And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said 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.’” And the Lord said, “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. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” — Luke 18:1-8
Rocky Balboa is the movie of Philadelphia. It is a timeless story that goes beyond place, to be sure. But his is a Philadelphia story: tough city streets, school of hard knocks, nothing but heart keeps him going. Rocky was recognized as a “has-been” even before being a “never-was.” His is a story of perseverance. Rocky took the defending champ 12 rounds in spite of little professional experience, a less-than-encouraging manager (at least in the first 1/2 of the film), and an inability to guard his face from Apollo Creed’s punishing right hook. But he kept coming back. He kept training. He kept stepping to the center of the ring. Why? Because it was his only hope of leaving the dead-end existence he had been living.
The passage in Luke’s gospel today has a different character, but the theme is the same: persistence in the face of disappointment. Why? Because it was her only hope.
The context of the parable is important. It concerns the delay of Christ’s return at the close of the age (Luke 17:20-37). The widow’s plea is parallel to our own prayer for Christ’s return. Even though His return appears to be delayed, we don’t give up. We persevere in prayer trusting that God will respond in perfect justice.
There is a juxtaposition in the parable, wherein the unjust judge is somehow synonymous with God the Father. But the comparison is not one of likeness but of contrast. Just as in Luke 11:5-13, where Jesus does not imply that God is asleep and therefore needs to be roused, but shows that God is always awake to His children’s needs. In Luke 11:13 Jesus juxtaposes God our Father with “you, then, who are evil…” He is a good and gracious Father who gives good gifts. He is a just judge. He will answer our prayers. We can trust Him. He’s good. So keep praying!
So, as we persevere, what does God promise to provide us? There are times we don’t receive what we ask for because we ask with the wrong motives (James 4:3). But as we pray in God’s will – for personal salvation, righteousness, peace, renewal, His promises to come to pass, wisdom, our daily bread – He will answer. Is this true for revival? I believe so. In Luke 10:2, Jesus told us to “ask the Lord of the harvest…to send out workers into his harvest field.” Whether it was the Great Awakening, the Wesleyan revivals, or the 19th century revivals under D.L. Moody, God responded to the prayers of His people. R.A. Torrey writes “Great revivals always begin first in the hearts of a few men and women whom God arouses by His Spirit to believe in Him as a living God, as a God who answers prayer, and upon whose heart He lays a burden from which no rest can be found except in importunate crying unto God.”
Spoiler alert: Rocky loses the fight to Apollo Creed. In Luke 18, the persistent widow wins. She is given justice. But it’s just a parable, right? How can we know God will hear and bring justice for us? The ending is already written: He will come again for His elect. He has proven to be true to His promises. Christ lived, died and rose again. For the sake of His glory, and our victory in Him.
Ministry Director at University of Pennsylvania
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