Text: Luke 18:1-8
Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Listen to the sermon here.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Do you ever get discouraged? Of course, you do. From time to time, all of us are tempted to lose heart. When life gets hard, and no relief is in sight, despair can set in. Some of you are in the middle of this right now. Life is a mess, and you may feel like you’re barely hanging on. Day after day, month after month, your resolve can be slowly ground away. The danger with discouragement is that it can wither our faith. Our prayers stop, our attendance at Church slips, and we slowly fade into unbelief. The threat is so real that Jesus finishes our text this morning wondering if he will find faith on the earth when he returns. Life is so tough that it can knock you right out.
Jesus knew being his followers would be demanding during this time before his return. He knew we’d be tempted to give up. How do we keep going when it’s so hard and when we’re tempted to throw in the towel? This is why Jesus tells the parable of the persistent widow, so that no matter what happens, we may not give up.
The Widow’s Persistence
In our Gospel reading, Jesus tells a parable about a persistent widow. She had two potential sources of discouragement: an adversary with whom she was fighting and a corrupt judge. The widow came to a judge and pleaded for help. She was oppressed unjustly and wanted him to use his authority to grant her relief. In their society, women did not go to the courts; men went for them. When this woman appears, we know she is alone, with no father, uncle, brother or nephew to speak for her. She must plead her case alone.
Jesus tells us two things about the judge that make him unlikely to help the widow. First, he had no fear of God. This means that he didn’t care about what God said. The fear of God should’ve moved a judge to help a needy widow. This judge decided right or wrong based on self-interest. He mistakenly believed he would never stand before God’s judgement. The second mark of the judge was that he had “no regard for man.” This means that he didn’t care what others thought of him. This judge was a hard-hearted man, and human misery did not affect his cold heart. No one and nothing outside of himself can move him. He simply refuses to help the widow.
Alone and against impossible odds, the widow played the only card she had, which was her loud, continual pestering. Her case gets thrown out of court, and she keeps coming back. She refused to be quiet or to go away until the judge surrendered and said, “She is giving me a headache. I cannot put up with this racket any longer.” Finally, he agrees to settle her case favourably to get rid of her. The widow is us. Weak, poor, and with no one to speak up for us. Her only source of help was the judge. Our only source is God. So, what’s the point of the parable? Do we need to beg God to get him to answer our prayers? Is the point that if you keep begging and pleading, you might stand a chance of wearing out God so that he helps you just to get you off his back?
The Lord’s Encouragement
There’s one gigantic difference, though. The judge was unloving, evil, ungracious, merciless, and unjust. The lesson of the parable is that God is not like the judge. God is loving, good, gracious, merciful, and just. The parable’s point is that sometimes you can get justice even from an unjust judge. How much more will a loving, gracious God hear and answer us? Jesus clarifies that we are not in the presence of a grim judge who wants nothing to do with us.
On the contrary, how are we taught to start our prayers? “Our Father, who art in heaven.” “What does this mean? With these words God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear father” (SC).
If God is your Father, you don’t ever have to wonder whether he cares about you and your predicament. He knows, and he cares. You don’t need to wonder whether God hears you. Not only does God hear you, but he is also eager to hear from you. If God is your Father, then you know what God thinks of you. He cares for you. He is on your side.
God does not need to be constantly pestered like the unjust judge was to do the right thing. You don’t ever have to wonder if God will give you justice and do right. We can trust that God will bring justice and is not delaying. You may need to be patient, but you can be confident that God hears you and he genuinely cares. At various times in our lives, these can be words of hope and comfort and words of warning which move us to repentance. However, this hope may not satisfy all of our questions. Where is justice? Your belief that God won’t delay might not seem very comforting amid great suffering. Most of us can immediately name areas of our life where we have personal unsettled hurts and wrongs. On top of that are all the distressing things happening in the world. What comfort is there to gain? Where is justice?
When justice seems far off, we pray. When rejection is near at hand, we pray. We persist in praying for what is right. Take heart. God is for you. His judgments towards you are based on his goodness and his love for you. So come to him, believing that he’s for you and that he cares. The widow faced insurmountable discouragement. She couldn’t be sure that the judge would give her justice. Those in the Church never have to wonder if God will provide us with justice. We know that God will do right in the end.
That is what faith does: faith clings to God for dear life. Over and over in the Old Testament, God is described as hearing the cries of his people: in slavery, in exile, from the widow whose child is dying, from the streets as the people repent and lament. Each time, God comes and delivers them. God provides justice when they are the victims and relents from the punishment they deserve when they are the perpetrators.
This is the source of your encouragement when you feel the weight of discouragement press upon you. The fundamental characteristic of God is his compassion and mercy for sinners. Although God has every right to punish us for our sins, he instead shows mercy. The widow was helpless, with no one to defend her. Although we may be helpless, God is not helpless. God is the helper of the helpless and the refuge of the weary. He is the defender of the widow and the fatherless. Those in Church have a helper because Jesus Christ himself has promised to defend us. The Creator listens to your cries for justice because he did not listen to his Son’s cries upon the cross. He defends you from all danger and guards and protects you from all evil because he did not defend his Son from the evil of the cross. Jesus wrestled Satan, sin, and death on the cross and defeated them with his death and resurrection. He has forgiven you. Since we are God’s children, and God is our Father, he will not let us down. This gives us, children of God, the boldness and the confidence we need to pray. We know a kind and loving heavenly Father through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Do you have faith that this is true? That the cross a sign of just how much God loves us? That the forgiveness won on the cross is for you? The widow had no husband. She was alone. Those in the Church are married to Christ himself. He loves us. His heart is for us, and we will never be alone. We have been given the promise that when Jesus returns, he will come to judge the living and the dead. He will make all things right when he makes all things new. He will wipe every tear from the eye of the suffering, and he will swallow up evil and its capacity for wrongdoing. The hardship of being a confessing Christian in this world can cause us to lose heart quickly. But one day, Christ will return. That day will be the answer to all our prayers and victory for all who have trusted in Christ.
The clear lesson of the parable is that God is not like the judge, for God is good and gracious. So, if you are facing discouragement, in whatever situation, no matter what happens, cling to Christ. Our God is the god of the lowly and oppressed. He upholds the weak, protects the forsaken, and saves those without hope. And we are not like the nameless widow, for we are his dear children, bought with the precious blood of Christ. God has, through Christ, dealt with your sin. God’s promises to you remain firm and steadfast no matter what happens. God is not deaf to your prayers. God may choose to take his time in answering our prayers, but eventually, and always at the right time, his help will come. We have his word for that.
May, the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.