Summary: This sermon is about prayer, our frequency of prayer and how God answers prayer.
THE PERSISTENT WIDOW
Text: Luke 18:1-8
There is the story of a woman who prayed for one of her bride’s maids salvation for fifty-three years before her prayer was answered. (Kelly Douglas. If God already Knows Why Pray? Brentwood: Wolgemuth and Hyatt, Publishers, Inc., 1989, p. 159). I have heard countless stories like this through my lifetime. Such a story tells us about the devotion of a friend who will stop at nothing until her friend has accepted Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior. What would have happened had her friend given up in that prayer request? That is a question to ponder. More importantly still, what happens when we give up? The parable about the widow and the unjust judge can help us to answer that question. This parable is a parable about prayer.
There are times when we are like the widow in this parable. We know what we need, but we have to keep going in the direction of getting what we need through prayer. We cannot be in control of things beyond our control which is why we need God’s help because He has power over all things. How often do we pray for God’s help with those things?
THE FREQUENCY OF PRAYER
When we talk about the word "frequent" or "frenquency" we are talking about the number of times something happens. How often did this widow pray? She continued beg this judge, who appears to be a Gentile for justice. She wanted alleviation from her adversary. We are not told the circumstances of her adversary or how he was oppressing her. But, we are told that his oppression is unjust. She bothered this judge over and over again to get the justice that she was entitled to but also deprived of. The help that she needed was at the mercy of this judge.
Let us consider the plight of widows in the days of Jesus’s earthly ministry. As we know, women had sort of a second-class status in that day. In recent days, due to the rising conflict in the Middle East, we have seen how much freedom women have in the Islamic religion. That portrayal is similar to how things were for women in the days of Jesus’ earthly ministry. That brings us back to the widow in this parable. She had no husband or son standing with her in court to help her plead her case for justice. Her case was obviously in the realm of the Gentile court system, because under Jewish law, cases were taken before an elder in a Jewish context and not a public court system. William Barclay noted that "...under Jewish law one man could not constitute a court. What usually happened was that the plaintiff chose an arbitrator and the defendant chose another and then a third was appointed who would act as chairman and who would have the casting vote" (And Jesus Said. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1970, p. 114 ). She was having to fight for what was hers as a Jew in a Gentile court system without the aid and advice of a lawyer.
The element of longsuffering that proved to be in her favor was her frequency of prayer. She had no advantage or advocate in her favor. She was on her own to plead her case. The judge would not hear her. But, she would not remain silent. Jesus tells us that this judge cared neither for man nor God. If you have ever seen Judge Judy on TV, then you will not be surprised if someone described her as looking like she had a sour face. The judge that this widow faced made Judge Judy look like Mickey Mouse as far as justice was concerned under his ruling. Although Judge Judy might have a sour looking face most of the time, it seems that she does at least try to give rulings that are just concerning her litigants, in spite the sensationalism of a TV court show.
The court system that the widow went to for justice was a corrupt system. There were litigants who would stand outside the court room disputing as to who should have preference. The more prudent litigants whispered to the secretaries and paid bribes that were called fees. When the greed of one of these secretaries had been gratified, they would whisper to the judge who would promptly call the case (Jesus Said. p. 115). "Officially, they were called Dayyenah Gezeroth, which means judges of prohibitions or punishments. Popularly they were called Dayyenah Gezeloth which means robber judges" (William Barclay. The Daily Study Bible Series: The Gospel Of Luke- Revised Edition. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975, p. 222 ).
Now if you think about this system, its corruption and the widow’s helplessness, you get the idea that she seemed hopeless. Hopeless though she may have been, she was also persistent. Barclay notes that the widow epitomizes symbolically those that were both poor and defenseless (The Gospel Of Luke. p. 222). What is striking about this widow was not the fact that she was a potential victim of exploitation as widows often were, but that she publicly and persistently cried out for justice. (John R. Donahue. The Gospel In Parable. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988, p. 182). Despite how desperate she was, she would not resort to bribery (Donahue, p. 182). The rationale behind her reasoning in refusing to resort to bribery was for one or two reasons. Number one, she refused to degrade herself by following a corrupt way to obtain what was just, even if she had the money to do so. Number two, as a widow, she was somewhat destitute to begin with.