The Persistent Widow: Luke 18.1-8

Have you ever felt powerless?

Maybe, you put a charge on a credit card that you later couldn’t repay. Or, you told a friend something you wished you hadn’t. Or, you were with a hurting person, and you just didn’t know what to do.

Terrible feeling, isn’t it? Made you weary, didn’t it?

The Parable of the Persistent Widow in Luke 18 is a story for those who are weary in their powerlessness. Jesus tells this parable as part of a larger conversation with the Pharisees that begins in 17.20. Then, He pulls back (apparently) to explain His teaching to His disciples.

The wider conversation involves the coming of the Kingdom of God and when it will come. Naturally, the Pharisees (and, probably, everybody else) thought that Messiah would ride in, kick out the Romans and be ruler of the whole earth. They weren’t far from wrong. But, they didn’t factor in the cross!

Jesus responds by teaching that the Kingdom is present with the King, who is “in their midst” (7.21). And, Jesus teaches that the fulness of the Kingdom will only come after Messiah has suffered (7.24-25), after which time evil will be destroyed (7.27-30).

The Pharisees’ problem (and ours, sometimes) is that they didn’t recognize Jesus’ two comings. Till Messiah returns God’s people will suffer and wait expectantly for His coming … “the days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it” (7.22).

In the parable itself, we have an unrighteous judge who neither fears God nor “respects” man (ESV). The word can mean “be ashamed”. In the shame-based eastern culture of the parable, the judge makes no effort to help others save face. He almost certainly takes bribes, and he doesn’t care.

The Widow is the other character. In the man-dominated world of the Middle Eastern court system, the fact that she must represent herself indicates that she has no man in her life. She is certainly too poor to pay a bribe. Perhaps, there’s a dispute over her late husband’s estate. A state of injustice exists.

She does have one advantage: she can abuse the judge! Because nobody takes her seriously, she can stand on the perimeter of the court and hurl insults at the judge. A man would be kicked out. Nobody cares about the widow.

The judge finally gives in, because he fears the widow will “beat me down”. The term is one taken from boxing. It means, literally, “to beat black and blue”. “Oi weh!” we imagine the judge exclaiming. “Enough already! Bring her here. What does she want?”

In Jesus’ commentary from verses 6-8, two lessons and a question come from this parable. In the character of the judge we learn that unlike the unrighteous judge, God will bring justice to His people. The logic is taken from a Rabbinic rhetorical teaching method, the Hebrew name for which we would translate as “from the light to heavy”. It’s a “if this … then how much more?” kind of argument. So, if even an unrighteous judge—who doesn’t care about God or people—will reward perseverance with justice, how much more will the one, true God give justice to His people He has chosen?

The second lesson comes from the Widow. Through her character we learn that the LORD will be patient with believer’s persistence in prayer while they endure injustice until Jesus comes again in power to vindicate them.

“Will not God give justice to his elect?” Yes, He will. “Will he delay long over them?” No, He won’t, but ” … he will give justice to them speedily” (verse 8a).

But, will God’s people persist in prayer till Jesus comes back? “Will he find faith on earth” (verse 8b). That’s the question.

Like the Pharisees, we sometimes mistake this time between Jesus’ two comings for the fulness of the kingdom. We experience powerlessness, and we say “Why does God not change my situation now?!”

In so complaining, we forget that Jesus hasn’t come back yet. And, why? Second Peter 3.8-9 helps.

But, do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance (ESV).

God is yet gathering “the elect” to Himself. But, until Jesus comes again, we persist in prayer. What keeps us from growing weary is knowing that God is not like the unrighteous judge. In fact, since the time of the telling of this parable, Jesus has taken up residence with the Father, again. Romans 8 describes how He intercedes for us:

Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than than, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 

That’s really Good News! Not only are we, unlike the Widow, not unrepresented in court. But, Jesus Himself represents us before God! Knowing this keeps us from losing heart.

Those who “get” Jesus persist in prayer knowing God hears (now) and will deliver them finally and completely, very soon. 


Find somebody to discuss this parable with. Talk through these questions:

What is the hardest part for you to take in about this parable? 


Where do you struggle in your times of prayer with God? 


What about the work of Jesus is most important for you in not growing weary? 


What methods for prayer have you found helpful? Prayer journals? A certain kind of list-making or note-taking? What would you recommend to others to help them organize their times of prayer with the Lord and help them be persistent? 




“Fit for the King” (The Wedding Feast): Matthew 22.1-14

What’s your most embarrassing moment?

Mine might have been the Friday night, now some fifteen years ago, when I was to speak to a gathering of young people near L’viv, western Ukraine. My translator had earlier invited me to the event by telling me I was to “come as you are,” in regards to dress. A very fine American idiom.

But, when Slavic actually wheeled up in his Russian Lada, he was “dressed to the nines,” in suit and tie. Another fine idiom—one that doesn’t go at all with “come as you are”. I sported a windbreaker, Dockers, and (if I remember right) tennis shoes.

