18 Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart, 2 saying, “In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man. 3 There was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, ‘Give me legal protection from my opponent.’ 4 For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, ‘Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, 5 yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.’” 6 And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge *said; 7 now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? 8 I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”
I confess that this is probably my favorite parable from Jesus, because the imagery is so amusing to me. The idea of a corrupt judge being pestered day and night by a little old lady to help her until he finally gives in to her requests just to shut her up and have some peace and quiet and then relating that idea to prayer is just funny.
It’s a lot like how my kids ask for things. They start out with a request. And if I don’t give it to them. They don’t stop. They keep hounding me and asking over and over and over again until I either tell them no and threaten to send them to time out or give them what they want (which I was going to anyway, but I wanted to wait until it was more convenient for me, like when I wasn’t in the middle of eating dinner.)
Jesus previously said, “Ask, and it shall be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you.” It’s a progressive escalation, isn’t it? You start out by asking. Like a child would ask a parent. Then you actively start pursuing your requests. Finally, you’re banging on the gates of heaven making a racket trying to get someone’s attention.
Will you always get what you want? Will you always find the exact thing you were seeking? No. Sometimes you find something else instead: peace. Sometimes just voicing your fears, your worries, your concerns can bring peace. Sometimes just acknowledging that you don’t fully control the future and that’s terrifying can relieve the stress of trying to control it all. That is, you might not always get what you want, but you will sometimes get what you need.
I also like the active component to this story and to the Ask, Seek, knock statement. That is the supplicant isn’t passive. They’re not just sitting in their homes doing nothing. The old lady is out there pounding the streets seeking justice. The disciple of Christ isn’t just sitting in a prayer circle meditating, he’s out there seeking what he is looking for. They’re active. They have a desire that motivates them to action in addition to prayer.
Jesus contrasts the Father with the corrupt judge by highlighting that God cares for His children while the corrupt judge did not care for anyone but himself. How much more then will God answer your prayers to meet your needs, He implies.
Jesus’ final statement references His return to the Earth. He wonders if He will find faith when He does so. Relating back to this parable, can we maintain our faith when our prayers seemingly go unanswered? It’s a good question. Sometimes what we need doesn’t happen or fall into place and we’re left with a lot of questions and not much else. What do we do then? Will we still have faith or will we choose to stop praying?
This also relates back to the time of Luke’s writing when Jesus had been gone for 30-45 years. Most of the original twelve apostles were dead. The church, if not facing direct Roman pressure, still felt pressure from Roman and Jewish cultures. Many had heard that Jesus would return soon to bring vindication and justice. And Jesus was nowhere to be found. Some were probably questioning if He would return. This passage would serve as an encouragement and a gentle chiding rebuke to those who doubted. The message being, have faith, hang on, God will grant justice soon, don’t doubt Jesus.
So what do we take away from this? Persistence, action, and faith. Don’t stop asking. Don’t stop seeking. Don’t stop knocking. Sometimes you might not get what you’re looking for, but keep at it anyway.