Pray without ceasing: parables

pray-without-ceasingJesus’ parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary (v.1) stands as a climax for the longer section on faithfulness at the coming of the Son of Man (17:20-18:8). Read against the horizon of 17:22-37, Jesus’ teaching is particularly oriented toward the necessity of steadfast, hopeful faith in the midst of trials.

This parable is unique to Luke, as is the following parable on prayer (18:9-14, the gospel for the 30th Sunday in Year C). Luke has a greater emphasis on prayer than the other gospels. In the following five synoptic events, Luke adds a comment that Jesus is praying that is not found in the other gospels:

  • Jesus is praying at his baptism before heavens open (3:21)
  • Jesus spends the night praying to God before selecting the twelve (6:12)
  • Jesus is praying before he asks the disciples, “Who do the crowds/you say that I am?” (9:18)
  • Jesus is praying on the mountain before the transfiguration. (9:28, 29)
  • Jesus is praying before the disciples ask him to teach them to pray. (11:1)

The following parables about prayer are unique to Luke:

  • The Friend at Midnight (11:5-8, following the Lord’s Prayer)
  • The Widow and the Judge (18:1-8)
  • The Pharisee and the Tax Collector (18:9-14)

Brian Stoffregen also points out that besides the topic of prayer, our text and the following parable are also connected by a number of words with the Greek root –dik– = generally referring to “what is right”.

  • a-dik-ia — unjust (18:6)
  • a-dik-os — evildoers (18:11)
  • anti-dik-os — opponent (18:3)
  • dik-aios — righteous (18:9)
  • dik-aioo — justified (18:14)
  • ek-dik-eo — grant justice (18:3, 5)
  • ek-dik-esis — grant justice (18:7, 8)

Is this Luke’s way to convey that the content of prayer must always address justice or the lack of it? Clearly the parable of the judge and widow is a case of justice that has seemingly been denied.

The Focus of the Parable: A Judge and a Widow.  This parable is a twin of the parable of the neighbor in need (11:5-8). Both are used to illustrate the importance of persistence in prayer. Both present a person in need persistently pressing a request, and both parables call for reasoning from the lesser to the greater: If a neighbor or an unjust judge will respond to the urgent need and repeated request, then will not God also respond? It is an argument from lesser to the greater by which Jesus affirms the faithfulness of God – He will assuredly act on behalf of the righteous.

The widow’s actions are a model of perseverance in the midst of wrong. The literal translation of v.8 is not “faith” as a general category, but is “the faith” – that is the manner of faith demonstrated by the widow. She is certain of God’s justice and thus acts in resolute faithfulness in anticipation of that certainty. The parable is a metaphor for Jesus’ followers who also will encounter hostility, look for the deliverance that accompanies the coming of the reign of God – and not finding it in their lifetime, may become disheartened. Jesus insists that adversity is integral to the process by which God brings salvation (cf. 17:25, 32-34) – and assures his disciples that, despite delay, they are always to be rooted in hope (18:1-18).

This same idea is captured in the Apostolic writing.  At the beginning of his missions, Paul fervently prepared the Thessalonians for the imminent arrival of the Second Coming (parousia).  There are aspects of his second letter to the Thessalonians by which it seems Paul began to understand that the parousia would be delayed.  It did not diminish his fervor for spreading the Good News, but he ever more begins to preach perseverance as a model of faithfulness. Consider Paul’s letter to the community in Rome written near the end of his life:

19 For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God; 20 for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God. 22 We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; 23 and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that sees for itself is not hope. For who hopes for what one sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance. (Romans 8:19-25)


Notes

Luke 18:1 becoming weary: enkakien, usually translated as “to lose heart” or to “lose enthusiasm.” This word has two senses, “to act or treat badly” and “(wrongly) to cease.” In Luke 18:1, just after the apocalyptic discourse in ch. 17, the point is obviously that, with a view to the end, the disciples should not “wrongly cease,” i.e., grow slack in prayer. The meaning is the same in 2 Cor. 4:1: Paul will not let any difficulties cause him to fail or grow weary. In virtue of the eternal purpose of God, Paul in Eph. 3:13 asks his readers not to be discouraged by the pressures of his present situation, which are in fact their glory. Similarly, there is an exhortation not to grow weary in well-doing in 2 Th. 3:13; Gal. 6:9, with the promise of an ultimate reaping of eternal life (Gal. 6:8).

Sources

  • Brian Stoffregen, “Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes” at www.crossmarks.com
  • Scripture quotes from New American Bible by Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. ©
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