Persistent Prayer and the Healing Power of God (3)
The persistent, relentless faith of Bartimaeus, which we looked at briefly in the previous article, is a perfect introduction to the story we now turn to in Luke 18. Continue reading . . .
The persistent, relentless faith of Bartimaeus, which we looked at briefly in the previous article, is a perfect introduction to the story we now turn to in Luke 18.
And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “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.’ 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.’” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:1-8).
Some of the parables are hard to understand, but not this one. Its meaning is stated clearly right up front by our Lord: The purpose of the parable is to encourage them “always to pray” and never to “lose heart.” How easy it is for us to give up when our prayers aren’t immediately answered in the way we think they should be: we get discouraged, we lose our enthusiasm, we begin to doubt God, we see no reason ever to pray again, etc.
The two people in this parable couldn’t have been more different. They were at opposite ends of the social, political, economic, and spiritual spectrum. Let’s look first at this judge.
What a way to be remembered! The only two things that stand out about him are that he doesn’t fear God and he couldn’t care less about other people!
He doesn’t fear God. He has no sense of obligation to a higher power than himself. He is much like the judges to whom Jehoshaphat spoke in 2 Chronicles 19:6-7 – “Consider what you do, for you judge not for man but for the Lord. He is with you in giving judgment. Now then, let the fear of the Lord be upon you. Be careful what you do, for there is no injustice with the Lord our God, or partiality or taking bribes.”
This judge had no shame. His conscience was dull and hardened and insensitive. Don’t even think about appealing to his sense of honor: he has none. Here is a woman whose request ought to make him feel ashamed, and he feels nothing! You could point a finger in his face and shout, “Shame on you,” and it would have no effect whatsoever.
Jesus highlights this man’s wretchedness and selfishness in order to drive home the improbability, perhaps even the impossibility, of anyone ever receiving a fair and equitable hearing in his court, least of all this helpless widow.
She couldn’t appeal to him “for God’s sake” because he couldn’t care less about God! “Don’t appeal to God in my courtroom. I couldn’t give two hoots and a holler about him! God smod!”
Now let’s look at the widow.
Along with the orphan, the widow is typically portrayed in the Bible as representative or the embodiment of utter powerlessness, dependency, helplessness, and vulnerability. She has no one to help her but God.
Her legal rights were being violated. Perhaps not unlike today where unscrupulous scam artists prey upon the elderly and undiscerning, she has no friends, no family, and evidently can’t afford legal counsel.
The judge looks upon her and the condition she’s in and feels nothing. She’s obviously not visibly impressive. The judge immediately figures out that there’s little if any monetary gain to be found in granting her request. Perhaps the person who is oppressing or taking advantage of her has already bribed the judge. In any case, she is of no use or profit to him and he can hardly be bothered by someone so insignificant.
Here’s the stunning thing: the judge doesn’t argue with this criticism of his character! When people attack us or undermine our character or question our motives, we get defensive; we fight back; we throw a fit! Not this judge. He agrees with everything Jesus said about him! “ . . . he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man’ . . .” (v. 4b).
He made no bones of the fact that he’s a jerk. He admits it! He’s not in the least embarrassed or ashamed that he’s a cold-hearted buffoon or that people know it!
This confession he makes in v. 4 proves that his character never changes. In other words, when he eventually relents and gives the woman what she asks it isn’t because he suddenly came to his senses and felt conviction deep in his heart. Nothing like: “I’ve been such a jerk. How could I have been so cold and calloused? I repent!” NO! He’s just as much a shameless and defiant man at the end of the story as he was at the beginning.
The judge concedes that there’s only one reason why he finally gives in and grants her request. He fears being “beat down by her continual coming” (Luke 18:5).
Some have pointed out that the word translated “beat me down” in other contexts means “to blacken the eye.” It refers to getting punched in the face! But I don’t think he actually feared she would take him down and beat the-you-know-what out of him. And it certainly doesn’t mean that he feared she might ruin his reputation, because he couldn’t care less what other people thought about him.
Why did he give in? Because she was persistent! It was not out of concern for her but for himself that he finally yielded:
“This woman is going to wear me out. She’s never going to shut up. I’m going to have to put up with her every day for the rest of my life. OK, OK, enough’s enough. I’ll grant your request.”
Now here’s the point for you and me. There are two contrasts in this parable that must be seen:
The contrast is between an evil and selfish judge and a good and gracious God.
The contrast is also between a helpless and hopeless widow and God’s elect children.
Jesus then argues from the lesser to the greater. Here’s his point:
God is not like the judge . . .
You and I are not like the widow . . .
Unlike the judge, God is good and generous and quick to provide assistance. Unlike the widow, we are not anonymous and alone but the very chosen children of God, members of his kingdom.
Therefore, if she through her persistence obtained from the judge what she desired, how much more shall we, through our persistence, receive from God what we ask!
Let me say it again: If a wicked and shameless judge grants the request of a helpless and hopeless widow, how much more shall a gracious and loving Father grant the request of his precious and forgiven child!
The point of the parable, says Jesus, is to encourage us all to continue to pray, to always pray, and never to give up or become disheartened or discouraged. Never think for a moment that God is like this judge! No! He is the utter and absolute antithesis of the judge. He is kind and giving and tender-hearted and generous and loves to bless his children when they come to him with their needs.
“But Sam, what if we pray for the sick and no one is healed?”
I wonder if that widow asked herself that question after the first time she came to the judge and he said No? If God doesn’t heal when you ask him the first time, ask him again, and again. Humble yourself before the Lord, gird up your loins, and come back again and ask and pray and seek his mercy and never, ever give up!