Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2He said, ‘In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, “Grant me justice against my opponent.” 4For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.” ’ 6And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’
If you took this image of a crooked judge to be an analogy for God, it’d be a pretty unflattering picture of the maker of the universe. Like the judge in the story, does God answer the pestering petitions of people who pray just to quiet them? Fortunately, Jesus isn’t drawing an analogy but rather is doing a comparison and contrast of a crooked judge and the Giver of all good things. Elsewhere in the Gospels, Jesus speaks of prayer by comparing the Father to someone being pestered awake by a hysterical neighbor (Luke 11:5-13). As is his style, Jesus is employing rhetorical questions and memorable characters to make a broader point. Are we to gather from this parable that we can somehow “annoy” God into action with our prayer? No, the emphasis here is not on what we do in prayer but how God responds to prayer. God is gracious, and God responds with grace and compassion to the pleas of his people (Exodus 3:6). Because God’s love is indiscriminate, he doesn’t answer “theologically sophisticated” prayers more than the simple and desperate pleas of people in need.
Prayer is a mysterious exercise of the Christian life. If God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-compassionate; why bother him with requests?
What does prayer accomplish?
Have you ever known someone who was a good “pray-er”? What are the admirable qualities of a person you know who prays?
2. The deists of the enlightenment compared God to a watchmaker: one who designs the universe, winds it up, and then sets it down and walks away. Others speak of God as if he were a genie in a bottle or a giant gum ball machine in the sky: rub the right lamp or insert the right coin and a wish will be dispensed for you. Neither of these images represent the Christian understanding of God Almighty. God cares about people and God intervenes in history and in our lives, but God is not swayed by magic formulas of “the right prayer” and “the right words”. Such an understanding of prayer isn’t about faith, its about magic. God is not manipulated nor impressed with secret formulas for a “successful” prayer .
How do you imagine God when you pray? What images come to your mind?
How does this image of God shape your prayer life?
What do we do when it seems our petitions to God are unanswered?
Final Thought: Jesus wraps up the parable by asking a question about his eventual return, “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Though Jesus teaches that God will execute justice “quickly” for his people, Jesus is frequently pointing his disciples to the future– to the undisclosed time when God will accomplish his mission and the history of this age will come to a close. Some theologians have described the Kingdom of God as both “already and not yet.” Think of the victory of the Allies in WWII. Most military historians would say that the Nazis were dealt a crushing blow at D-Day, the Allied invasion of Normandy. From that point on Hitler had lost the war, yet it took many more months of hard fought battle for the war to be finally finished. Perhaps we can understand God’s work in Christ in a similar way? In the death and resurrection of Jesus the powers of sin, death, and evil have been conquered but the battle continues until the coming of God’s Kingdom is complete. Jesus emphasizes in this passage that God will answer our cries “quickly”, but its hard to understand that when one can spend years praying for healing from an affliction without any resolution.
How do we understand prayer with this concept in mind, that God’s reign of justice has begun but is not yet finished?