Unfulfilled promises (part 1)
Since Jesus was constantly teaching about the kingdom of God, people in his audience were naturally curious as to when the kingdom was going to be established.
Luke 17:20-21 Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God will come, He answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming with something observable; no one will say ‘Look here!’ or ‘There!’ For you see, the kingdom of God is among you.”
Jesus then turned to his disciples to give them additional details, but he did not specifically give a start date for the kingdom. Instead, Jesus told them that life would go on for a while, and when everything seemed to be ‘normal’ for quite some time, then the kingdom would arrive.
This answer would have both disappointed and discouraged His disciples. The Jews were looking forward to a Messiah that would liberate them from Roman rule and immediately setup the long-awaiting kingdom of God. Continued waiting or an apparent delay to the kingdom was not what they were looking for. Recognizing this, Jesus continued:
Luke 18:1-8 He then told them a parable on the need for them to pray always and not become discouraged:
“There was a judge in a certain town who didn’t fear God or respect man. And a widow in that town kept coming to him, saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he was unwilling, but later he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or respect man, yet because this widow keeps pestering me, I will give her justice, so she doesn’t wear me out by her persistent coming’”
Then the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. Will not God grant justice to His elect who cry out to Him day and night? Will He delay to help them? I tell you that He will swiftly grant them justice.
Typical modern-day teaching from this parable tends to focus on the persistence of the widow and then uses her badgering as evidence that we should likewise wear God out with our requests. However, that aspect of the story is not Jesus’ focal point.
The main idea of the parable is given in verse 1:
Luke 18:1 He then told them a parable on the need for them to pray always and not become discouraged
So, what discouragement does Jesus want them to avoid?
Within the parable, we see that the widow is seeking justice from her adversary – just like the nation of Israel was seeking justice and relief from their Roman oppressors. The Old Testament was full of prophecies where God tells Israel that they will one day shake off their oppressors and the kingdom of God would be established; however, those predictions had not yet come true.
This type of parable uses a lesser-to-greater argument. Jesus’ point is this – if the lesser, unjust judge gives justice to those who ask, how much more reliable will the greater, just God in heaven be to give the justice that He promised?
With this parable, Jesus is encouraging His disciples to continue to seek God in prayer and to continue to expect that He will fulfill His promise of justice for the nation. Even when their circumstances seem to indicate that God has forgotten them – Jesus is reminding them that all God’s prophecies are reliable, and that they should not give up talking to God about any of His promises.
That’s something we can rely on as well.