“Too late to change,” Slavic said. And, an hour later, we arrived—not at the venue for a youth gathering, but at the Friday evening service of the largest, the oldest, the most formal baptist church in that region of western Ukraine. And, I was the speaker.

Slavic took me to the basement where the senior leadership sat, circled in solemn prayer. They were not dressed “come as you are”; they wore their finest.

The prayer ended, and the oldest and senior man inspected me. After learning that I was “alone” in life (that is, single) and pronouncing me “too old to be alone,” he finished encouraging me and came to the point.

“We have a problem,” he announced, straightening himself in his chair. “In order to preach, you must wear a jacket …!”

There it was. It occurred to me to ask him if he “had a mouse in his pocket”. This wouldn’t have communicated, but WE clearly did not have a problem. Instead, I hung my head in shame.

At that moment, one of the young leaders had an idea. This man went to the closet and pulled out a suit jacket. It was white with blue stripes and didn’t match anything in the building. They called it the “general use jacket.” They kept it on hand, they said, for American visitors. I tried it on. It fit, and the evening was saved …

In that particular place, the “general use jacket” became the means by which I was allowed to address that particular group. In the Parable of the Wedding Feast (Matthew 22.1-14) another means becomes necessary to enter God’s presence.

The story in the parable takes place in an imaginative landscape involving a king, two sets of invited guests, and one unfit guest. These fictive characters point to the real events surrounding Jesus’ ministry, involving the rejection of His own people, the Jewish nation, as well as true followers, both Jews and non-Jews.

National invitation with rejection (:1-7). In the first scene, the king throws a banquet for his son. All the typical guests are invited, but to no avail. They mistreat his servants, and the king responds in judgment.

The wedding banquet imagery clearly points to Christ. Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb … (Rev 19). Likewise, the rejection of the servants points to Israel’s treatment of the prophets. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her … (Matt 23). Finally, the judgement received foreshadows that received by the nation at the hands of Titus the Roman in 70 A.D.

International invitation with acceptance (:8-10). The second scene opens with the king’s servants now inviting new guests. They find these on the “main highway,” a word indicating the road out of town where those not belonging to the city congregate. … the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall see my glory, Isaiah 66 says. Those gathered now are “good and bad.” That is, they aren’t selected for their own moral virtues. They come because they’re asked.

And so, the wedding hall is filled. And, we can’t not think of Revelation 7: After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes … 

Rejection of an unfit guest (:11-14). The parable might end here. But, Jesus throws in a twist for those who might think that God has lowered His standard of holiness.

The king in the parable surveys his banquet hall and finds a man wearing no wedding clothes. The king calls him “Friend,” but questions him all the same: “How did you get in here without a wedding garment?”

The man is speechless and without excuse. He is immediately expelled. The garments are the key to the parable. While some commentators claim that the host of such a banquet might have furnished his guests with a garment himself, this can’t be supported from the parable. At the very least, the man ought to have changed into a new garment. The rejected guest was invited, but has by-passed the means to enter. He has taken advantage of the generosity of his host.

Jesus’ point now becomes clear: though God invites everybody to come to Him, only those who come through the proper means will enter His presence.

But, what is the proper means? How do we come fit for the king? Jesus leaves the question in the air, yet to be answered by His first listeners. We, however, have an advantage, as we look back at the cross through the New Testament.

Those who “get” Jesus come to God through the fitness (the righteousness) of Jesus. 

Like the unfit guest, we have no righteousness of our own. Isaiah 64 makes the point: … all our righteous acts are like filthy rags. While invited to come to God, we’re unclothed while we’re yet in our sin.

Ah, but here’s the Good News! Jesus lived a fit life in our place. And, we receive His righteousness by trusting Him. As Romans 3 says, This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe …

The message of the story is that we may come to God as we are. But, we must come through Jesus.

This is a good word in a day when we often hear the Gospel expressed in the language of the giveaway. “It’s free! Just believe,” we like to say.

“It’s grace, and our salvation cost Jesus His life,” we’d be better off saying. And, with that heart of gratitude, we may truly “come as we are” to Christ and so be “fit for the king”.


Circle up with a group and consider the following questions:

Have you ever read this parable before? How has your understanding of this teaching of Jesus’ changed with this reading? 


Does it bother you that the unfit guest is cast from the banquet? What might this third scene be telling us about the seriousness of being rightly clothed in Christ? 


How does this parable change the way you talk about the work of Jesus? 


What is a good way to encourage people to trust Jesus without making the work of Jesus sound or feel “cheap”? 



The Good Samaritan: Luke 10.25-37

Do you have any enemies? I hope not … Do you have anybody you’d rather not serve? Different question, isn’t it?

The Good Samaritan is in contention for the best-known passage in all Scripture. Everybody, including completely secular people, thinks they’ve understood this teaching of Jesus. But Jesus never told a parable that wasn’t a cliff-hanger. Every parable requires a life-response. Do we “get it”? Do we “get” Jesus?

