John T. Willis

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Two Parables of Jesus on Prayer--Luke 18:1-14

As Jesus moves closer to Jerusalem, he gives his disciples two prayers. Praying lies at the center of godly living. The Gospel of Luke emphasizes the nature and significance of prayer. These parables appear in Luke 18:1-14. I. The Parable of the Desperate Widow and the Unrighteous Judge. Luke 18:1-8. a. Luke tells his audience that Jesus told his disciples a parable "about their need to pray always and not to lose heart." Two examples of the need and importance of the persistence of prayer are Jesus on the Mount of Olives (Luke 22:41) and the Christian community in Jerusalem during the imprisonment of Peter (Acts 12:5). God's people must NEVER give up praying EVEN when it appears that God has not answered and never will answer their prayers. 18:1. b. Jesus tells a parable about a judge who functioned in a certain unnamed city who "neither feared God nor had respect for people." Such a judge was self-centered, hard-hearted, concerned only about his own desires and activities. 18:2. c. Jesus tells that an unnamed widow lived in that same city who had an opponent who wronged her. She came to the judge and asked him to grant her justice against her opponent. The helpless situation of such a widow has a very strong background in the Hebrew Bible, as in Exodus 22:21-24; Deuteronomy 10:18; 24:17; Malachi 3:5; Ruth 1:20-21; Lamentations 1:1; Isaiah 54:4; Psalm 68:5; and many additional texts. The only weapon of this poor widow was her persistence. She does not seek punishment of her opponent, but only to receive her rights. 18:3. d. For a long period of time, the judge refused her plea. But finally, the judge agreed to give this widow just just because she wore him out with her constant coming to make her plea. This same type of persistence in prayer appears in Luke 11:7-8. 18:4-5. e. Then Jesus makes his point: God is very different from the unrighteous judge. God is anxious to hear the prayers of human beings. He "will quickly grant justice" to godly people. In The Gospel According to Luke X-XXIV, The Anchor Bible, 28A, page 1177, Joseph A. Fitzmyer observes: "If a dishonest judge would yield to the persistence and prayer of a widow, how much more would the upright God and Father of all! If the helpless widow's persistent prayer accomplishes so much with a dishonest judge, how much more will the persistent prayer of Christian disciples!" Jesus then asks: "will Christ find faith on earth?" This is a challenge for every believer, every praying person. 18:6-8. II. The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. Luke 18:9-14. a. Jesus then turned to give another parable to address those "who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt." In this story, the Pharisee represents anyone who trusts in oneself and regards others with contempt. 18:9. b. Then Jesus told a parable about two men who went up to the Jerusalem temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. There was a daily practice in those days for people to go to the Jerusalem temple to pray at 9:00 a. m. and at 3:00 p. m., the morning and evening prayers. See Acts 2:15; 3:1. Remember that in this story, not all Pharisees have the same attitude, and not all tax collectors have the same attitude. This is a very personal attitude. 18:10. c. The Pharisee stood far to the front of the Court of Israel within the Temple precincts. He was far away from the tax collector. This Pharisee's prayer was not God-focused, but self-focused. He reeled off a catalogue of his virtues: I am not like other people, who are thieves, rogues, adulterers, people like that tax collector over there. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income. This Pharisees insists that he does not violate the ten commandments [alluding to Exodus 20:14-15; Deuteronomy 5:17-18], and goes beyond that. This Pharisee expects God to be thankful for who he is. He does not give God thanksgiving, but desires God's thanksgiving to him. 18:11-12. d. The tax collector stood far away from the Pharisee just barely within the confines of the Court of Israel, indicating he was not worthy to be there. The tax collector would not look up to heaven but beat his breast as a sign of compunction, sorrow, and contrition. He knew he was a sinner, and thus asked God for mercy. He had absolutely nothing to offer to God. This attitude reflects the psalmist in Psalm 51, especially 51:3. 18:13. e. Jesus then makes his point: God seeks humility, true humility of the heart. This tax collector went home justified in the eyes of God, "for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted." Humility is the first letter of the Christian alphabet. 18:14. Share YOUR insights and shortcomings and advice and thoughts and reversals with others. Let me hear from YOU. John Willis