Luke 18:1-8 (Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 24—Series C)
“Continual Prayer to a Faithful God”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
October 20, 2019
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel reading from Luke 18:
1And he spoke a parable to them to show that they must always pray and not grow weary, 2saying, “There was a certain judge in a certain city not fearing God and not respecting people. 3Now there was a widow in that city and she continually came to him saying, ‘Give me justice against my accuser!” 4And he was not willing for a long time. But after these things, he said to himself, ‘Even if I do not fear God nor respect people, 5on account of the trouble this widow causes me, I will give her justice so that she will not keep coming until the end and browbeat me.’” 6And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. 7But shall God surely not make justice for his elect who cry out to him day and night and be long-suffering to them? 8I say to you that he will make their justice quickly. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he then find faith on the earth?”
The judge holds all the cards. He is in control. He alone is the deciding factor in whether this widow is vindicated with justice against her accuser or not. But this is not the kind of judge that you want. This judge does not fear God. Because he does not fear God, he is not a part of Israel’s faithful remnant. We would say that he is a non-believer. This judge also does not respect people. This lack of respect makes itself known in a lack of shame in his relationships with others. In other words, here we have a judge in Israel who doesn’t fear the Lord nor respect people. He operates outside of the normal social patterns of his day—he doesn’t observe God’s Law or the basic social conventions of his time. So what kind of results is a widow going to get from a judge like this? Both society and God in His Law required that he take notice and help this widow. But this judge is not ashamed to ignore her and her need for justice.
This widow, now, in ancient society is helpless. She has no intrinsic standing in the community. The fact that she finds herself before the judge pleading her case tells us that she has no male relative to bring her case to court. She lacks the economic resources if she wanted to offer the appropriate bribe necessary for a swift settlement. Nevertheless, in the culture, a woman could act as she does, pestering the judge. According to Kenneth Bailey in his book, Through Peasant Eyes, “In traditional society in the Middle East women are generally powerless in [a] man’s world. But at the same time, they are respected and honored. Men can be mistreated in public, but not women. Women can scream at a public figure and nothing will happen to them.” So this pestering widow demonstrates unusual, but not unheard-of, behavior that also tends toward shamelessness. She’s so desperate for justice that she publicly badgers the judge to defend her interests! And she wins!
The judge waits a long time before he does anything. Two shameless people stepping outside of the expectations of their society, and the widow wins! The judge doesn’t fear God. He doesn’t respect people. But he finally decides to give the widow justice on account of her persistence “so that she will not keep coming until the end and browbeat me.” What a statement by someone who doesn’t feel appropriate shame! He seems to be worried about the embarrassment the harassment of this woman is causing him. He even indicates that this woman might be capable of assaulting him with more than words! So the powerful, shameless, macho judge is cornered and defeated by the least powerful in society! The widow wins!
Great story, Jesus! The underdog wins! The widow is vindicated and gets her justice. True, but not because the judge cared about doing right or that he was concerned about the widow. His reputation was at stake. Contrary to what he said about himself, the judge does actually care what other people think about him. He doesn’t want a browbeat by this widow. He doesn’t want a black mark against him with her continual pestering. What motivated the judge to give the widow vindication and justice is that his reputation was at stake.
And that’s the point of Jesus’ comparison. The judge is the God-figure in His parable. The comparison is that character trait that motivates eventual justice because one’s reputation is at stake. As much as he claimed the opposite, the judge did care about his reputation. In a similar way, God cares about His reputation, too. His reputation is also at stake.
God will be true to Himself and to His Word. As promised, He will vindicate—give justice—to His faithful people. Even though it might seem as though it is delayed, it will come because God is merciful and long-suffering. If the human judge in Jesus’ parable, whose reputation is that of shamelessness, finally succumbs to the widow’s persistence and gives her justice, how much more will God, whose reputation is one of mercy and compassion, give justice to His elect! The judge finally gives justice because he is harassed and doesn’t want a browbeat. God will give vindication and justice because He has promised salvation to the elect, to those with faith who cry out to Him day and night.
God is compassionate and merciful toward sinners. Jesus captures these characteristics of God that are at the heart of His parable with His question, “But shall God surely not make justice for his elect who cry out to him day and night and be long-suffering to them?” God will indeed vindicate His people who cry to Him day and night in their suffering. He will vindicate them, not because of their persistent prayers and cries, but because He is merciful and compassionate.
