The peace of Jesus Christ be with you and upon this city. As I go home, I take you in my heart. I will long see your faces and hear your voices. Hong Kong has become my second home. If my family were not in Vancouver, I would stay. Let us pray.
Living God, once again we give you thanks for your word. We thank you God, Dr. Luke did his research and wrote down the words of Lord Jesus accurately. You know what everyone is facing in this city and in the other cities that are listening in. So I pray that these words will come alive that we never experience before. We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.
On this last day of the Conference, I invite you to give your attention to a very challenging parable. The one we just read. Luke 18, verses 1-8.
It’s called The Parable of “The Widow and the Unjust Judge.”
I should say that I invite you to give your attention to ‘another’ challenging parable of Jesus. For have not all of the parables we have been considering been challenging?
Now ideally we should have studied this parable right on the heals of the parable we looked on the third day of the Conference, the parable in Luke 11, usually called “The Friend At Midnight.” Which we discovered is better named, “The Shameless Father.”
Both of the parables, Luke 11 and Luke 18, start out being about prayer… but they turn out to be something else.
The parable in Luke 11 is told in response to the disciple’s request, “Lord, teach us to pray.” The parable in Luke 18 is toldm says Luke, “to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart” (18:1)
Every time I live in and work through the parable in Luke 18, I come under deep conviction. While seeking to understand this parable by “standing under” the parable, I come under deep conviction about the quality of my faith.
Now, as we work through the parable of “The Widow and the Unjust Judge,” we are going to see that the parable starts out being about prayer. But it ends up being about faith. And we are going to see that faith, genuine faith, living faith, is revealed most clearly, is expressed most clearly, in not giving up in prayer.
NT scholar Arland Hultgren concludes his study of this parable:
“Only as persons persist in prayer will they persist in faith – in a living relationship with God.”
Living faith keeps on asking God to bring about the full realization of His Kingdom on earth. Even when, or, especially when, faith does not see any answers to the asking.
Will the Son of Man Find such Faith on the Earth When He Comes?
Notice how Jesus concludes His interpretation of the parable. With a question. Verse 8:
“When the Son of Man …” Son of Man is Jesus’ favorite self-designation.
“When the Son of Man comes …”
Jesus teaches this parable in Luke 18 right after extended teaching in Luke 17 about His coming again. Teaching in which He warns disciples that they might suffer injustice, and as a result get discouraged and lose heart.
“When the Son of Man comes …will He find faith on the earth?” (18:8).
Literally, it is “the faith” – definite article. “Will He find the faith on earth?” “The faith,” I think, manifested in the widow not giving up. In her relentlessly imploring the unjust judge.
When the Son of Man comes, will He find His disciples not losing heart, but passionately praying for the coming of the Kingdom. Will He finds His disciples passionately praying for the coming of the King?
In original form of Jesus’ question, there is a little particle that is hard to translate. It is the particle ara. It is used, as the dictionary says, “to enliven the question”. And in particular, introducing a note of concern, a note of anxiety, as to its answer. Will He?
Will Jesus find faith alive on the earth? Will He find people praying their hearts out for the coming of the King? Ara poses the possibility that He will not.
And that is why I say “standing under” this parable has brought me under deep conviction. Do I believe, and therefore, pray as passionately as the widow?
Before making our way through the parable, let me make two preliminary observations. First of all, as far as we know, Jesus taught three parables on prayer. And interestingly, all three are found in the gospel according to Luke.
- “The Parable of the Shameless Father” in Luke 11 (5-8).
- “The Parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge” in Luke 18 (1-8).
- And “The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax-collector” also in Luke 18 (9-14).
“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax-collector” (18:10).
- Prayer and social justice in Luke.
I say that they are “interestingly” found in Luke, because Luke is the gospel that most consistently presents Jesus as a social activist, as the champion of the powerless, as a friend of the outsiders and the oppressed.
Yet, more than the other gospels, Luke presents Jesus as the Man of Prayer. In Luke we find Jesus regularly slipping away to pray. The Man of Social Justice is also, and primarily, the Man of Prayer. Telling us that social justice and prayer go together.
The more we move into the heart of God in prayer, the greater the passion for social justice. And the more we live out the passion for social justice, the more we realize we have to pray – we are in over our heads and we need help!
