The teachings of Messiah, 9:51-19:44
5. The coming kingdom, 16:14-18:14
v] Justice - the judge and the widowSynopsis
The Pharisees had asked Jesus "when the kingdom of God was coming." In response, Jesus addresses the issue of "the days of the Son of Man" - the coming of the Lord. In this context Luke records the parable of the unjust judge, a story about the "need to pray always and not lose heart."
Our passage for study points to a time when believers will face despair, with some even denying their faith. The parable of the Persistent Widow serves to encourage us not to despair, but rather to call on the living God for his just intervention. In the tribulation of the last days all may seem helpless, but if an unjust judge will act for a poor widow, how much more will a just God act for his people? Yet, let us not forget that despair, in times of trouble, can easily lead a believer to lose heart, so let us hold firmly to our faith in Jesus.
i] Context: See 16:14-31. The parable of The Persistent Widow, 18:1-8, is the fifth episode of six dealing with Jesus' teachings on The Coming Kingdom, 16:14-18:14. Luke continues his great reversal theme - the condemnation of the righteous under the law and the blessing of the humble (repentant) under grace.
Although Ellis and Creed, among others, feel that the parable should be treated independently, Grundmann, along with Plummer, Bock, Caird, Evans, ....., holds that this episode is closely linked to the preceding apocalyptic sayings, 17:22-37, sayings which were prompted by the Pharisee's question as to when the kingdom of God was coming, v20. Some commentators see the following parable, the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, 18:9-14, as also playing an important contextual role. As Johnson puts it, both parables "serve a narrative function" "following Jesus' eschatological discourse." "The first is told to the disciples, the second to ... Pharisees." To the disciples the story is "one of positive exhortation", but to the Pharisees it is "a story of rejection.". The parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector is possibly another lesson on prayer, so Creed, Caird, .... although this is unlikely. More probably it answers the question "whom does God vindicate? In the day of judgment, when the Son of Man comes, who will stand? The answer is unexpected, because it is not the religious / righteous who stand in that terrible day, but the one who is humble before God and confident of his mercy, cf. Bock.
ii] Structure: This passage, The parable of the judge and the widow, presents as follows:
in order to teach "that they should always pray and not give up."
Teaching parable, v2-5;
Saying / application, v6-8a:
"will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones?"
"when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?"
The passage consists of an opening editorial comment in which Luke identifies the intended teaching-purpose of the parable, namely that within the eschatological context of 17:22-37, believers should continue to pray "thy kingdom come" ("not continuous, nonstop prayer", Stein), v1. Then follows the parable of the persistent widow, v2-5. Jesus' application of the parable follows in, v6-8a. It is possible that v6-8a was originally an independent saying of Jesus, but it seems more likely that they are an integral part of the parable. As noted above, the point is simple enough: If an unjust judge will act for a poor widow, how much more will a just God act for his people? In the tribulation of the last days, we must pray for the coming of God's kingdom and expect his sure, but unpredictable response. Luke rounds off the parable by stitching an independent saying of Jesus, v8b. The saying again exposes Luke's Pauline preoccupation with justification by grace through faith. The crucial ingredient for a disciple, faced with the now / not yet reality of the coming kingdom, is faith. The saying serves as a warning to disciples that along with their prayerful expectation of God's consumption of all things there must be consistent faith - a daily reliance on Christ for salvation.
"The parable of the Judge and the Widow", Bock, v2-5. The parable of the Persistent Widow / Unjust Judge is a how much more parable; "if a widow's nagging causes a response in the unrighteous, how much more will the disciple's request be honored by a righteous God", Bock. If a powerless widow finally got an unjust judge to act for her, imagine the response from a righteous God toward his children. Sadly, the idea of persistence in prayer seems ingrained in the Christian psyche such that it dominates the exposition of this passage; "persistent, importunate prayer", Marshall. There is also a tendency to ignore the context and apply the principle of persistence to prayer in general, yet, "the parable of the Unjust Judge is an answer to the problem of survival in the face of persecution. Hence the point of the parable is not that persistent prayer will guarantee the petitioner anything he wants", Danker. Given the context, we can probably summarize the content of the prayer for which we "need to pray always" as "the coming of God's justice in the kingdom", Bock, or even better, "thy kingdom come." As for praying persistently, how about "faithfully", Tiede, or better, "consistently"? Can many words sway an almighty God?