Jesus told this parable in context. Luke 10.25-37 recounts Jesus’ dialogue with a lawyer—a theologian of the day. The dialogue unfolds in two rounds—two questions and two answers per round. Each round starts with a peek at the lawyer’s heart: he wants to “put [Jesus] to the test” (:25); he desires to “justify himself” (29). At issue, big picture, is the life of God. “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” the lawyer asks.

“Nothing,” Jesus could have answered. “It’s the inheritance of Israel received by faith and unearned, like every inheritance.” Perhaps, this would have pleased the lawyer. But, Jesus is always pressing into the heart of the matter, and into hearts. He takes the lawyer’s bait, knowing that the lawyer probably considered him soft on the law.

“What is written in the Law?” Jesus asks. The lawyer responds with a perfect fusion of Deuteronomy 6 and Leviticus 19: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Likely, he’d heard Jesus give this very answer (Matthew 22).

“You’ve got it!” Jesus says, in so many words. “Do this and you will live.” Notice, Jesus has changed the topic from inheriting eternal life to the living of life itself. There’s also a life-response now required of the lawyer. The man wants to “do” something, and he now has his assignment. But, before he does, he wants to renegotiate.

“Who is my neighbor?” the lawyer asks. Very likely, he expected Jesus to separate his relatives and the friends of Israel from the foreigners and the nation’s enemies. What he gets is a story.

The parable is well-known. There’s the Jewish man (assumedly) who is stripped, beaten and robbed by bandits. Kenneth Bailey (Poet & Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes, 1983) notes that the first of seven scenes establishes a pattern of coming … doing … going.  After the bandits, the priest and the Levite will, likewise “come,” but then (not)”do”. And then, they will “go”.

The Samaritan is different. He will come and then do all that the others have not. Unlike the Levite, likely returning from performing religious rituals in the Temple in Jerusalem, he will treat the wounded man, pouring on wine (reminiscent of the recent religious work of the Levite). Unlike the priest, who almost certainly rode a horse, the Samaritan will give the wounded man a ride on his “own” horse. Unlike both, he risked having his baggage and other animals robbed. More, he would have endured ridicule at the inn where he took the wounded man. (Imagine a Taliban fighter turning up at a U.S. Army checkpoint with a wounded child.)

At the center of the seven scene parable, there is verse 33: “But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.”

Jesus reenters the dialogue with the lawyer. “Which of these three, do you think, proved a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”

The lawyer knows, but he can’t quite say it. “Samari … The one who showed mercy,” he says, instead.

“You go, and do likewise,” Jesus concludes. We’ll never know, if the lawyer “got it,” or not.

But, do we “get” Jesus? 


We’ve been learning in our teaching times at Woodland that the lessons of the parables can be discerned through the main figures of each story.

In The Good Samaritan the combined figures of the priest and the Levite teach us that religion sometimes hinders love for God and service for neighbor. There’s a tendency for church people to think that because we’ve celebrated and learned and given our gifts that we “have done” (think of the lawyer’s original question) what is necessary for life. But, God has a mission. Really big picture here, God’s mission involves the buying back of all creation through the work of Jesus, this received by faith. It’s not that God has a mission for His people, it’s more like God has a people for His mission. Churches like Woodland, then, exist within Gods mission for the benefit of their non-members. A real heart for God sometimes looks pretty ordinary, like binding up somebody’s wounds, because we love God.

From the Samaritan, we learn that we must serve everybody without distinction. This is the point usually made, but (like the lawyer), we like to parse the answer. Secular people want to stop at good works. The result is a Gospel-less Y.M.C.A. religion—fine exercise club at an affordable price, but hardly the life of God. Church people, sometimes, want to stop at speaking the Gospel. Now, to be sure, Gospel witness is no less than verbal proclamation. But, the “half-dead” man of the parable could not hear. Surely, love for God and neighbor looks like ministry in word and deed.

But, now, finally (and usually overlooked), we learn from the wounded man in the road that even my enemy is my neighbor. This, in context, is the point of the passage. The sticking point for the lawyer in the wider dialogue didn’t involve what God’s Word actually said; it involved the identity of those the lawyer wanted to love. Some people, yes, but everybody, no.

The wounded man in the parable woke to learn that he’d been saved by none other than his sworn enemy. And, he learned his lesson, not by doing, but by receiving.

How like us. This final point takes us to the Gospel: … but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us … For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life (Romans 5.8 … 10, ESV).

Like the man in the road, those of us who know Christ have been saved by one who did not wait to be reconciled to us before bringing us to the life of God. Jesus came … and did … and stayed. Now, we go and “do likewise”.

Those who “get” Jesus are those who express their love for God by loving even their enemies. 


Circle up with somebody with whom you can share this parable. Discuss the following questions:

How have you grown through this, most recent, reading of The Good Samaritan? 


Do you have any enemies? Whom are you being led to serve, as a result of this parable? 


What does this parable mean for a church like Woodland? How does this teaching move us outside of our church family and into our community? 


What’s the life-response that Jesus is asking of you?