So the first observation: all of Jesus’ parables on prayer are found in Luke.
- A woman as hero.
Second observation: the hero of the parable is a woman. The widow. Jesus chooses a woman as a hero. That was normally not done by 1st century teacher, but it is typical of Jesus.
More than the other gospels, Luke presents Jesus as elevating and advocating the role of women in the Kingdom. Which, if you know the context of the first century, is unheard of! Indeed, it is scandalous!
In Luke 15 – which we looked at the past two days –
Jesus defends His eating with sinners and tax-collectors by telling three parables: “The Shepherd and His Lost Sheep,” “The Father and His Lost Sons,” and between them, “The Woman and Her Lost Coin.”
All three are clearly about God, the God of the Kingdom, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. A shepherd, a metaphor for God? Sure, but it was not very flatteringly in the 1st century. A father, a metaphor for God? Sure, with much Biblical precedent. A woman, a metaphor for God? Unheard of!
And then in the parable before us today. The hero of living faith.
But that is Jesus for you! Okay … let us now make our way through Jesus story. As you can see there are two characters.
A widow. And a judge.
A widow. In the 1st century context, one of the most vulnerable persons in society. Widows in the 21st are not necessarily as vulnerable. Some widows are well off, some even in charge of their own business. Not in the 1st century Middle-Eastern context.
Widows were totally vulnerable. You see, in that context, a woman’s place in society was a function of her relationships with men. Her status, and therefore, her security were wholly determined by the men in her life.
If she was not yet married, she was under the protection and provision of her father. If she was married, she was under the protection and provision of her husband. If her husband died, she was left without protection or provision, unless she had a son.
You can see, by the way, how vulnerable Mary, the mother of Jesus was. When she, as a virgin, conceived the Son of God, she was engaged to her husband to be, to Joseph. But they were not yet living together.
Because she was engaged, she was no longer under the provision and protection of her father. But because Joseph had not yet taken her into his house, she was not yet under his protection and provision. She was in a kind of “no man’s land”, as Richard Mouw puts it.
Which is why she sings what she does in her Magnificant:
“My soul exalts the Lord,
My spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
For He has regard
for my humble estate …” (Luke 1:46-48).
When she had no man to protect her and provide for her, the Living God became her protector and provider!
The widow in Jesus’ parable is in a horribly vulnerable “no man’s land.” She left the cover of her father years ago. She no longer had the cover of her husband. And, apparently, she had no son. Which is why she is in the courtroom before the judge all alone. She has no man to stand with her, or to stand up for her.
The cultural surprise of the story is that she is even there! That she is so committed to justice that she dares to stand alone. A woman before a man with no man to support her! She is one courageous lady!
And she is there with no economic clout. If she had money, she could bribe the judge. That is just the ways things are sometimes; that the best way through the courts is by paying bribes. That she kept coming, day after day after day, says she did not have the resources to pay off the judge, who was clearly a judge who could be swayed by cash.
Now what does the widow want from the judge? Justice. Simple as that. Simple justice.
Vs. 3 – “give me legal protection against my opponent.”
Literally it is, “do me justice.” That is all she wants: “do me justice.” The man is a judge. His job is to do justice. Had someone stolen from her? Had some distant relative worked the system to take what was rightly hers? Had she been evicted from her apartment by some insensitive, greedy landowner?
We do not know. All we know is that she simply wants what is right. She does not want revenge. She is not seeking absorbent compensation. Just “do me justice.” And she will not stop coming until she gets what is right.
The judge. One very corrupted official. Vs. 2 – Jesus says, “he did not fear God and did not respect man.” The judge himself will say this of himself.
In his soliloquy in Vs. 4, “Even though I do not fear God nor respect man.” In the Bible “Fearing God” is a basic requisite for being a good judge. When king Jehoshaphat appointed judges throughout the land of Judah, he outlined their responsibilities, ending with this charge,
“the fear of the Lord be upon you” (2 Chronicles 19:7).
This judge has no sense of accountability to God. There is no hint that he realizes one day he has to give an account to a Higher Court. Which means the widow cannot appeal to the judge with the words, “For God’s sake.” It would do nothing in the soul of this judge.