According to God’s holiness and justice, He should punish sinners who break His commandments. At times, we are so very much like the unrighteous judge in Jesus’ parable. We don’t fear God nor show respect to people. You and I should face God’s judgment and condemnation for our lack of fear, love, and trust in Him and for our failure to show mercy to our neighbors. God, however, is long-suffering with us as we journey from Baptism to the day of our physical death or the day of our Lord’s return. We are simultaneously saints and sinners. Sin still dwells in us and produces transgressions. But we have been declared holy and righteous in Jesus Christ. We have received God’s mercy and compassion instead of the punishment we deserve.
What then of God’s justice? Has He let sin slide? Are we getting off without real vindication, without true justice being served? Absolutely not! God’s reputation is at stake! God’s holiness and justice doesn’t allow for sin to go unpunished. To be sure, the world’s sin has been punished. Your sin has faced the wrath and condemnation of God. Yet, you and I and the people of the world didn’t receive that punishment for ourselves. Jesus Christ did, in your place and in mine.
In His earthly life, Jesus stood in our place. He identified Himself in His baptism with the sinners He came to rescue and to save from sin, death, and hell. He took our place under God’s Law, fulfilling God’s commandments perfectly because we are unable to. Jesus took upon Himself the judgement against our sins. He took all our sins and failures to fear God and respect people into Himself and faced the rage and anger and justice of God poured out upon Him while dying on a cross. All our sins and the sins of the world are paid for in full. The blood of Jesus cleanses all from sin and makes us right with God through faith in Jesus Christ. God’s justice has been served—all sin stands condemned; death stands defeated.
And still we live in the tension of the now and the not yet. We are forgiven in Christ now. But sin has not yet been fully removed. We have eternal life in Christ now. But we are still looking forward to a new creation. We suffer now, but we will have no suffering, pain, or sorrow then. As we await the fullness and the consummation of the Lord’s saving work at the Last Day, the Savior wants us to pray constantly and confidently, more firmly trusting in His reputation of being compassionate, merciful, and long-suffering. On the surface, that’s what Jesus’ parable is about—the persistent prayers of God’s people of faith in Christ who cry out to God in the midst of their troubles, suffering, guilt, and pain, trusting in Him for forgiveness of sins, life, and strength. Underlying this is the reality that God is merciful and long-suffering. He will deliver His people in Christ from sin, death, hell, suffering, grief, pain, and trouble at the glorious return of His Son at the Last Day.
Because God is merciful and compassionate to us through Jesus Christ, we have the forgiveness of sins and eternal life guaranteed by the death and resurrection of the Savior. God’s justice has been served. You and I are declared not guilty of sin because Jesus’ shed blood and resurrection victory paid the penalty in full for us. Now, as we await the Lord’s coming again, we are ever more faithful in prayer that His kingdom come to relieve us of our suffering from the consequences of sin and the work of the devil and bring us to be with Him face to face in glory. This faith-filled prayer is our response to the long-suffering character of God who has saved us in Christ and given us His faithful promises. By faith, we trust His mercy and compassion and know He will make good on all His promises to us when He brings us to resurrection life in a new heaven and a new earth.
Calbraith Perry Rogers is the little-known aviator who, in 1911, completed the first coast to coast crossing of the United States in an airplane. Roger’s plane was a Wright Ex Biplane. He took off from Sheepshead Bay, Long Island, NY, on September 17, 1911, and landed in Pasadena, CA, on November 5, 1911. He made his ultimate goal of Long Beach, CA, one month later. It took 49 days to make the trip. His time in the air was 3 days, 10 hours, and 14 minutes. Along the way, he crashed 39 times and made 30 other unscheduled stops. The only parts of the original plane that were left and completed his venture were a vertical rudder and the drip pan. All he had for the trip was himself and the ability to fly. Perhaps this is a good analogy for us as we await Jesus’ return. All we really have is a faithful, compassionate, and merciful God and His promises to us in Jesus Christ. His reputation is at stake, and so we are confident that He will make good on His promises to us as we persist in prayer, “Thy Kingdom come.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.