The issue of the consumption of the kingdom of God, its seeming delay and the testing, trial and falling away of disciples. These subjects shape the passage before us. We are to "pray and not give up", pray "your kingdom come", and in the interim, persevere in that faith which consists of allegiance to Jesus, weak though it may be ("mustard seed" faith). "Despite the unfulfilled longing of the present time, one should keep looking to God for eschatological vindication, secure in the confidence that he will fulfill his promises magnificently and he will do so soon. The individual is challenged not to be one of those whose failure places in question the finding of faith on earth when the Son of Man comes", Nolland.
A saying on faith, v8b. This statement is often treated as a second application of the parable, an application which focuses on the "chosen ones" rather than "God". Yet, it is probably better viewed as an independent saying serving to remind those who call for justice / "thy kingdom come", that they themselves will inevitably have to face God's justice. Abiding faith is the essential ingredient if we are to stand in that terrible day. As noted above, the parble of the Widow and the Judge is closely linked to the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax-collector. So, it is possible that the saying introduces, or provides a bridge, to the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax-collector, thus focusing attention on faith (in Jesus), a faith that relies on God's grace, his mercy, forgiveness, and therefore as a consequence, justification. There is certainly a link between v8b and the following parable, as there is a link to the previous episodes in this section, but it should be noted that v9 itself functions as an introduction to the parable of the Pharisee and the Sinner.
The parable and its application, along with the independent saying of Jesus, v8b, are unique to Luke.
v] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.
Text - 18:1
The parable of the Importunate Widow, v1-8. i] Editorial comment - interpretive, v1. Jesus calls on his disciples to pray for God's just and final intervention in the world. The liturgical version of this prayer is "come Lord Jesus", or simply, "thy kingdom come." So, Jesus encourages his disciples to not grow weary of praying for God's just intervention, for the day will indeed come when he sets all things right. This is not an exhortation to repetitive prayer, but to constancy in prayer.
Although this interpretive guide most likely comes from the hand of Luke, it is not impossible that it was part of Luke's received oral tradition.
elegen (legw) imperf. "Jesus told" - he was speaking. Durative.
autoiV "his disciples" - to them. Dative of indirect object. Presumably the disciples is intended.
parabolhn (h) "a parable" - parable, proverb, story. Here an illustrative story, not to be confused with a kingdom parable which functions like a marsal, a riddle concerning the coming of the kingdom of God (the gospel).
proV to + inf. "to show them [that]" - to, toward [necessary]. This preposition, with the articular infinitive, is often taken to form a purpose clause; "in order to show them." Some scholars suggests it is actually reflecting Semitic idiom and should be treated as an accusative of reference / respect; "concerning, with respect to the necessity" = "about the need", Moffatt. See Culy.
pantote adv. "always" - duration of time, with reference to a series of occasions*. The "always" begins the "persistence" line which is so dominant in expositions of this passage. Plummer makes the point that "prayer in general is meant", but the context leads us toward a prayer for vindication. Drawing a general principle from the exhortation is not unreasonable as long as the idea of persistenc", in the sense of nagging, is avoided. "Continually", NJB, "keep on praying", REB, still promote the idea of perpetual arm-bending, whereas the idea of "consistency / perseverance", Johnson, is far better, "Jesus told them a story showing that it was necessary for them to pray consistently and never quit", Peterson.
proseucesqai (prosercomai) pres. inf. "they should [always] pray" - [it is necessary always] to pray. This infinitive, as with "to [not] lose heart", could be classified as the subject of the verbal infinitive "to be necessary"; "to keep praying and not lose heart is necessary." Possibly complementary, so Culy, although better as epexegetic, explaining what is necessary, namely that they ought always pray and not lose heart. "They must always keep on praying", Barclay.
mh egkakein (egkakew) pres. inf. "not give up" - not to be discouraged, not lose heart, weary, tired, give up due to discouragement. The object "prayer" is possibly to be understood, so "not give up praying", although given the context of the consummation of all things in the coming of the kingdom and of the great falling away, 17:22-37, the sense is of not giving up on God's promised "vindication", Nolland.
