The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
Luke 18:1 Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart, 2 saying, “In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man. 3 There was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, ‘Give me legal protection from my opponent.’ 4 For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, ‘Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, 5 yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.’” 6 And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge said; 7 now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? 8 I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” (NASB)
Luke chapter 17:11-19 was last week’s Gospel lesson. It recorded the healing of the ten leprous men. In the balance of the chapter, Jesus turned His attention to the last days and His Second Coming. He talked about the persecution that would come to the church before His return. In fact, there is coming a time when Christian persecution will be so great that Christian will cry out for Christ’s return and the final judgment of the living and the dead.
Chapter 17:22: “The days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it.” (Luke 17:22) Jesus goes on to encourage the disciples and Christians in every generation not to lose heart. He promises He will return to win the final victory and He will keep this promise.
When the time is right, the Son of God will come to judge the living and the dead.
That’s where the assigned reading for this morning picks up. Having introduced the topic of His Second Coming, the persecution of the church, and the final judgment, Jesus tells the parable of the Widow and Unrighteous Judge. “In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man.”
The office of judge is an office filled by sinful human beings so it should not surprise us that there are bad judges. A bad judge is a judges who is bad at recognizing evil and injustice when they see it, or doesn’t care about justice being done in every case that comes before him, or is in himself corrupt.
The judge in the parable is clearly not worthy of his position as judge. He didn’t care whether an individual plaintiff suffered want and injustice. That’s what the text means when it says that the judge did “not respect man.” (Luke 18:2)
That wasn’t the worst part. The judge in the parable did not fear God either. That’s quite a statement in the ancient world. It was the practice of the Roman government in all its provenances to encourage people to worship their gods, of course along with acknowledge Caesar as a god. Jews were given an exemption to that law, but they were still encouraged to live in fear of God. Then there was of course the Old Testament Scripture and the Ten Commandments. “You shall have no other gods before Me.” “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in Vain,” and “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.”
To say that this judge did not fear God was the equivalent of saying he thought he held the highest spot on the feeding chain. He thought he was the ultimate arbitrator of justice and accountable to no one, not even God.
When Jesus said this about the judge, He knew that His listeners knew their Old Testament Scriptures. Here’s God’s instruction to the judges of Israel. Deuteronomy 1:16-17 “Hear the cases between your fellow countrymen, and judge righteously between a man and his fellow countryman, or the alien who is with him. You shall not show partiality in judgment; you shall hear the small and the great alike. You shall not fear man, for the judgment is God’s.”
Again Deuteronomy 16:19-20 “You shall not distort justice; you shall not be partial, and you shall not take a bribe . . . Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue….” One more. Deuteronomy 27:19, “Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.”
So here comes a widow in the parable. Jesus doesn’t tell the judge that wrong was being done to her. We don’t need that information. It is enough to know that she was suffering an injustice and was asking the court to protect her from her opponent.
The judge didn’t care. He ignored her, but she kept coming back again and again. 4 “For a while he was unwilling [to grant her justice]; but afterward he said to himself, ‘Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, 5 yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.’”
We know how this works. In fact, little children know how this works too. They game the system. They just keep asking and asking to get what they want in an effort to wear down mom or do and get what they want. In days gone by parents understood the game, and more importantly they were up to the challenge. “The answer is no. Don’t ask again or else.” It seems most parents these days yield the ground and their parental responsibility at the second demand. We are seeing the results of this kind of lazy parenting all around us. These kinds of parents are like the judge in the parable. They do things and grant things out of the convenience of the moment.
Jesus’s widow wasn’t going to give up. She kept after the judge so much so judge gets fed up with her so he gives in and grants her legal protection against her persecutor.
Now Luke 18:1 says this about the parable we just heard summarized. “Now He [Jesus] was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart.” This is how St. Luke introduced the parable and indeed, the parable teaches us as individual Christians and as the Christian Church throughout the world and in every generation that we are to be persistent in our prayers. That’s what we, for our part, are encouraged to do.
