Summary: An unjust judge, an importunate widow - and the patience of God.
AN EXHORTATION TO IMPORTUNITY IN PRAYER
The Pharisees demanded of Jesus when the kingdom of God should come. Jesus’ unexpected response was that it is here already (Luke 17:20-21)!
Jesus then turned to His disciples to advise them concerning what He called ‘the days of the Son of man’ (Luke 17:22). Jesus compared this with ‘the days of Noah’ (Luke 17:26-27), and ‘the days of Lot’ (Luke 17:28-30). Instructions, warnings and challenges thereafter surrounded the exhortation to ‘Remember Lot’s wife’ (Luke 17:32).
Jesus continued His teaching of the disciples with a parable concerning an unjust judge (Luke 18:2), an importunate widow (Luke 18:3) - and an observation (by way of contrast) of the patience of God (Luke 18:7). Jesus’ stated purpose in telling this story was that His people “ought always to pray and not to faint” (Luke 18:1). The possibility that we might fail in this department is indicated in the conclusion of the parable: “Nevertheless, the Son of man having come, will He indeed find faith upon the earth?” (Luke 18:8).
The characters in the parable were totally recognizable. The unjust judge “not fearing God, and man not respecting” (Luke 18:2) – an indictment against himself which he could not trouble himself to deny (Luke 18:4) – was probably (depending upon his jurisdiction) appointed by Herod, or by the Roman authorities in Jerusalem. Under Roman law, petitioners had to approach the judge to make their own case.
In a culture where a woman had no voice, a widow not having a man to help her (whether father, brother, or son) was particularly vulnerable. Yet Jesus was talking to disciples who came from a religious culture whose judges were exhorted to ‘defend’ the widow and the orphan (Psalm 82:3). This is a task from which the LORD our God does not shrink (Deuteronomy 10:18).
The widow stands for all of God's redeemed people (Luke 18:7). Her reasoning was, if no-one is here to speak up for me, I will have to speak for myself. She is made of sterner stuff than to wilt in the face of her adversary (Luke 18:3) - and neither will she offer bribes to win her right to a hearing (as may have been customary)!
We are not told about the case: that is not the point. Instead we are presented with a woman who is persistent almost to the point of violence, putting the fear of God in the godless judge (who squeals “I will avenge her lest she gives me a black eye by her perpetual coming!” Luke 18:5).
It is at this point that Jesus introduces the contrast between the “unjust judge” (Luke 18:6), and God (Luke 18:7). Sometimes it may appear that our prayers go unheeded, even when we pray within what we know to be ‘the will of God’ (1 John 5:14). Yet the seeming delays are not like the refusal of the unjust judge.
On the contrary, God “bears long with us” or “is patient with us” (Luke 18:7). We have nothing to offer except that we were sinners who are saved by the blood of His Son (cf. Romans 5:8-10). We come ‘in the name of Jesus’ (John 14:13-14) to throw ourselves anew upon His mercy.
As to answered prayer - as with the days and the hours (cf. Mark 13:32) - God sets the agenda, not us. So when we “cry day and night” (Luke 18:7) - ‘Thy kingdom come, thy will be done’ (Matthew 6:10) - it is not the kind of vain repetition which Jesus forbids (cf. Matthew 6:7). Though He bears long, His patience merits our patience.