Now as we know from the rest of the Bible, justice is “weighted toward” the oppressed. Again and again, God calls His people to honor the plight of the alien, the orphan, and the widow.
There is a kind of “preferential option” for the widow. In the Bible societies are judged by how they treat widows. Societies stand or fall depending on how they care for widows.
The judge does not care. The “preferential option” for aliens, orphans and widows, means nothing to him. And he does not care about what people think about his rulings.
“He does not respect man,” Jesus says. Arabic versions of Luke render the phrase as, “He is not ashamed before people.”
As we have notice in our studies in the parables in the past days, Middle-Eastern cultural is largely governed by shame; or more precisely, by avoidance of shame. A central cultural value is not bringing shame on my name; not acting in any way that might shame my name or reputation.
Yes, life is ordered by law; law has a role. But life is governed mostly by the avoidance of shame. As I pointed out a couple of days ago, parents in the Middle East do not discipline their children the way people do in the West.
In the West, parents say, “That is wrong.” In the Middle East, “That is shameful.”
For the Biblical authors, society collapses when there is no longer any fear of the Lord. And society collapses where there is no longer any avoidance of shame before others. So I call this judge in the parable a “collapsed human.”
“For God’s sake” holds no weight. Nor does the cry, “Shame on you!” The community’s opinion means nothing to him. He can only be bribed. BUT finally he does give the widow what she wants. He finally gives her justice.
Why? Not because he comes to his senses. Not because he realizes his duty. Not because the fear of the Lord somehow becomes alive in him. Not because the shame factor finally kicks in.
They why? Because of the widow’s courageous and scandalous behavior. This we hear in the judge’s soliloquy.
By the way, this is a regular feature of Jesus’ parables. The key turning point comes in one of the character’s soliloquy, in their “interior monologue.”
The judge says to himself – Luke 18, verses 4-5
“Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her justice, lest by continually coming to me she wear me out.”
Literally it is, “lest she hit me under my eye.” The word comes from the prize fighting world of boxing. The word Jesus uses means “to strike someone on the face (under the eyes) in such a way that the person gets a ‘black eye’ …” or is disfigured in some way.
Yes, the word can refer to a metaphorical hit, a metaphorical ‘black eye.”
“She will make me look bad in public.”
“She will shame me.”
Especially since I am ignoring God’s concern for widows.
‘She will defame me.’
But that is not likely the interpretation, given what the judge says about himself: no fear of God, no sense of shame. So I take the judge literally. He is afraid that the widow is going to become violent with him!
She will not; that is not her spirit. But he fears the possibility. “She might give me a black eye!” What a scene! It’s almost humorous.
A judge with all the cultural and society power … a woman with no cultural or society power. And she is gaining the upper hand!
As NT scholar Joel Green puts it: here we have an “image of the almighty, fearless, macho judge cornered by the least powerful in society”
The judge finally does what is right because of the widow’s surprising and scandalous behavior. She acts outside the culturally expected norms. She blows the judge away by not loosing heart when justice is not being done. By not loosing heart when justice is not being done.
What a hero!
So, the point of the parable is to wear God down? Right? Pester God until He finally gives in. Right? Get a whole bunch of others to pester God. The more the better. Right?
Listen to Jesus. Listen to how He Himself now comments on His story. Remember the context. Jesus has been teaching about His coming again. And He acknowledges that we could get discouraged as we wait.
Luke 17:22 – “The days shall come when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it.” And we could lose heart.
So Jesus says, verse 6, “Hear what the unrighteous judge said.” And then takes us into His reason for teaching the parable. To call us to faith. To show us why we can keep going and not loose heart.
Shall Not God Bring About Justice?
Jesus asks a question in verse 7 –
“Shall not God bring about justice for His elect, who cry out to Him day and night?”
“Day and night.”
That phrase “day and night,” takes me back to the beginning of Luke’s gospel. On that day when Mary and Joseph bring the infant Jesus to the Temple for dedication, they encounter two elderly saints who have not given up: a man and a woman, Simeon and Anna. As I aged I am drawn to elderly saints.
Simeon, Luke says, was, “looking for the consolation of Israel” (2:25). Who, then, holding the infant Jesus in his arms, says, [chapter 2:29] “Now Lord, You can let your servant depart in peace, according to Your word, for my eyes has seen Your salvation”. In Jesus he sees God’s salvation, because Jesus Himself is salvation.
