The persistent widow in this parable is a symbol of what a Christian ought to be in the spiritual life. Like the widow, we might face helplessness, exploitation, suffering, and injustice in life. However, God who is the supreme judge will one day resolve our issues, provided we keep trusting in him. People who have a terminal illness, disability, or are continually facing misfortune in life should not get discouraged. They should trust in the Lord like Lazarus in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Lk 16:19- 31). Let us remember the words of Jesus: “Blessed are you, when people insult you and persecute you and speak all kinds of evil against you because you are my followers. Be happy and glad, for a great reward is kept for you in heaven. This is how they persecuted the prophets who lived before you” (Mt 5:11-12).
(Luke 18:1) Jesus told them a parable to show them that they should pray continually and not be discouraged. (2) He said, “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. (3) In the same town was a widow who kept coming to him, saying: ‘Give me justice against my opponent.’ (4) For a time he refused, but finally he thought, ‘Even though I neither fear God nor care for what people say, (5) this widow bothers me so much that I will see that she gets justice; otherwise she will keep on coming and wear me out.’” (6) And Jesus said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. (7) Will not God do justice for his chosen ones who cry to him day and night even if he delays in answering them? (8) I tell you, he will speedily do them justice. Yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
(Lk 18:1) Jesus told them a parable to show them that they should pray continually and not be discouraged
They should pray continually
The Jews used to pray three times daily, four times on Sabbath, and five times on the feast of Yom Kippur (Sabbath of the Sabbaths). Jesus did not assign any time for prayer. Instead, he said we must pray always. For Jesus, besides personal, family, and church prayer, we must base all our activities on prayer. Payer without mercy is meaningless (Mt 9:13). They should go together. Our works should be towards fulfilling the Lord’s Prayer: to make the Lord’s name revered (Holy be your name), to establish the Kingdom of God (Thy Kingdom come), and to accomplish the will of God (Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven).
Not be discouraged
The Evangelist Luke gives the purpose of the parable at its beginning. It is very natural to get exhausted and discouraged after a long wait of unanswered prayers. One might stop praying, lose faith or even commit suicide. Such people are “like a fool who built his house on sand. The rain poured, the rivers flooded, and the wind blew against that house, and down it went with a mighty crash” (Mt 7:26-27).
The early church went through severe persecution from the Jews and Romans. Members of the persecuted church might have felt that their faith was in vain and that God had abandoned them. However, they had to persist in faith, hope, and charity. Their persistence was necessary for the existence of the church. They had to defend their faith until death or until the second coming of Christ. God would do justice and bring peace in due time. It happened with Emperor Constantine’s conversion in 312 AD. He stopped the Christian persecution in the Roman Empire.
This parable encourages the victims of injustice. The society, the media, and the legal system might mistreat them and their prayers might seem to go unanswered but there would come a time when God will provide justice. Those making the false accusations will either experience conversion or God will bring them to justice.
Some people pray for a long time for the conversion of their spouse, child, or anyone dear to them. They might wonder why God delays in answering prayers for a worthy cause. Saint Monica persisted in her prayer for 17 years for the conversion of her son Augustine and her pagan husband Patricius. Finally, God answered her prayers and even raised Monica and her son Augustine as saints. A Canaanite woman (Mt 15:21-28) kept on seeking the mercy of Jesus, and she got it. A sick person at the Bethesda pool patiently waited 38 long years for divine intervention and one fine day got healing from Jesus (Jn 5:1-15). Another woman who endured a haemorrhage for twelve years got the long-sought-for healing from Jesus (Mk 25:5-34). During the public ministry of Jesus, he answered the fervent prayers of many sick people. His second coming would give consolation for all who are suffering now.
(2) He said, “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people
In a certain town there was a judge
Jesus presented an unjust and secular judge to contrast with God’s heavenly justice. This character must be a civil judge who was part of the corrupt social and legal system of the time. Herod might have appointed him in a village as part of the
He is not a Jewish judge. For Jews, one person alone could not pronounce a judgement. The minimum number of judges required was three in villages of less than 120 men. If the number was higher in the village, they had more judges in the team. Thus, there were three classes of courts:
(1) The Great Sanhedrin in Jerusalem comprising over 70 was the Supreme Court
(2) the Lesser Sanhedrin of 23 judges,
(3) the Court of Three or Seven.
