The Gospel for today comes from Luke 18:1-8. Our devotional reading today is adapted from the Concordia Commentary Luke 9:51–24:53 by Arthur A. Just Jr.
- Genesis 32:22–30
- Psalm 121; antiphon: vv.1–2
- 2 Timothy 3:14–4:5
- Luke 18:1–8
Read the propers for today in Lutheran Service Builder.
Lukan introductions are always significant, but this one is especially important. Here the evangelist shows his catechetical interests by not only identifying this as a “parable” but by telling us the point of the parable, that is, “to show that they [the disciples] must always pray and not grow weary.” “Always pray” is not to pray continuously, that is, uninterruptedly and without ceasing, but continually, that is, regularly and with perseverance from the moment of Jesus’ ascension to His second coming. Prayer for the coming of the kingdom (11:2) is part of the divine necessity of the disciples’ participation in that kingdom. As they pray, the disciples are not to become discouraged or give up if their petitions are not answered immediately. Here is a thematic link with what went before, and Luke will conclude this parable with another link to Jesus’ eschatological teaching (18:8b “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He even find the faith on the earth?”). The addressees here are the same as that of the previous section: the disciples.
The Parable (18:2–5)
The parable itself is simple and straightforward on the surface, but several subthemes run through the story. In the first part (18:2–3), the basic setting of the narrative is presented: an unrighteous judge has a persistent widow pestering him for vindication against her opponent. In the second part (18:4–5), the hearer sees the results of the woman’s persistence: the judge vindicates her! But in this simple narrative lie several issues to be resolved.
One difficulty is to sort out the relationship between the judge and the widow. There could not be a greater contrast than the one between these two people. The judge holds all the cards; the widow, particularly in ancient society, is helpless. The interaction between these two people on opposite ends of the sociological spectrum helps illustrate the theme of persistence in prayer until there is vindication. The hearer must ask, “What does it mean that the judge does not fear God or respect people?” especially since this is stated twice, once in each section of the narrative (18:2, 4). Jesus will later call the judge “unrighteous” (18:6), the same word He used of the unrighteous steward (16:1–8). By saying the judge does not fear God, Jesus is telling the hearer that the judge is a pagan, for throughout the Old Testament “the fear of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 1:7). One who fears God is part of Israel’s faithful remnant.
More perplexing is the statement that the judge does not respect people. What would such a statement mean in Palestinian culture? Many have observed that honor/shame is a major motivational factor in life at the time of Jesus. The judge’s lack of respect for people manifests itself in a lack of shame in his relationships with others. In other words, he operates outside of the normal social patterns of his day to the extent that he observes neither Torah (doesn’t fear God) nor the basic social mores of his day. This widow cannot influence him because his is not ashamed to ignore someone whom his society and God require that he take notice of and help. The widow’s behavior is also unusual, but in that culture, a woman could act as she does, pestering the judge. Her behavior tends toward shamelessness, but not so thoroughly shameless as the judge’s.
So this story of persistence and vindication pits against each other two shameless people who are stepping outside of the expectations of their society. The surprise is that the helpless widow wins! The judge waits for a long time before he acts, but even though he does not fear God nor respect people, he decides to vindicate this poor widow on account of her persistence “with the result that she not keep coming until [the] end and give me a black eye” (18:5). This is a remarkable statement for a man who does not feel appropriate shame.
The Interpretation (18:6–8)
And so an apparently straightforward story ends with a note of ambiguity. Thinking that the parable is about the widow’s persistence as a model for the disciples’ persistent prayers as they wait for God’s final vindication, the hearers are surprised to find themselves focused on an unscrupulous judge who is finally broken down by a widow because she is beginning to undermine his reputation. At this point, Jesus provides words of interpretation (as He did in the parable of the unrighteous steward in 16:1–9). He calls the judge “unrighteous” (as He did the steward; 16:8). And then He gives this parable a new depth of meaning as He compares his unrighteous judge to God and concludes with a veritable crux interpretum.
The difficulty is that the unrighteous judge is the God figure in the parable. A similar difficulty appears in 16:1–13, where Jesus might be seen as praising the dishonest steward, and in 19:12, where the severe king is the Christ figure. But in this pericope, the point of comparison between God and the judge is not, of course, their unrighteousness. Rather, the point of comparison between the two is that character trait that motivates eventual vindication because one’s reputation is at stake. As much as it may appear to himself and his society that he does not fear God nor respect people, the judge, when pushed by a shameless widow, does care about his reputation. In a similar way—and this involves moving from the lesser to the greater (a minori ad maius or an a fortiori argument)—God will be true to Himself and His Word: the time of vindication for His faithful saints will come. Even though vindication is delayed, it will come because God is merciful and long-suffering. If the human judge in the parable, who reputation is that of shamelessness, finally succumbs to the widow’s persistence and vindicates her, how much more will God, whose reputation is one of mercy and compassion, vindicate His elect. The judge finally gives vindication because he is harassed and doesn’t want a black eye; God will eventually give vindication because He has promised salvation to the elect, who cry to Him day and night.
As do the parables of the prodigal son and the unrighteous steward, this parable teaches us about the fundamental characteristic of God: his compassion and mercy for sinners.
Hymn of the Day
Hymn of the day is from Luther’s Evening Prayer by John A. Behnke. Copyright © 2018 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.
Devotional reading adapted from Concordia Commentary: Luke 9:51–24:53 by Arthur A. Just Jr., pages 671-74. Copyright © 1997 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.