Now just think of all the Christian congregations across this country that still pray the General Prayer, in one form or the other in, a proper liturgical service. Pastors pray these types of prayers week after week, month after month, year after year, decade after decade, and century after century.
For example we pray that God would grant the President and the Congress of these United States, the Governor and Legislature of this Common Wealth, and all our judges and magistrates grace and wisdom to rule after His good pleasure in the maintenance civil righteousness and in the punishment and hindrance of wicked.
When congregations and pastors do this they are like the widow who comes again and again to ask God for His grace and protection and to do so without losing heart, that is our faith. No quicker way to lose faith in something than to look to our government office holders these days, who have no regard to God or man and many of whom seem only interested in power, graft, and civic self-righteousness. Yet the church corporate prays just as Jesus instructs us in this parable. We pray for justice in this world because the liturgy keeps us on message.
But when it comes to our individual prayer life, we’re not so good at persistence. We often grow weary and lose heart. We become discouraged because it does not appear to us that God is answering those prayers. We can even get cynical about prayer.
St. Luke introduces the parable as a lesson in prayer and so it is, but take a look at how Jesus explains what He just taught in the parable. 6 “Hear what the unrighteous judge said; 7 now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? 8 I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly.”
What Jesus has just said here can be likened to what He said in Luke 11:11-13. “Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he? Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?”
For the Christians’ part we are to pray and pray and pray according to God’s good and gracious will in the knowledge that God will answer those prayers in some way and at some time. For God’s part He “tenderly urge us to believe that He is our true Father, and that we are His true children, so that we may ask Him confidently with all assurance, as dear children ask their dear father.”
The parable and Jesus’s final statement here teach us that God the Father is the Righteous Judge and will in time bring about our vindication. In fact, He is the one who gives us in the here and now a level of protection against our oppressors and the oppressors of His bride the Church.
This parable is a bit different than most of Jesus’s other parables. As I have mentioned before, parables follow the form of “compare and contrast.” This one does too, but in this cast Jesus contrasts an unworthy judge with our heavenly Father. The judge in the parable doesn’t care so he doesn’t give the widow justice until she becomes a obstacle to what he wants. Jesus is teaching here that our heavenly Father cares for His children and answers our prayers. He does justify and protect us in good times and in bad. In fact, He gives us the greatest of all good gifts: true faith, the forgiveness of sins, and a heavenly home.
Context is important. This parable was told on the heals of Jesus description of what Christians are going to experience between Pentecost and one the Last Day. God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit knows the trials, tribulations, persecutions, and injustices that come against His Church and He says 8 “I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”
Verse 8 is one of those verses that divides faithful exegetes. Some think this is a rhetorical question. Others see it as an indictment of just how weak and feeble our faith is. We do after all use prayer like a “Hail Mary” pass in football. Prayer for us is like a wrestling match with God.
In the Epistle lesson St. Paul was reminding Timothy of the church’s purpose and what it is pastors are suppose to do with God’s written Word. He wrote, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” The Scripture is where God speaks to us, teaches us, and guides us. Prayer is our response to His speaking, teaching, and guiding. A right understanding of God’s Word, His doctrine is to produce a deeper and more abiding faith. A deep and abiding faith is to produce a life of worship, prayer, love, and service to one another.
The widow persistent in her pleas for protection, but our heavenly Father is even more committed and persistent in His saving work toward us. He is the giver of all good gifts, including and especially His Son. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
Will Jesus find faith when He returns? Yes He will. He will find faith in people like those mentioned throughout the Bible. He will find it in people who like Jacob who wrestled with God. He will find faith in people like the tax collector, who humbled himself and beat his chest imploring God for mercy. He will find faith in people who like the little children, look to Christ and trust Him implicitly. He will find faith in people like the blind beggar, who cried out to Christ for healing and mercy and the leprous man who returned to give thanks. He will find faith in people like you. And unlike the judge in the parable, our Father cares for you. Thus Peter urged us all in 1 Pet 5:6-7 “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.”
May the peace that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen