This is one of two instances in this Gospel where Luke tells us the purpose of Jesus’ parable before relating the parable itself. The other instance is the next parable about the pharisee and the tax collector (next week)!
In Luke’s community, the Parousia, the “second coming” of Jesus is long in happening, counter to what the people expected. They are becoming impatient. Maybe even disheartened and depressed. Luke uses this parable from Jesus to lift up the spirits of the community.
I venture to say that we all feel depressed at times looking at the state of the world! Does this parable speak to us also?
In Luke’s gospel prayer is given special emphasis. Jesus himself is often depicted as praying, more so than in the other gospels.
The parable tells of the persistent prayer of the widow. More importantly, it tells us something of the character of God.
The parable raises a question: Is the purpose of prayer only to bring our hearts into line with God’s will or does it also change God’s mind?
Of course, we prefer God to grant what we ask when we ask for it—and quickly. We expect physicians to give instant relief. We expect films and TV to inspire instant joy or sorrow. We expect technology to provide instant communication. We expect the stock market to bestow instant wealth. But God does not promise instant answers to prayer. Consider it a blessing! Imagine the chaos if God answered every prayer quickly and grants exactly what we ask for!
However, this parable seems to imply that God’s will—always good—is swayed by persistent prayer. There are many precedents in the OT. In Psalm 18, for example, David recounts how God interceded with earthquakes, smoke, and fire to answer David’s fervent prayer.
In Luke’s day, the judge and the widow represent opposite ends of the social spectrum. The judge is a man with power—bound by neither jury decisions nor courts of appeal—and the widow is the epitome of powerlessness.
Moses in Deuteronomy, charged judges to render fair and honest decisions irrespective of the wealth or social standing of the petitioner - but we cannot expect justice from this judge, who does not fear God or respect people, we know that this judge is not to be trusted!
The Greek word for “respect” has to do with hurt pride and should be translated “has no shame”. In Luke’s time and place, people would have regarded such a shameless man with contempt - a person without conscience or compassion.
I stop short of citing any modern day comparisons!
This widow, like the man who demanded bread from his neighbour in the middle of the night, persists in asking. She sits on high moral ground, and everyone knows it. This judge would not tolerate this nagging behaviour by a man, but even a judge who knows no shame must exercise forbearance in the presence of a woman at that time.
She enjoys the protection of scripture and the sympathy of the community.
A modern example might be Greta Thunberg, not as a widow but a young girl, in the persistence of her message and the huge sympathy of the community to her cause.
The judge is concerned that the widows persistence will “Wear him out”. The word translated “wear me out” literally means “hit under the eye.” While the judge cares nothing for God or man, he recognises that this woman can create problems for him, he might get a “black eye” in the community for mistreating a widow.
It actually makes no difference to our understanding of this parable why this judge gives the woman what she wants. This judge is not a “stand-in” for God. Instead, the parable contrasts the evil judge with our loving God.
If the unjust judge will do the right thing for this widow, even if for the wrong reasons, can’t we expect God to do the right thing for us? Can’t we expect a loving God to vindicate “his chosen ones”?
The parable does not suggest that God writes blank checks. Instead, unceasing prayer grinds away at the sharp edges of our lives until our will is conformed to God’s. We begin, little by little, to understand what God wants of us.
In difficult times, we hear people say, “The only thing that we can do is to pray”—as if prayer is a weak substitute for meaningful remedies. The parable teaches us that prayer is itself a meaningful remedy—that it draws us into God’s power, making everything possible.
The last line is the point of the parable. Jesus wonders if he will find faith when he returns at the end of time. Persistent faith is possible where there is persistent prayer. When we pray, our prayers increase our faith. With more faith we surely grow closer to God. The closer we are the less likely we are to be disheartened – but that’s where we came in!