Undiscouraged (Luke 18:1-8)
Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation today comes from our Gospel lesson, where Luke records, “And [Jesus] told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” Here ends our text; my dear Christian friends …

Of course. Of course we are to pray. It seems like a no-brainer, right? Telling Christians that they are to pray. It’s all over the Scriptures. In Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, he tells them to “pray without ceasing.” James encouraged those who are suffering to pray, for those who are elders to pray over the sick, to pray for one another, because “the prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” Jesus Himself commanded that His followers “pray for those who persecute you.” He even told us how to pray, not like the hypocrites who do it for show, heaping up empty words, attempting to make their petitions sound sophisticated and long winded, but rather in humility and faith. If you are a Christian, a follower of Jesus of Nazareth, who is the Christ, prayer is an integral part of your life. It’s what you do! 

But, have you ever prayed for something, and what you prayed for didn’t seem to pan out? It does happen, and it happens to all of us. We’ve all known times when our prayers, our petitions, our longings and desires go unfulfilled, seemingly unanswered, and it can be quite discouraging. Receiving a terminal diagnosis. Hoping for (and needing) a raise in your wages, only to be passed over. A secret yearning or desire, for which you pray every single day for years, maybe even decades, and … nothing. Discouraging. Might even raise the question, “Well, what’s the point?”

This is what Jesus is addressing today in our text, as we just heard, “And He told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” Does that sound easier said than done? I suppose it can, but the example in the parable really does drive this point home hard, albeit in a rather unusual fashion.

And this is an unusual parable, of a kind that we’re not used to. We have three characters – two are named, one is implied. Jesus introduces us to the first one: “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man.” This is not a good man. He doesn’t care much about anything or anyone. He is unjust – rendering verdicts and handing down rulings that are a mockery of the established rules and laws set up for the good of the people. 

We’re then introduced to our next character, the persistent widow. At this time, widows were considered among the most helpless individuals, having no legal rights or any recourse to improve their stations. They were, therefore, among the most exploited and harassed people, simply because no one cared about them. This particular widow keeps coming to the unjust judge, pleading with him, to give her justice against the third character, the widow’s adversary. Her implorations fall upon deaf ears as the judge blows her off at every opportunity. But whether she likes it or not, this judge, who cares nothing for men and who doesn’t fear God’s wrath, is the only hope she has for justice, and she refuses to give in to his contempt and neglect.

That is, until one day. Whether it’s a moment of clarity and self-reflection, or because he’s aware that she could ruin his reputation, or, as Jesus tells us, he’s just getting tired of her coming to him every single day, the judge changes his mind. He says 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.” He’s not suddenly a good guy; he’s still a bad guy, but a bad guy who did the right thing, even if it was for self-serving purposes. He gives her what she wants, satisfies her longing for justice, and presumably goes back his apathetic ways.

As is true with all Jesus’ parables, these characters are representative of others. The persistent widow, as the completely powerless, entirely dependent supplicant seeking to be justified … that’s us. Yes, I know that the version we read a few moments ago said, “Give me justice against my adversary,” but another way of translating this phrase the widow keeps on saying is, “Justify me against my adversary.” Jesus’s word choice is very clear, and with the surrounding context, it’s clear that He is talking about justification, about righteousness, about being freed from the shackles of our adversary, the evil one.

What about the unjust judge? Well, odd as it may sound, the judge is representative of God – only, His character is given here as a negative example. Jesus tells us, “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.” 

The judge in the parable is a despicable excuse for a human being, who ultimately gives in to the widow’s desire for justice. That is the polar opposite of our Creator, who knit us together in our mothers’ wombs, who knows us each by name, who knows the “best” and the “worst” of who we are and still deigns to love us as He does. Your Judge is not unjust, sitting idly by until He’s worn down by your constant whining and repetitious prayers and gives in to your demands. No, He is your Judge, who has already given you justice, justified you, through His Son’s death on the cross for your sins and His resurrection from the dead. He is your Father in heaven, who “tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear father.”

We pray. It’s what we do as Christians. Of course, that doesn’t mean we’re guaranteed a favorable response to our supplications; God is not a genie, and our prayers aren’t wishes. No, the prayer of the righteous, the justified, which is prayed in faith, yields to God’s will, and accepts whatever His response is – even if that response is silence for a period of time. After all, our greatest need, our most dire supplication – echoing the widow’s plea for justification – has already been met when our Lord Jesus died and rose for our sins. That’s why we pray, regardless of the outcome. Whether it’s a terminal diagnosis, a loss of wages, or some unfulfilled desire, our Judge has already justified us, and therefore … we do not lose heart.

+ In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.