ii] The parable of the widow and the unjust judge, v2-5: Jesus goes on to tell a story, a how much more illustration. He tells the story of a powerless widow seeking justice for her cause. Her problem is compounded by the character of the village magistrate; he has no respect toward God, nor toward his fellows. So, the magistrate simply ignores her. If she had the money for a bribe she might be able to secure justice, but she is a poor widow, so she turns to the only means at her disposal, her capacity to nag. She pesters the life out of him and so finally, gets what she wants, namely justice. As the magistrate observes, "I'd better give her what she wants otherwise her pestering will be the death of me."
legwn (legw) pres. part. "he said" - saying. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb elegen, "he told ...... saying"
en + dat. "in [a certain town]" - Local, expressing space / sphere.
krithV (hV ou) "judge" - Typical of a village situation, a single justice of the peace / magistrate would settle matters of the law apart from the law-courts.
mh foboumenoV (fobew) pres. pas. part. "neither fearing [God]" - not fearing. The participle, as with "[not] respecting", is adjectival, attributive, limiting "judge"; "there was a judge who had no reverence for God and no respect even for men", Moffatt.
mh entrepomenoV (entrepw) pres. mid. part. "nor cared about [men]" - not respecting, not regarding, not caring about, having no respect toward. Middle voice expressing the sense, "incapable of shame." This judge is unlikely to waste his time acting for a powerless, and probably unfinancial widow, since "neither the laws of God nor public opinion can stir his conscience", Manson, Sayings.
hrceto (ercomai) imperf. "kept coming" - she was coming. The imperfect tense is durative so, "she constantly came to him", TH, possibly iterative expressing repeated action, so "she came to the judge over and over again."
legousa (legw) pres. part. "with the plea" - [to him] saying. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "she was coming"; "kept coming to him and saying", ESV.
ekdikhson (endikew) aor. imp. "grant [me] justice" - avenge, procure justice for, protect juridically [from my opponent]. Procure justice, possibly in the payment of whatever is due her, so Plummer. "Protect me from the man who is trying to ruin me", Phillips.
apo + gen. "against [my adversary]" - from [the opponent of me]. Usually expressing separation, "away from", so Culy suggests "from [the attacks of] my enemy."
epi cronon "for some time" - for a time. Temporal; idiomatic. Referring to an undefined length of time, probably "for a long time", Marshall.
ouk hqelen (qelw) imperf. "he refused" - he was not willing. Imperfect is durative indicating his continued refusal to act. What he was not willing to do, namely adjudicate on the widow's legal matter, is assumed. Possibly because the widow had an influential opponent, so "would not dare", Marshall.
meta tauta "finally" - after these things. Temporal; idiomatic. Probably referring to "some time", so "after some time", "later on" = "afterwards", TNT.
en + dat. "to himself" - in [himself]. Local; expressing space / sphere - inward reasoning.
ei kai + ind. "even though" - if indeed. Introducing the protasis of a conditional clause, 1st. class, where the condition is assumed to be true. The apodosis consists of v5. The addition of an ascensive kai gives a concessive sense to the conditional clause; "although, as is the case / despite the fact that .... yet ...."; "although I don't fear God", Phillips.
ou .... oude "I don't ...... or ..." - neither .... nor. Comparative; "though I neither fear God nor respect men", ESV.
ge "yet" - yet, indeed, surely. Introducing the apodosis of the conditional clause. "Yet because she troubleth me", Plummer.
dia to + inf. "because [this widow keeps bothering]" - This construction, the preposition dia + the articular infinitive, forms a causal clause; "because [this widow causes me trouble]." Despite the word order, "this widow" is the accusative subject of the infinitive parecein, "to cause", and "trouble" is the direct object, so forming a double accusative construction; "because of the fact that this widow gives me trouble", TH.
moi dat. pro. "me" - [causes trouble] to me. Dative of indirect object / interest, disadvantage.
ekdikhsw (edikew) fut. "I will see that [she] gets justice" - I will avenge, protect. "I will help this widow", CEV.
iJna mh + subj. "so that [she] won't" - lest. Introducing a negated purpose clause; "in order that she not .."; "not to have her ever coming and pestering me", Moffatt.
uJpwpiazh/ (uJpopiazw) subj. "she ..... wear [me] out" - she may wear out [me]. The meaning of "strike severely under the eye / blacken the face" is weakened here to "exhaust / annoy / wear out", but something stronger is possible; "lest her visits end in causing me grave trouble", Creed.
