ESV Luke 18:1 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 respected man. 3 And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ 4 For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.'” 6 And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. 7 And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? 8 I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
This is a contrast between two extremes: one, an all powerful judge, the other, a helpless widow. This was truly a David and Goliath like battle: A helpless widow against an all powerful judge. The outcome was obvious. It’s similar to Jacob wrestling with God. The one a poor, weak, mortal, the other an infinite, all powerful God. This was not contest. It was not a match.
Let’s take a look at the judge: the top of the social ladder. The most powerful. He could send a man to prison just because he didn’t like him. He could get revenge on his enemies at any time. Verse 2 tells us about him. He neither feared God nor had any shame before man. This was a man who did not believe in God and had no use for God’s commandment to love your neighbor. Mercy, kindness, compassion and forgiveness were words not in his vocabulary. He didn’t care what God thought of him. He didn’t care what people thought of him. The literal translation is “he was not shamed by men.” He didn’t care if people thought of him as a cruel, uncompassionate, tyrant. He didn’t care if people were suffering, poor, helpless, or being treated unfairly. He was a cold hearted, proud, hard man, who did what was right in his eyes with no regard for what God’s Law said. We’ve all known people like this, whom later on in verse 6 Jesus calls unrighteous. That is to condemn him to hell.
The widow on the other hand was helpless. She was at the bottom of the social scale, helpless and dependent on the mercy and kindness of others for her life. After losing her husband, if she had no son to take care of her, she had no way of making a living or fending for herself. She had no legal rights or voice in society and people merely ignored her. She also had an accuser, an opponent who was giving her grief, some situation in life or problem that she could no longer handle. She was at her wit’s end. She had taken all she could take, and now she had nowhere to turn. In a last ditch effort she came to the judge for relief from her accuser. She had no defense other than to seek the mercy of the judge. For she had no merits. She had no legal rights. She couldn’t even offer him a bribe. Her situation was impossible. Of course the judge denied her petition and refused to give her justice.
She sought justice, but looking at verse 4 closely in the original language, it literally says, “He did not want to give her justice.” He didn’t want to help her. It was his preference not to help her. This again reflects on his character. His refusal to help had no legal basis. It was not based on his interpretation of the law. It was not based on the facts of the case. He did not hand down a well thought out 353 page decision by the majority of justices. He simply didn’t want to help her.
But, this parable is full of surprises. She did what no one would expect: she kept coming back over and over to make her request. The judge denied her petition so the next day there she was again petitioning the court all over again. Again she was denied, so the following day she returned to do the same. This kept going on day after day. He kept refusing her, and she kept coming back. She was persistent. Like Jacob who wrestled with God until he gave him a blessing, she didn’t let hold of the judge. She relentlessly pounded at his door and persisted in her petitions.
Until finally she had become such a bother that the judge couldn’t take it any longer. He replied, “Though I neither believe in God nor am ashamed of what people think of me, because this widow keeps on making trouble for me, I will answer her and do what she wants so that she does not end up giving me a black eye by continually coming to me.”
Another surprise: the judge gave in to the widow after a time. The all powerful judge condescended to the helpless widow, even though he didn’t want to at first. Not because he felt any compassion, but out of his own self-interest.
A surprising parable with an even more surprising meaning. Let’s look at what it means. Jesus himself explains it so it is no great mystery.
Who are the two characters in the parable? The judge represents God, and the widow represents you. Two extremes: an all powerful God vs. a helpless you. You, the human, want the all powerful God to grant you your request and give you justice. So you pray!
But God, at first, doesn’t want to. In fact God is your enemy (Rom 5:10). In your case, the judge is your enemy. The Law is your accuser. A the time of the reformation one important theme was, “lex semper accusat.” The law always accuses. God’s law has but one function: to convict us of sin. It kills us. It crushes us like a hammer. Every time the law is preached or read it accuses us of being sinners. The work of the law is to condemn us under sin. St Paul says the law imprisons everything under sin. Gal 3:22. Therefore, if we seek God on the basis of the law, we are condemned. When we try to defend our actions and justify ourselves, that is a legal approach, and we are condemned. When we think we will have God’s favor on account of our good works or how holy we are, that again is a legal argument and we are condemned. The law of God has no place in God’s way of making us right.
We are under indictment by the law, and when we come together on Sunday mornings, we are coming to court, like the widow, to seek mercy from the Judge.
But after a time the judge granted the request to the widow. Now here’s the big shocker: God also gives in and grants us mercy. Yes, God changed his mind, just as the judge changed his mind toward the widow. God who had condemned all men to death has granted us mercy. After all else has failed, God comes in to help.
Why? Why would God answer me? Like the widow, I have no merit. So why? Because we bother him too much? (Now here’s the cool thing). Because he wants to! God changes his mind and grants us mercy, because his Son died for us so that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). God changed his verdict because of the sacrifice of his Son who poured out his blood for us on the cross, who suffered the torments and tortures of hell, and died for us. God declares us righteous in his sight, because our sin has already been punished. So now there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:1). Jesus is the propitiation for our sins. In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (I John 2:2; 4:10).
Therefore, we gather in the presence of God today to make our request to the Judge. We’ve confessed our sins and asked for forgiveness. We’ve begged for mercy. We’ve heard God’s absolution. And a little later in this service we will come to the altar to receive what we have asked for and the gifts we have heard about, by means of eating God’s own body and drinking his blood; that same body that was crucified for you on the cross and raised again on the third day. This whole worship service is about nothing else than the widow and the judge: we come to beg for mercy and the Judge grants us his mercy on account of the death of his Son.
Therefore, I declare unto you right now, “In the name of Jesus Christ, each and every one of your sins has been forgiven (cross). Amen.” Having been indicted and put to death by the law of God, you have now been forgiven and raised from the dead by the grace of God in Christ through his word of forgiveness. He will give justice to his elect who cry to him day and night. He will not delay long over us. Trust in God’s greatness and learn to ask great things of him. Our culture which has been submerged in materialism for over a century has forgotten how to trust in God and ask great things of him. So, ask, and do not lose heart. Do not give up if at first he delays giving you your request. Be persistent in prayer like the widow. God is not a judge who does not want to help you. God is a merciful and loving Father who wants to give you justice so badly that he gave up his only Son to die for you. And if God did not spare his very own Son, how will he not all the more graciously give you all things? (Rom 8:32). Expect great things from him for our God is a great God above all gods, who is slow to anger and quick to forgive and who constantly surprises us by giving more abundantly than all you can ever ask for or imagine. Alleluia! Amen.