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Post Series on Luke 18:1-8:

  • God Wants You to Beat Him Down with Prayer
  • How to Seek Justice When You are Also Guilty
  • Do You Believe in God’s Love Enough to Pray?

In Luke 18, Jesus tells a parable about prayer. It is not clear whether Jesus told the parable to his disciples (to whom he had been speaking in the immediately preceding passage; Luke 17:22, but see Luke 17:20), or whether he was speaking to the crowds that followed him during his ministry (Luke 18:9).

Despite the fact that we do not know Jesus’ audience, Luke is explicit about the purpose of Jesus’ parable: “And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). Here is the entire parable:

1And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. 2He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. 3And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ 4For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, 5yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.'” (Luke 18:1-5)

In this story, Jesus characterizes the judge as a man who “neither feared God nor respected man,” a characterization that the judge himself acknowledges in v. 4. The description here is of someone who lives entirely for his own purposes. He cares neither for God, nor for the people whom he has been appointed to judge. In v. 6 (which we will look at more closely tomorrow), Jesus calls the man an “unrighteous judge.”

Oddly, though, Jesus uses this unrighteous judge to represent God. The point isn’t that God is an unrighteous judge; rather, this is an example of Jesus’ “how much more” logic. In other words, if this unrighteous judge, who neither fears God nor respects man, acts to dispense justice, then how much more will the righteous Judge that we have in heaven act to procure justice for his people? Again, we will look much more closely tomorrow at what Jesus has to say about the justice that Jesus is mentioning in this parable. For now, however, let’s focus in on what Jesus is teaching us about prayer.

Jesus means for the widow in this story to represent us—not necessarily to represent us as we are, but to represent us as we ought to be. We are the widow who stands in desperate need of justice, with an adversary who is making our lives miserable. And, like the widow, our recourse is clear: prayer.

The widow, however, does not make it a point of reminding herself to pray once a week, perhaps while she is at work. She does not grumble and work up motivation to pray for justice on a semi-daily basis. She doesn’t grow bored with prayer, wishing that she could be doing something—anything!—else. She isn’t mumbling dead words that she memorized as a child but hasn’t given thought to since, and she isn’t trying to impress the judge with her vocabulary and intricate knowledge of the law.

She simply pleads. Repeatedly. Desperately. Even violently. In fact, the only reason the unrighteous judge relents at all is that he is actually frightened that the woman might “beat me down by her continual coming” (v. 5). Literally, he is worried that she will strike him and give him a black eye.

So, what is Jesus teaching us from this parable? First, he is teaching us “that we ought always to pray and not lose heart.” If the audience of our prayers is a righteous judge, how much more should we continue to cry out to our God for justice than this widow whose chances of convincing the unrighteous judge were so slim? Our God cares about justice, so why should we ever stop praying to him for it?

Second, we need to learn to pray with violent desperation. God actually wants us to beat him down with prayer. Elsewhere, Jesus says that “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force” (Matt. 11:12). Jesus isn’t suggesting that we ought to launch crusades (as this verse has been misinterpreted in the past), but he is instead describing (in part) what our prayer lives ought to look like. If the kingdom of heaven (or justice in Luke 18) is worth having, then we ought to take it by force through our prayers.

Desperation is, however, not something that we can conjure up at will. Third, then, if we are going to pray with the fervency of this widow, then we need to understand our condition as keenly as she does. She does not stop coming to her judge because she feels the close, dogged pursuit of her adversary.

So how do we cultivate the kind of desperation that will drive us to pray like this widow? We will answer that question in tomorrow’s blog post.

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