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Pray, Pray, and Pray Some More October 16, 2016

Posted by sandhandrews in Sermons.
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Luke 18:1-8

Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost

October 16, 2016


Focus:  God answers our cries for justice by the sacrifice of His Son.

Function:  That the hearers pray for justice in the cross of Christ.

Structure:  Here is a prevailing view…but here is the proclamation of the gospel.


Pray, Pray, and Pray Some More


Had Jesus preached this parable today, it would have sounded a little more like this:

“In a certain store, there was a woman who neither feared God nor men.  And there was a child in that store, her child, who kept crying and screaming, ‘Mommy, I want it and I want it now!’  For a while, she refused, but afterward she thought to herself, ‘Though I don’t fear God and I certainly don’t need a man, yet because this child keeps bothering me, I will give him what he wants, so that my stress level doesn’t cause me to go nuclear.’  Hear what the unrighteous woman says.”

Whether you want to call it the Parable of the Persistent Widow, or the Parable of the Unjust Judge, that opening illustration is the common interpretation of the parable.  Jesus’ instructions to His disciples then, and to us now, is as simple as this: pray, pray, and pray some more.  Ask God for whatever you want, and if at first you don’t receive it, just keep asking.

But this runs into so many problems.  Just think about it, if this is how prayer works, right away, what’s the first thing you’re going to ask God for?  Almost without a doubt, our first prayers will be selfish.  They’ll be about us.  More specifically, they’ll be about stuff.  “God, I’d really love a bigger house, can you handle that?”  “Where’s that Ferrari you promised me?”  “Can I have a good looking spouse?”  “God, can you get my children to behave better?”  “I’d really like that new job”  “Can I have that promotion now?” And you haven’t gotten it yet, just keep praying, and eventually you will.

And some of these things can actually be worthwhile things to want, like the couple who prays for years for a child, the husband and wife praying for a better marriage, or prayer for a better relationship with your boss.  So, I hate to make to make it sound so trivial and childish, but I have to, because it causes a bigger problem.

The biggest issue with this interpretation of the parable is what happens when you don’t get your way.  When all that praying for more wealth doesn’t happen, first for a few days, then days become weeks, and weeks become months.  How long can you hold on to this promise of Jesus?  Maybe if you’re faith is strong enough, you can even last for years.  But how long does it take before you eventually lose hope?  Over time, your faith widdles away until it dies.

When we misunderstand the promises of Jesus, when we think He promised us something He never did, the death of our faith is a great concern.  Faith is trust in God and His promises.  If we can’t trust them anymore, we literally don’t have faith in Him anymore.

And had the parable ended at the end of verse six, with Jesus saying, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says,” had it ended there, we could easily, understandably get the wrong promise from it.

But the truth is, thankfully, Jesus never would have preached the whiny, selfish child illustration.  It doesn’t fit with what He was actually teaching His disciples.  Because He didn’t stop at verse 6.

The very key to this parable actually comes before Jesus even starts talking.  In verse 1, Luke tells us that the effect Jesus desires from this parable is that His disciples “ought always to pray and not lose heart.”  Pray continuously, never give up hope.  That’s the key.  Without it, we just think about the covetousness of our own broken hearts.

But instead, this never giving up hope shows up in the widow’s asking.  Despite the faithlessness of this judge, despite his unwillingness to even really give her a fair hearing, she keeps going to him.  She knows he has the power to give her justice, to save her from her adversary.  And that becomes the point.  Her prayer isn’t for stuff, it’s for justice, it’s for salvation.

And, as the parable concludes, ultimately, she gets it.  The judge concedes, finally listens, and gives her justice against her adversary.  We do want to be careful examining who’s who in this parable.  God is the judge, so we don’t want to read too much into the unfaithful label of the parable, because we know better.  Even though sometimes it may seem like God doesn’t care, like He’s being unfaithful to us, He is always faithful, He always loves us.

That makes us the widow.  The one crying out.  And as we’ve established, it’s not for stuff, or relationships, or whatever might be on our hearts, as faithful and good as many of those things may be.  Instead, we cry out for justice.  We pray to God to grant us justice against our adversaries.  We ask God to judge between us and sin, death, and the devil.

And as we keep reading the text, we see that’s exactly what God does.  God gives justice to His elect, to those who call out to Him for salvation.  This is the power of the cross.  That Christ’s death on the cross grants justice, peace, deliverance for all of God’s people from our enemies.  And this doesn’t mean earthly peace, earthly justice, or earthly deliverance.  There are any number of wrongdoings in this nation, right here at home.  But those people committing those wrongdoings are no different than us.  Broken sinners, in need of crying out for justice.

God didn’t delay.  Christ shares this parable of justice with His disciples as He’s on His journey to Jerusalem and to the cross.  It’s just a matter of soon.  And that’s the same today.  The last part of the text used to be left off.  We didn’t read the last sentence: “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

I don’t know if they thought it was too depressing or negative or what they were doing leaving it out.  But in the 2006 revision of the lectionary when our Synod moved to its new hymnal, we added that sentence to this reading.  It was already there in Scripture, we just used to skip it, and now we don’t.

And I’m glad.  This is another key element of this parable.  Jesus just finished telling the disciples in chapter seventeen that He would return, He would come soon, and here we see it again in our text, “I tell you, He will give justice to them speedily.”  Justice in response to our prayer is coming soon!

But verse eight poses a challenge to the disciples, and a challenge to us.  When Christ returns, will He find faith on earth?  It’s not a trick question.  It’s one of the strangest things about the teaching of evolution, that our lives and our world just keep getting better.  A simple look at history, a simple look around us tells us exactly the opposite.  Everything is in a constant state of decay.  You and I are moving constantly toward our death.  Only a return of Christ can prevent that.


Will you persist in your faith?  Will you not be discouraged by the decay of the world?  It’s not just the challenge of the text, it’s also the whole reason for the parable.  This is the response, this is how we persist in faith.  We pray.  God calls us His own children in baptism, forgiving our sins there and in the Lord’s Supper.  The faithful response is one of prayer.  That we cry out to God for justice against our adversary, and trust in Him that He will answer speedily.

So everything around the disciples was coming unhinged.  Within a few decades, the Roman emperor Nero would have nearly perfected persecuting the church.  The disciples were murdered on account of their faith, and the temple in Jerusalem was ripped apart brick by brick.

But the disciples did it.  To the point of death.  They certainly were both saint and sinner, but they persisted, they trusted in the Lord alone for their salvation.  And we are called upon by this final question to do the same.  To press on despite the pressures of our government, to persist despite what our nation calls the decline of the church, to not lose heart even when our culture seems without hope, and to not give up even if it means our death.

This is what the parable of the persistent widow or the unfaithful judge is all about.  Her prayers had nothing to do with the things of this world.  Rather, she called out for justice against her adversary, and she received salvation.  And so we too ought to pray to the Lord for justice in the face of our enemies, trusting in Him alone for our salvation in the face of sin, death, and the devil himself, that when the Lord returns, He will find faith on the earth.



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