And Anna, an 84 year old widow, a prophetess, who Luke says, (2:37) “never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers,”, “looking for the redemption of Jerusalem” (2:38).
“Shall not God bring about justice for the elect, who cry to Him day and night?”
Now this question is in a grammatical construction that emphasizes a “yes” answer. For you Greek students, it is the
Ou me + the subjunctive.
It is the strongest way of saying “yes. God will bring about justice.” Jesus is arguing from the lesser to the greater. If the unjust judge finally does what is right, will not the great Just Judge do it also? If the unjust judge, who does not fear God and has no shame, finally does justice, will not God Who keeps His word do so?
Yes – yes, He will. It is a promise, and He always keeps His promise. He said He would come and rectify all wrongs, and He will not shame His name.
Will He delay long over them?
Jesus continues. With another question. Luke 18, vs. 7 – “Will He delay long over them?”
“Will He delay long over them?” Now what is Jesus getting at?
“Delay long” is sometimes rendered “slow” – “and will He not be slow over them?” So some of us latch on to the word “slow” and think, well, Jesus is simply reminding us that His sense of time is not ours.
And our minds jump to texts like 2 Peter 3:8-9. “The Lord is not slow about His promise as some count slowness …”
“With the Lord one day is a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” And that it true; but it is not what Jesus is saying here.
The verb “delay over,” can also be rendered “patient with.” So some of us latch on to the word “patient,” and we think Jesus is slow in our terms because He is patient with the world.
And our minds go to 2 Peter again, 3, verse 9. “But the Lord is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” Sometimes I think Jesus holds back on coming because He wants to win just one more. “Wait … one more … one more…one more”. That is true; but it is not what Jesus is saying here.
Then, what is He saying? Okay, we need to go deeper now.
The verb “delay over” is actually better rendered as “longsuffering over.” So some of us latch on to the word “suffer long,” and we think that, even as we suffer waiting for Jesus to come, He suffers with us. As long as it takes.
Which is true. As we groan for the kingdom to come, He, through His Spirit, groans within us. Romans 8:26.
But notice the phrase “over them.” “He will not delay over them?”
“Will He not be longsuffering over them?” Who is the “them”? “Longsuffering over” them?
The elect. He will be longsuffering over the elect who cry out for justice. And now we are coming to the big surprise in Jesus’ parable.
In the Bible, “longsuffering” literally means “put anger away.” “Slow to anger,” we hear in the Bible again and again. God is “slow to anger.”
“Will He not be slow to anger over them?” Over the elect. Over the elect with whom He just might be angry! “Slow to anger over the elect.”
“Will He not put His anger over the elect?”
The answer is, Yes! He will put His anger away from those seeking justice! You see, the justice-seeker is also a sinner. A just cause does not make a just person. There are no purely just justice-seekers. That is because there are no purely good “good guys,” just as there are no purely bad “bad guys,” except the ultimate bad guy himself, the evil-one.
It is the Russian author, Alexander Solzhenitsyn who said, “The line that divides good and evil goes through my own heart.”
Do not loose heart. God will “put His anger away” against the sinful just-seekers who as they cry out for justice!
Now with a great declaration. Luke 18, vs. 8 – “I tell you that He will bring about justice speedily.”
Speedily? Some believers cry out for justice for years, for decades.
Speedily? The Kingdom is coming speedily? Jesus is coming speedily?
Yes, when we understand that the Kingdom and Jesus are one. Where Jesus is, the Kingdom is; where the Kingdom is, Jesus is. The Kingdom and the King cannot be separated. Where the King is, there is the Kingdom.
Ah, and where is the King? Not far away. Not at all. Very close at hand. When the Son of Man ascended to the throne, He did not go far away. He is close at hand. And because He is close at hand He comes speedily. Do not loose heart. This is what Jesus declares in the last book of the Bible, in The Revelation of Jesus Christ. “For the time is near.” Revelation 1:3 and 22:7.
“For the time is near.” Because the Lord is near. Always near. He is not coming from a far place. Heaven is not a far place. Heaven is very close at hand. So very close. And therefore Jesus is so very close. Always near. Wonderfully immanent. Able to speedily come when we call on His name.