iii] Jesus' application of the parable, v6-8a. Jesus asks his hearers to observe the response of the magistrate. Although an unlikely result, the magistrate gave the widow what she asked. Jesus then draws out the how much more principle. If an unjust judge will act for a poor widow, how much more will a just God act for his people? "Do you suppose God, patient as he is, will not see justice done for his chosen who appeal to him day and night?", J.B. Phillips. The point Jesus makes is that God, the just judge, will not abandon us to a world out of control, he will inevitably intervene and do so justly. As God's people keep praying "thy kingdom come", will God keep delaying his intervention? The answer is "No", his forbearance toward those who oppose him has its limits. The living God will inevitably act for his people, and will do so "suddenly". God's just intervention for his people, realized in the coming of the Son of Man in the coming of the kingdom, will occur "unexpectedly".
eipen de "and [the Lord] said" - Indicating a break and so identifying the end of the parable.
akousate (akouw) aor. imp. "listen" - hear. Possibly "listen" has a similar weight to "he who has ears to hear let him hear", although it is more likely that this phrase functions to invite the seeker to respond to the gospel (usually hidden within a kingdom parable). "Take note / listen now."
thV adikiaV (a) gen. "[the] unjust [judge]" - unrighteous. The genitive is adjectival, attributive, limiting "judge"; "crooked judge", CEV.
legei (legw) pres. "says" - Do we take Jesus literally and draw our application from what the judge said (and did) rather than from the story as a whole? Fitzmyer, for example, argues that the lesson must be drawn from the judge and his words and not the widow. Most others argue for a wider application, which is why we end up with the parable being used to promote the idea of "persistence in prayer." "This conclusion of the parable shifts the attention somewhat from the widow to the judge's conduct and way of thinking", Fitzmyer. "Notice how this dishonest magistrate behaved", Phillips.
ou mh poihsh/ (poiew) subj. "will not [God] bring about" - never may do. A subjunctive of emphatic negation in a interrogative clause expecting a strong positive "yes indeed" answer.
thn ekdikhsin (iV ewV) "justice" - vengeance, punishment. Here, with the verb "do" expressing the sense of the punishment of persecutors etc., so "vindication", although as no specific offenders are identified, a more general sense is possibly better; "see justice done", TNT. None-the-less, given the context, "eschatological vindication" is probably intended, referring to "one of the days of the Son of Man", 17:22, "the day that the Son of Man is revealed", 17:30.
twn eklektwn gen. adj. "for [his] chosen ones" - of the elect, chosen ones [of him]. The adjective is used as a substantive, while the genitive is usually treated as verbal, objective, "justice to / for the elect", as NIV. The "elect / chosen" is the term used for God's special people, his children. Although the word "elect" identifies his special people, inclusion in this community is not necessarily by Divine election. Inclusion in God's elect people remains a matter of contention with believers divided on the issue, either as an independent act of faith in Christ, or by God's effectual call.
autou gen. pro. "his [chosen ones]" - of him. The genitive is adjectival, possessive.
twn bowntwn pres. part. gen. "who cry out" - the ones crying out, screaming, shouting. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "the chosen ones", as NIV. The genitive indicates that the participle agrees with "the chosen ones", it is they who cry out. The strength of this word takes us back to chapter 17 and the tribulation faced by God's elect as they await the coming of the Son of Man. Again supporting the specific nature of the prayer, a prayer for "vindication", "thy kingdom come."
autw/ dat. pro. "to him" - Dative of indirect object. "To cry out to God" = "to cry out in prayer", TH.
hJmeraV kai nuktoV "day and night" - Genitive of time. Pray "consistently", better than "persistently".
kai - and. Here introducing a qualification. Still part of the original interrogative clause, so often translated as a separate interrogative clause expecting a positive answer, as NIV, yet probably better treated as introducing a concessive clause, "even though ....", NJB.
makroqumei (makroqumew) pres. ind. "will he keep putting [them] off" - [and] his patience [with them]. The word is often used of God showing "forbearance / patience" with sinners, but here the "them" seems to refer to the "chosen ones." This, with the difficult syntax caused by the change in mood from subjunctive to indicative, has prompted numerous translations of the two clauses which make up this verse; see Marshall 674-675, also Bock 1450-1454. It does seem that the verse works better if "them" refers to "this generation", the sinful generation for whom the "chosen ones" "cry out" for "eschatological vindication." God's patience for this generation, his willingness to give time for repentance, will not hold indefinitely. The plight of God's people, as they face the tribulations of this present age, is of concern to God, such that their prayers for eschatological vindication will not fall on deaf ears; God will inevitably act for his people. "Do you suppose God, patient as he is ("indulgent with the opponents", Berkeley; "tolerant to their opponents", Moffatt), will not see justice done for his chosen who appeal to him day and night?", Phillips.
