Stories Jesus told with women in them

The Parable of the Persistent Widow Luke 18:1-8

Let’s put everything we have all together so we can really get this parable:

The weakest of the weak, a widow, goes to her village judge, who is also the village rabbi. She’s probably known him her whole life, his extended family, where he lives, all his foibles and everything. She knows this guy really well. And he knows her, too, where she lives, The tragic circumstances surrounding the death of her husband, her extended family, even the whole issue with her current adversary. They both know everything in the village, all the people, all the gossip, all the events, and they know each other really well.

They go to synagogue together, they drink water from the same well, eat bread baked in the same oven, and so on. In many ways, their lives are deeply intertwined. But, regardless of any personal merits—or lack thereof!!—the judge has the upper hand.

  • He’s a man
  • He’s a rabbi
  • He’s a judge

Certainly, economically, he’s faring better than the widow. Everybody is faring better than her except other widows, the orphans, and whoever is so disabled they can’t work.

Most likely he’d been avoiding dealing with her case because it was going to cost him in some way—either the adversary was a friend or colleague of his, or some kind of shady deal was going down that he’d have to use some of his own person political or social capital to investigate and intervene on.

That’s the setup. The most vulnerable person in the village and the most powerful person in the village, with the village itself connecting them with these countless mundane and homey ties. The most vulnerable person—the widow—was in the eye of God as His beloved, protected by His spoken word, loved by Him and defended by Him. The most powerful person in the village was also God’s beloved, having been anointed to teach God’s word and appointed to uphold God’s word.

But, he didn’t want to. He was, in whatever way that meant, unjust. So that made the judge procrastinate when it came to the widow’s very real, very pressing complaint.

Everybody in Jesus’ audience could totally relate to that. They had all been there, one way or the other.

And, they had all been asking a thousand questions about the future of God’s Kingdom; questions like,

  1. When will God’s Kingdom come?
  2. How will we know it’s here?
  3. How long will it take to get here?
  4. What will happen when God’s Kingdom has arrived?
  5. How are we going to survive until God’s Kingdom is realized?

After answering these, and many other questions, with explanations that only seem to confuse and worry them, Jesus slowed down and looked at them with warmth and compassion. “Look,” He said. “Just like you know what’s on the ground when you see a circle of vultures in the air—even though you can’t literally see that far—you will know God’s Kingdom when it arrives.” (Luke 17:37)

Then, He told them a very familiar story about someone who so longed for protection from an adversary, and justice for what their adversary was exercising against them, that it became their daily focus. They wanted it so incredibly badly! And, it's something God legitimately meant for them to have, for He had been very clear in His word, those who can provide it must do so, or deal personally with God’s displeasure. Sadly, this someone, a widow, couldn’t get what she so desperately longed for by using her own means, no matter how badly she needed it. She would have to wait, and keep trusting and hoping, knowing it would eventually happen. God would personally see to it.

“Don’t lose heart,” Jesus told them. “It will seem like it’s taking forever. It will seem like the very one Who is supposed to be taking care of you and protecting you is instead procrastinating. But don’t you believe that! Your keening desire for God’s Kingdom will be fulfilled.”

The mistake that is so often made with this parable is in thinking that if only we would just persist in prayer, like this widow did, then God will answer that prayer and give us what we’ve been asking for. That idea leads to this totally false notion that if you haven’t gotten what you asked for, from God, well, it means you just didn’t have enough faith.

This parable is SO NOT about that.

It is not that a Christian is vindicated because they’ve persevered in prayer. The point is, Christians persevere in prayer because they know God will do right, and come through on His promises. Prayers are not answered because the person praying has made an absolute pest of themselves, persevering in prayer. People pray with certainty because they know God’s character. People persevere in prayer, even when everyone else has lost all hope, because they know how infinitely and eternally good, powerful, and just God really is.

He’s coming back, everybody. Hang in there! It’s a certainty. Don’t lose hope, keep persevering.

All passages taken from the New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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