The head (nasi) of the Sanhedrin or its three members had to authorize and ordain judges. Such judges would be God-fearing Jews. The verdict of a single Jewish judge had no binding value.
Exodus 18:13-27 describes Israel’s minor judges’ qualifications. They should be “God-fearing and reliable men who hate a bribe” (Ex 18:21). The judge whom the widow approached had just the opposite of these qualifications because he did not fear God and had no respect for humans. So, even if the judge in the parable was a Jew, he did not meet the standards of Holy Scripture.
Neither feared God
Fear of God in the Biblical sense is the reverence to God who is our Father. As our Father, we originate from Him, and we are under his constant care and protection. The fear of punishment happens because of lack of reverence or the unfaithfulness to God. The Israelites had to practise “the fear of the Lord” by keeping all the statutes and commandments of the Lord (Deut 6:2). The judge in the parable did not fear God. His irresponsible behaviour and negligence in duty reflect that.
Nor respected any human being
All people are children of God, created in His image and likeness. Though they may be different in birth and life situations, all are nonetheless dear to God. God calls us to love, respect, and support one another, especially the poor. Proverbs 14:31 says: “Oppression of the weak insults their Creator, but he is honoured by those who have compassion on the needy.” Concerning the judges of Israel, God instructed: “You shall not bend the law or show partiality. You shall not accept bribes because bribes blind the eyes of the wise and subvert the cause of the righteous” (Deut 16:19). The judge in the parable was not respecting any of these commandments of the Lord.
(3) In the same town was a widow who kept coming to him, saying: ‘Give me justice against my opponent.’
Another character Jesus presented was a widow who was a symbol of helplessness in Biblical times. Compared to any other books written, the Bible gives utmost importance to the care and protection of widows. God commanded the nation of Israel to take particular care of widows and orphans. God commanded through Moses: “You shall not harm the widow or the orphan.
If you do harm them and they cry out to me, I will definitely hear them, and my anger will blaze and I will kill you with the sword, and your own wives will become widows and your own children orphans” (Ex 22:21-23). Psalm 68:5 presents God as the defender of the widows. God asked the Israelites to give full participation to widows and orphans (amongst others), in the celebration of the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Tabernacles (Deut 16:11-14).
Jesus, the Son of God, also gave exceptional treatment to widows: He raised the dead son of a widow in the city of Nain (Lk 7:11-17). He spoke highly of a poor widow who could offer only two small copper coins in the Temple treasury. “But a poor widow also came and dropped in two small coins, the equivalent of a penny. Then Jesus called his disciples and said to them, ‘truly I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who gave offerings. For all of them gave out of their abundance, but she gave from her poverty and put in everything she had, her very living’” (Mk 12:42-44). Jesus criticized the Scribes “who devour widows’ houses” (Lk 20:47). While dying on the cross, Jesus entrusted his widowed mother to John’s care (Jn 19:25-27).
A widow who kept coming to him
Since the judge neglected justice to the widow, she had to keep going to the judge because she could not find any other help. She knew that her persistence was the only tool she could use to win justice. The helpless widows used to get sympathy and public support when they cried for help. The corrupt judge was also like her offender, doing injustice to her by his negligence. He was sinning through omission.
Against my opponent
In our spiritual life, we are like the helpless widows and the adversary is the evil one who haunts us to destroy our spiritual life. We cannot solve the problem by ourselves. Only Jesus can resolve the issue. We are waiting for the second coming of Christ when the adversary’s destruction will be complete. We need to remain in prayer until that happens.
(4) For a time he refused, but finally he thought, ‘Even though I neither fear God nor care for what people say…’
The judge kept up his obdurate behaviour for a long time. He acknowledged to himself that he did not fear God or public opinion. Such sinners are worse than those who commit iniquities out of ignorance.
(5) This widow bothers me so much that I will see that she gets justice; otherwise she will keep on coming and wear me out
Though an irreligious scoundrel, the judge had to oblige to the widow for the sake of his own peace. Although he would have liked to keep her hanging for more time, he finally moved himself to do justice for her because of her sheer persistence. He capitulated for no other reason than the woman refused to go away quietly. If the widow had given up her attempts, she would have been the loser. Eventually, the justice prevailed. The same is true of our spiritual life. If we give up our faith amid our sufferings, thinking God ignores our prayers, we would be the losers. We must wait for God to act in his time.