“Bring about justice speedily.” He does it, you know, very soon after speaking His parable. For in the next chapters in Luke, Jesus arrives in Jerusalem. And by the end of the week, ends up unjustly judged, and then unjustly crucified on the cross. Where, in the mystery of the Gospel, justice is done for all time.
Jesus continues. One last question.
Luke 18, vs. 8 – “However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”
Will He find the faith on earth?
The faith. “Will He find the faith on earth?” Will He find the faith of the persistent widow on earth? In light of God being a perfectly Just Judge, who hears those who cry out day and night.
In light of God being the merciful Judge who puts His anger away from those who cry out. In light of the nearness of the Son of Man. In light of all that, when He finally shows up, will He find the faith of the widow who would not go away, who would not let go, who stayed in the face of the corrupt judge until he did what he is suppose to do?
That is why I said “standing under” this parable has brought me under great conviction. Jesus is saying that living faith keeps asking. Not because we need to wear God down. But because that is what faith does: faith keeps asking God to do what only God can do.
Faith knows we are helpless. And living faith does not rest until God finally fulfills His promise. Living faith will stay there – in the face of God – until His great redemptive project is fulfilled.
Jesus is saying to us in our time, when we stop praying, it means we stopped believing. Let me say that again. When we stop praying, it means we stop believing. Why? It means that we secretly think it is no use to pray any more. It means that secretly, in our hearts – we have concluded that God does not want justice, that there is no real hope for justice. When we stop praying, it means we have capitulated to the powers of injustice.
Theologian Ronald Goetz expresses it so arrestingly:
“We have a right and a duty to pray for the world and for ourselves, expecting to be vindicated, lest by our silence we would seem to abandon the world to the suspicion that any God who could exist, given a world as ours, is either utterly aloof, or cruel, or impotent, or all three.”
As I watch the widow in the parable, I think of how the author of the book of Hebrews defines faith.
Faith, he says, “is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (11:1).
That is, faith is putting your weight on the unseen and the not-yet.
And what Jesus is telling us in the parable of the widow and the judge, is that the clearest manifestation of faith, the clearest indication we are putting our weight on the unseen and not-yet. The clearest expression that faith is alive, is that we pray. And we keep praying until the not-yet is now, and until the unseen is seen.
And we know from Jesus’ other parable on prayer, the one we looked at the third day of the Conference, every time we pray, something happens.
Jesus says in Luke 11:10, “The one who keeps asking is receiving, the one who keeps seeking is finding.”
Is receiving? Is finding? GOD!
Every time we pray, the Father gives more of Himself to us! As we keep praying for justice to be done in the world, the God of justice keeps giving us Himself!
So, here is the meaning of the parable. Do not loose heart. Keep believing by keep asking. Keep asking the Father in heaven to cause His Kingdom to come as it is in Heaven.
“Your kingdom come, Father! Only You can make it come. So, please, do it.” And, “Come, Lord Jesus.” “You are the Son of Man.” Who according to Daniel 7 is given “all the kingdoms of the world”.
So, come! Come, and claim Your rightful place in the world.
Come, so that finally the kingdoms of this world are freed from sin and evil and death. And can finally live in the glorious freedom and extravagant abundance of Your Reign.
Come Lord Jesus. Come.
As I have been doing each of the days that I’ve been here in Hong Kong, I stand at the window in my hotel room and looking out over the city. Last night and this morning, as I prayed, I had this picture of thousand and thousand of disciples of Jesus, on their knees. That is what it means to believe. To live from our knees.
So would you allow me now to pray over you and over your city. And I like to do it from my knees, and I invite you, if at all possible, it probably can’t in those pews, but you could lean forward and have a semi posture of kneeling. [kneeling down].
Lord Jesus, You are the good, merciful and just King. With great joy, we confess You to be King of Kings and Lord of Lords. You know what is going on in each of our lives, and You know what is going on in the life of this great city. And so, we come as the widow and we ask You to do what only You can do. Cause Your Kingdom to come in this city as never before. Make Yourself more real in this city than it ever has. Cause Your peace to descend on this city. Cause Your church to be unified, and together Your church will know what to do. Thank You that You love Hong Kong. And so as someone for whom Hong Kong is an adoptive city, I pray “Jesus bless this city”, Amen.