I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about prayer lately. And one Scripture passage has come up a couple of times. It is a pretty strange parable, spoken by Jesus in Luke 18:
1 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2 He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. 3 And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’
4 “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!’”
What strikes me about this parable is how Luke introduces it. He says right in verse 1 why Jesus tells the disciples this story: “to show them that they should always pray and not give up.” So before you even read the story, you know what you are looking for: an example of how to pray and not give up.
But what exactly is that example? Clearly there is something that the widow does that we are supposed to emulate. But what? My gut feeling tells me that the widow’s key trait is persistency–she doesn’t give up until she gets the answer she wants. In fact, my Bible has a header for this passage, calling it “The Parable of the Persistent Widow.” But really, I think there is a different quality at work. Something else that Jesus wants us to show us about always praying and never giving up.
The trait that this widow has that we should emulate is that she knows where to turn. It is telling that Jesus describes the judge as unjust and evil. The widow can’t predict whether the judge will do the right thing or not. She’s powerless in the situation, yet she reaches over and above her social situation to talk to the judge, because she knows that he is the only one who can help her. She knows who to turn to. And when she doesn’t get an answer immediately, she keeps turning to him. She doesn’t try to solve the problem herself, she doesn’t look for a male relative who can help, she keeps on asking the same judge. He’s the only one with the ability to help her.
Her persistency is not that she fervently prays the same thing over and over again, but rather that she prays persistently to the only one who can make a difference. And that is the quality that Jesus wants us to emulate. Turning only to God, not matter how long it takes, to get an answer to our prayers.