Summary: What are those things that bring your heart closer to God and what are those that drive you further away? We learn them from studying contrasts in people Jesus tells us about or encounters in this chapter.
This is a chapter of contrasts. There are two kinds of people represented here: those that think they have it together, and those that know they don’t. Jesus gives us the contrast between them by showing us various different portraits. I think the idea is to give us a picture of what our approach to God should be like, but what often in reality we do.
So we see:
A Pharisee contrasted with a sinner (more alike than they know)
Children contrasted with adults
A rich young ruler who thinks he has everything who really has nothing, contrasted with Savior who has everything but gives it all up
A man who was left out by a society, but received by that Savior - contrasted with those who stood in the way of faith.
We begin, though, by Jesus setting the stage with a parable:
Verses 1 - 8
How much do you need God? What kind of attitude does it take to approach God anyway?
That’s kind of the theme of this chapter-how much do you think you need Him? Some people think that if they throw God a bone now again He’ll be happy that someone paid attention to Him. Or they think that they are pretty self sufficient on their own, either by their great righteousness or great riches or great experience.
What the woman in this parable represents is persistent faith. Luke kind of bookends the chapter with these characters-one a fictional widow, the other a very real blind beggar-both on the fringes of society, but blessed mightily by their persistent approach to God.
Do you realize your need of God so much that you won’t let anything stop you from seeking Him? Or are you proud and a little self sufficient-does it seem a bit demeaning to you to admit how much you really need Him?
Listen to how The Message paraphrase renders this parable:
Luke 18:1-8 Jesus told them a story showing that it was necessary for them to pray consistently and never quit. 2 He said, "There was once a judge in some city who never gave God a thought and cared nothing for people. 3 A widow in that city kept after him: ’My rights are being violated. Protect me!’
4 "He never gave her the time of day. But after this went on and on he said to himself, ’I care nothing what God thinks, even less what people think. 5 But because this widow won’t quit badgering me, I’d better do something and see that she gets justice - otherwise I’m going to end up beaten black and blue by her pounding.’"
6 Then the Master said, "Do you hear what that judge, corrupt as he is, is saying? 7 So what makes you think God won’t step in and work justice for his chosen people, who continue to cry out for help? Won’t he stick up for them? 8 I assure you, he will. He will not drag his feet. But how much of that kind of persistent faith will the Son of Man find on the earth when he returns?" The Message
How persistent are you in approaching God? Jesus said in Luke 11 "Knock and it will be opened to you." The Greek word there can be rendered "knock, and keep knocking."
Hebrews 11:6 But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. NKJV
I also wonder if Jesus isn’t talking about those who cry out to God for justice. The religious leaders of the day were not leading the people to God or providing justice. But God listened to their prayers and sent Jesus. Yet when He arrived, He indeed did not find faith on the earth.
Don’t give up in your approach to God - He knows what you need before you even ask for it.
So now let’s look at the various people who approach God-some with that kind of "I’ve just got to have what He gives" to those who say "God has got to have what I have to give Him!"
Verses 9 - 14
Pharisee: doesn’t recognize own sin, thinks God is happy with him the way he is. Tax Collector: Knows he cannot draw near, cries for mercy.
Do we justify ourselves before God? Do we look around and see people that are a little more sinful (on the outside) than we are and think that we are better than they? It can happen very subtly. But it’s like someone covered with brown mud thinking they are clean while the person who is covered in black mud is the only one who is dirty.
Isaiah 64:6 We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. ESV