(6) And Jesus said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says”
Jesus called his listeners’ attention to the judge’s decision. “Unjust judge” is an irony. The one who had to punish the dishonest was himself a dishonest person.
(7) Will not God do justice for his chosen ones who cry to him day and night even if he delays in answering them?
Jesus contrasts the bad judge with God, the supreme good, and the judge of judges. God is the zenith of mercy and justice. He is too quick to answer. He allows the wheat and weed to grow together so that the early destruction of sinners will not affect the good (Mt 13:24-30). He is waiting for the conversion of sinners so he can save them. “‘Do I want the death of the sinner?’ says the Lord. ‘Do I not rather want him to turn from his ways and live?’” (Ezek 18:23). God will do justice in time for those who deserve his mercy. We should not give up hope because we feel God is ignoring our pleas. It is not a delay on the part of God, but a period of testing for us. The end will be favourable for the faithful person who keeps trusting in God even amid continued trials.
(8) “I tell you, he will speedily do them justice. Yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
He will speedily do them justice
When there is a calamity or suffering, every minute is long. The persecuted church and her members were eagerly waiting for the Lord’s return to save them from the era of brutal persecution. God later saved the church through the Roman Emperor Constantine’s conversion and the support of his successors. It was a miraculous intervention of God after a seemingly endless wait.
Will he find faith on earth?
We must continue in faithfulness to God in good times as well as tough times. Our baptismal covenant with God is like a wedding covenant. It is life long, and we cannot dissolve it because of change of health, wealth, or life situation. Christ will reward our persistence in our relationship with God at his second coming.
The background of this parable is clear from the last part of chapter 17 of Saint Luke. Jesus was teaching on the “Day of the Son of Man,” when he will come to judge the world. “As it was in the days of Noah, so will it be on the day the Son of Man comes. Then people ate and drank; they took husbands and wives. But on the day Noah entered the ark, the flood came and destroyed them all. It will be the same as it was in the days of Lot: people ate and drank, they bought and sold, planted and built. But on the day Lot left Sodom, God made fire and sulphur rain down from heaven which destroyed them all. So will it be on the day the Son of Man is revealed” (Lk 17:26-30). We should continue in faithfulness to God until his return or our physical death, when he will establish justice for the just and punishment for the adversary in the last judgement.
1. Jesus wants us “to pray always” (Lk 18:1). That means we need to make our life a constant act of prayer through our private prayer, family prayer, church prayer, and dedication of our life as a sacrificial offering to God and fellow human beings.
2. Jesus wants us to pray without getting discouraged because of any unanswered prayers. We pray that God’s will be done because God knows best, and not us.
3. The lady in this parable was socially weak as a woman would have been 2000 years ago, and helpless because she was a widow. Some people exploited her, and the irresponsible judge did injustice to her by ignoring her constant requests for justice. Like the widow in the parable, we are spiritually weak and helpless. We need Jesus, the supreme judge of the universe, to do justice for us. Let us keep up our faith until Christ’s second coming, when Jesus will deliver us from the evil one.
4. The unjust judge in the parable is no comparison to God but a contrast to God. The God of justice tolerates the unjust, allowing them time for conversion. The Lord will one day come in glory to judge the living and the dead. We are waiting for that day of last judgement. Let us pray and work for the place of honour in the Lord’s kingdom in heaven.
5. The unjust judge who was neglecting the rights of the widow was committing a serious sin of omission. Only he could do justice for her, but he was avoiding her. Do we also commit such sins of omission?
6. The widow finally got justice because of her persistence. If she had given up her hope or didn’t make repeated attempts, she would have been the loser. Though we might suffer for no mistake of our own, as with Job, there will be light at the end of the tunnel. For some, the suffering or disability can be lifelong. However, there is no suffering or disability in the afterlife for a faithful Christian. So, we should not give up our faith; instead, we need to trust in God, even if we feel like we are unjustly suffering in this world.
7. We should understand this parable in the background of Jesus’ teaching on his second coming. Even if we are suffering like the widow in the parable with no hope or relief, we must be patient and keep up our faith until God answers our prayers in this life, and if not, until the end of our life or until the second coming of Christ.