Brief: Luke 18:1-8
1 And he told them a parable, to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor regarded man; 3 and there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Vindicate me against my adversary.’ 4 For a while he refused; but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor regard man, 5 yet because this widow bothers me, I will vindicate her, or she will wear me out by her continual coming.'” 6 And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. 7 And will not God vindicate his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? 8 I tell you, he will vindicate them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
This parable is the first of two parables told by Jesus to his disciples as they are traveling up to Jerusalem. This section is part of the chapters leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion, death and resurrection; the parables and instructions Jesus is teaching them seem as though they are among the last lessons Jesus is giving them.
The IVP Bible Background Commentary points out that in the Old Testament, judges were supposed to fear God (since one day He would judge them) and defend the oppressed. Barclay disagrees with this point of view, stating that the judge can’t be viewed under Old Testament law because it is clear that the judge was not a Jewish judge (therefore wouldn’t necessarily be driven by fear of God or Old Testament law); under Jewish law, disputes were taken before the elders. Jewish law also required that three judges arbitrate the dispute, not just one. So it is likely that this judge was a paid magistrate appointed by Herod or the Romans; these magistrates were notorious for needing to be bribed in order to make a determination one way or another (The Gospel of Luke, Barclay). This fits in well with why the widow needed to be so persistent in her claim. A widow often barely had the means to live, much less bribe a judge. She was a prime example of someone who was oppressed, therefore Jewish judges should have been on her side against an opponent trying to take advantage of her (IVP Bible Background Commentary). In this parable, the widow stands in for all who are poor and defenseless, and she wields the only weapon she has – persistence (Barclay).
It is pointed out that this is a standard Jewish parable of the qal vahomer argument (how much more); if the judge will vindicate the widow due to her persistence, how much more will God do for his elect? This is a familiar theme from the Old Testament (IVP Bible Background Dictionary), which Jesus uses to encourage his disciples that “they ought always to pray and not lose heart” (18:1). Barclay also points out that this judge is contrasted with how God is; God cares for his people so much more than this judge, therefore how much more will he do for them? Augustine agrees with this assessment, saying “By no means does that unjust judge furnish an allegorical representation of God. The example is of an unjust man who, although he yields for the mere sake of avoiding annoyance, nevertheless cannot disregard those who bother him with continual pleadings. By this the Lord wishes us to infer how much care God bestows on those who beseech him, for God is both just and good” (Sermon on the Mount 15).
If one message comes out of this parable, it is, ‘Do not give up’. The widow kept going to the judge, and he kept rejecting her. But in the end, he gave in because of her persistence. God, who loves us much more than the judge cared for the widow (which was not at all), will vindicate us. In his Commentary on Luke, Cyril of Alexandria says, “The present parable assures us God will bend his ear to those who offer him their prayers, not carelessly or negligently but with earnestness and constancy.” In the last verse in this section, Jesus encourages the disciples not to give up, even if, after their persistence, it doesn’t seem as though an answer is coming. Jesus is saying that people, if their prayers aren’t answered after a time, will lose faith and give up. This is his encouragement to not lose faith, to keep asking and asking until God vindicates. Jesus confirms here that God will vindicate one day, and His people should not give up.
How easy it is to give up when it seems as though God is not answering your prayer? This parable confirms that yes, God hears and He cares. Through our trials and testings, we should not lose faith that God will vindicate us. It may not be in the timing that we want; it may not be immediately that we receive a response. But God has promised that if we persist in faith, He will answer. When hope and faith are struggling, these words of Jesus are there to cling to – that we “ought always to pray and not lose heart” (1:1b).