The Persistent Widow
PASTOR JAMES I. JACKSON JR.†
St. Paul Baptist Church, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
The parable of the Persistent Widow, also known as the parable of the Unjust Judge, demonstrates what Jesus asks of his followers in the face of the problems and the injustices every believer will experience—or about which we may need to pray and act. First, Jesus wants us to be persistent in prayer. Pray always and at all times no matter the circumstances. Secondly, the believer is directed to not faint or lose heart. As we pray and seek justice, Jesus wants us not to be discouraged.
The parable is not intended to present God like a slot machine in the sky. The parable is not about how to get what we want. The widow is not seeking advancement for herself. She is seeking justice.
Watch the description of the judge. Jesus says that this judge “did not fear God nor regard man” (Luke 18:2, NKJV). This identifies him as a man who has no concern to keep the two greatest commandments (Mark 12:29–31). He loves neither God nor his neighbor. It is important to recognize that the unjust judge does not represent God. He is not a stand-in for God, the devil, or anyone else. He is a character that Jesus invents to make a comparison that stresses the Lord’s willingness to hear and respond to the prayers of his people.
Next we meet “a widow.” Jesus does not give us any details about her, but those who heard the parable would recognize her as a person who had no one to advocate on her behalf. She is a desperate person and will get no justice at all if the judge does not help her.
The judge does not want to help her, but she gets the justice she seeks because she persists in her request (Luke 18:5). One take-away is that if persistence pays off with a corrupt human of limited power, how much more will it pay off with a just God of infinite power? Jesus concludes by saying that if even an unjust judge will grant justice to a persistent person, then how much more will God grant justice to those he has chosen as his own (Luke 18:6)?
Jesus says that God “will avenge them speedily” (Luke 18:8). But does this mean that God will immediately answer every prayer for justice? Why does Jesus prepare us for the necessity of being persistent in prayer and not giving up?
When considering this question, it helps to remember the context of this parable. It is part of a larger teaching about the future, when Jesus will come again to make all things right. As we consider the parable in this context, we are reminded that God’s timetable and ours are not the same, just as his ways and his thoughts are above ours (Isaiah 55:8). What may seem long to us is right away to God, for God will provide justice on his timetable. God never gets tired of hearing our pleas for justice. The Lord does not forget when injustice has been done, and he will certainly rectify it, though sometimes he waits until we have persistently called
upon his name before he acts. But whether God intervenes immediately or seems to delay, we can be sure that he will do what is right.
This parable calls on its hearers to pray persistently for justice for themselves and for all people around the world, because God is ready and willing to hear the prayers of and for those who suffer unjustly. And we would do well to remember that prayer and action cannot be separated.
• Are we encouraged to be persistent in prayer for everything?
• How can we pray for those for whom justice has been denied? Who around us needs an advocate?
• How do we put justice into action for those to whom justice has been denied?
• When justice does not come “speedily,” how should we respond?
• What does it mean to be persistent in prayer?