epi + dat. "-" - over, on, at, to, toward. The sense here is ambiguous: "with reference/regard to", Manson, "Sayings"; "against", Cranfield.
autoiV "them" - Probably not "the chosen ones", as noted above, but the chosen ones' "opponents", Manson, "Sayings"; "persecutors", Cranfield.
uJmin dat. pro. "[I tell you]" - [I say] to you. Dative of indirect object. Probably serving to underline what Jesus is about to say, similar to "truly, truly I say unto you."
oJti "-" - that. Here introducing a dependent statement, indirect speech, expressing what Jesus is saying.
thn ekdikhsin (iV ewV) "[they get] justice" - [he will bring about] the vengence, punishment, procuring of justice, vindication [of them]. The verb ekdikew gives a similar sense to the periphrastic construction poihsei thn ekdikhsin, "he will bring about the vindication." None-the-less, a similar periphrastic construction is used in Numbers 31:2 and 1 Maccabees 2:67 to express the sense "see to it that justice is done." This construction takes a genitive or dative of the person to whom it is done, here genitive, autwn, "them" = the elect who cry to him day by day, ie. an objective genitive, cf. BAGD. "Accomplish their vindication", Johnson.
en taxei (oV) "quickly" - with/in speed. The preposition en is adverbial, modal, expressing manner; often translated as "speedily", "quickly", "soon", although this sense probably gives too much weight to the delay for justice experienced by the widow in the parable. Jesus asks us to note the actions (words) of the unjust judge, not the persistence of the widow and her long wait for justice. It is more than likely that the intended sense reflects the unexpected return of the Son of Man, so "suddenly", Jeremias.
iv] A saying of faith, v8b: The idea of the sudden return of Christ prompts a warning. In the day of the coming kingdom many of those who cry out "Lord, Lord" will find themselves locked outside. So, let those who pray for God's just intervention in this age hold to that one necessary requirement for entry into the kingdom, namely, faith in Jesus Christ. Let us possess "a faith that perseveres in allegiance to Jesus", Bock.
plhn "however" - but. The meaning of the particle is somewhat unclear. Here it is treated as an exceptive, eg., "however", NIV, "and yet", Moffatt, "nevertheless", TNT, "yet", Torrey, and sometimes as an adversative, "but" NJB. The particle does sometimes have a resumptive and/or continuative sense, a more classical usage, but none-the-less a usage which Margaret Thrall (Greek Particles in the NT) has identified in Luke. As noted above, this may well be the sense here. "So then, back to the central issue, namely the return of the Son of Man. When he comes will he find faith on the earth?
elqwn (ercomai) aor. part. "when [the Son of Man] comes" - The participle is adverbial, forming a temporal clause. We should always remember that the coming of the Son of Man is a coming to the throne-room of the living God where he will take up his eternal crown and undertake judgement / the vindication of the elect, Dan.7:13. In this now/not yet moment, all creation will bow before him. Given the context, the sense is "when he comes before the Ancient of Days to vindicate his people and so realize their hope of a kingdom, which hope is ignored and maligned by this sinful generation, will he ......"
ara + fut. "-" - then [will he find]. Interrogative particle with the deliberative future setting up a question.
thn pistin (iV ewV) "faith" - the faith. Given the presence of the definite article, does Jesus mean us to understand a particular faith, with reference to the context, an "expectant faith", "hope for the coming of the Son of Man", "a faith ..... that looks for vindication", Nolland? Possibly a general sense is implied, "faithfulness", even "faithfulness expressed in unfailing prayer", Marshall, also Fitzmyer. Plummer is surely right when he links this faith to 17:22-37, as the faith which endures to the end in the face of much tribulation. Such faith is "the necessary faith, ..... faith in Jesus as the Messiah and Saviour." So, "will the elect remain true to their faith through to the coming of the Son of Man" - "faith" in the sense of "a faith that perseveres in allegiance to Jesus", Bock.
epi + gen. "on [the earth]" - Spacial; "upon".