is what Jesus intends in this argument from the worse to the better.
The Lord Himself, in pointing out the lesson before He even begins, brings out the contrast strongly: on the one hand, we have the judge who knew no justice, whose character was the epitome of selfishness; on the other, there is the just and loving God, whose aim is not only to do justice, but to show mercy to all His works; the judge yields only grudgingly and merely to escape being bored, or blackened; the other finding His delight in showing mercy and in yielding to the entreaties of His own. One is doubly bad, and only goaded into action for self-serving reasons; the other is infinitely good – righteous, self-sacrificing, and caring deeply for those whom He has elected. Truly, God will provide vindication for those who believe in Him through the power of His means of grace. But He wants them to continue in prayer, in calling to Him, day and night.
He is day to the unrighteous judge's night. He is the perfectly righteous judge, ready, willing and able to answer the cries of those who come to Him. (7) “And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night?” The answer, of course, is Yes! Yes God answers! Yes God is there for us! Yes we can be sure! Even, though it may often seem like He is more like the unrighteous judge, by the way His answers are sometimes held up. “Will he delay long over them?” In the midst of our struggles with life in this world, God can sometimes seem frustratingly distant. The answers we seek, the justice we cry for, can seem so long in coming. This does not mean He is not listening. God does not turn a blind eye to our needs. Neither does this mean that He is waiting for us to pester Him into action. He has been our greatest advocate and defender since before there even was an us!
(Romans 8:31-33) “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies.” Not only is God so much greater than the unrighteous judge, but we are more than the widow! We are not worthless. We are not marginalized. We are God's elect. Specifically chosen by Him, Justified by Him, Vindicated in Christ's blood. Called by the Holy Spirit, and gathered into His bride, the Church. And what's more, if He did all these things for us, while we were yet sinners – completely undeserving of any of it – how much more is He willing to listen to us and give to us in Christ, now that we are His beloved ... His elect? (8) “I tell you, He will give justice to them speedily.” The answer is there if we only have eyes to see it.
(8) “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Jesus ends the parable with a question. But not a rhetorical question asked out of sadness or frustration. A question meant to bring this whole parable straight to our hearts. This question shows us what this parable is really all about. What caused the widow to persist in coming to the judge? Her conviction that justice was on her side. What causes a Christian to endure to the end, even when things don't seem to be going our way? The conviction that God is for us in Christ Jesus and that this has been so from all eternity. This is our vindication in the face of all that would try to beat us down and keep us from calling on our God. This is the true and saving faith. We are God's elect, saved in Christ, and He will always answer us! Only this true saving faith can cause a person to cry to the Lord day and night. May this same faith be yours, and lead you to pray without losing heart, for “I tell you, He will give justice to [you] speedily.”