One of my favourite parables is found in Luke 18 where Jesus is teaching about how we should always pray and not give up. The story is a simple one of a widow who kept petitioning her local magistrate to give her justice over a certain issue. He refused to do so, being a man who wasn’t actually interested in justice, until he finally gave in, simply because he got fed up with her constant nagging. Jesus’ point was of course the contrast between the unjust judge and His heavenly Father. Even the corrupt official took action, even though his motivation was bad, so how much more readily will the Father act on our behalf!
Let’s look at some of the elements of the story in more detail. Firstly, take note that the woman was a widow. This meant that she had no one else to seek justice on her behalf; she had to do it herself. She was vulnerable in that society, because she would actually have had to do everything for herself, including finding her own food, clothing and shelter. Many widows simply couldn’t manage that, hence a persistent thread running through the Old Testament for the people of God to look after their widows (and orphans, the other group in the same situation). This is illustrated in the terrible loss that Naomi suffered (Ruth 1: 3-5), and the fact that she was forced to move when she heard that there was food in Israel where she might provide for herself more easily, and underlines the tremendous sacrifice that Ruth made in going with her. Jesus Himself came to the rescue of a widow, whose only son (and therefore her means of support) had died, when He visited the village of Nain (Luke 7: 11-17). The point for our purposes was that she had no other options; she had to throw herself on the mercy of the magistrate, and she had to do it without any help.
Then there is the fact that the cause for which she was pleading was a just cause. Although we don’t find out what the cause was, we do know that the crooked judge recognised that she should have justice (v5), even if that wasn’t his motivation for acting on her behalf! Her plea was not a selfish one, nor was she falsely accusing her adversary, but her desire was for truth to be upheld.
Finally, and most importantly, her persistence in the face of indifference marks her out as the example whom Jesus commends. How easy it would have been to give up, or to view the whole situation as hopeless and not attempt a petition at all! Her determination to wear down the judge marks her out as someone who believed in the justice she sought, and who even believed that in the end she could get it from the man who ‘didn’t fear God or care about men’.
So there are three elements that combine to make the widow into someone who prevailed; she had no other options, she had a just cause, and she didn’t give up in the face of opposition or indifference. When we attempt to apply the parable, we must measure our own prayer life against these elements, and ask three questions. Are we in a place where we are totally reliant on God, or is there the possibility of a Plan B if He doesn’t listen or answer in the way we would like? Are we asking with pure motives, or is there an alternative reason for the request that might benefit us somehow? Are we prepared to keep asking until we get what it is that we are asking for from Him, or do we not believe in our cause that strongly?
Because of these important questions and the necessity for us to ask them of ourselves, Jesus concludes this section of teaching with a very uncomfortable question of His own, “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” (v8). When Jesus returns, will He find people answering these three questions honestly, or will there just be a whole mass of Christians going through the motions of prayer without ever touching on the power and truth of its purpose? Will there be lots of teaching and talking and writing and gatherings on these things but no-one actually using them to make a genuine connection with God? Where will you be found?