Pray without ceasing: Jesus

pray-without-ceasing7 Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night? Will he be slow to answer them? 8 I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily. But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Jesus comments make clear the intended parallels: from an unjust judge to God; from the widow to God’s elect.  The term “his chosen ones” (hoi eklektoi), used in Luke-Acts only here, echoes texts such as Isa. 42:1; 43:20; 65:9, 15, 22; Ps. 105:6, 43 (cf. Sir. 47:22), which use the term “chosen” in a context that emphasizes election to serve Yahweh (also refers to Deut. 4:37; 7:7; 1 Chron. 16:13; Ps. 77:31; 88:3).

The expression “call out to him day and night” echoes Anna, the widow prophetess who prayed in the Temple “night and day” – anticipates the widows in 1 Tim 5:5 who also pray “night and day.” This parable echoes 17:22-37 wherein the faithful of God, the “chosen ones” will be the objects of unjust actions in an unjust world.  Both are called to faithful constancy – as demonstrated by the widow

Having begun with a question from the Pharisees about the eschatological timetable (17:20-21), Jesus has changes the framework from when? And where? To the basic question – how will disciples respond in the face of the promised, certain coming of the fullness of the reign of God? What sort of faith will be found on earth?  Will it be the faith that seeks justice?

…will He find faith on earth? There is an interpretive path which emphasizes – and rightly so – that the question of whether Jesus will find faith is tied to a failure of persistence of prayer and belief in the face of our own expectations about what Jesus should be doing and about delays in the coming of the reign of God. Certainly a purpose of the parable is to encourage the disciples to call out to God “day and night” and to do so without ceasing.

What is interesting about this verse is that it is the only place in Luke that says (in the Greek) “the faith.” In all other places the word “faith” appears without an accompanying article. This has led many commentators to consider faith as having and “endpoint” of wholeness or completion.  A faith in progresses towards maturity, completion, wholeness or some other term that admits of “stages” of faith might be described as a faith that is much more than just believing the correct things in our mind. You can believe all the right things and still be in bondage. You can believe all the right things and still be miserable. You can believe all the right things and still be relatively unchanged. Believing a set of claims to be true has very little transforming power.  The same general comments could be made substituting “prayer” for “faith.”

The widow of the parable could be a faithful person, but remain passive. “I will stay home, away from the judge, and pray to God that the judge gives me justice.”  Yet there is something transformative about the faith experience of the widow – something that compels her to act outside the script that society would force upon her as a widow. She in engaged in the quest for justice.  The widow of the parable possesses faith, but it is a faith that seeks justice. One can rightly speculate that “the faith” that Jesus seeks is “belief that seeks justice.”

Many apologists use the Letter of James as a battleground for “faith vs. works” and the role each plays in salvation.  “22 Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his own face in a mirror. 24 He sees himself, then goes off and promptly forgets what he looked like. 25 But the one who peers into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres, and is not a hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, such a one shall be blessed in what he does.” (James 1:22-25)

If one continues to read James one should notice that much of the works that James writes about are matters of justice, or said another way, working to establish God’s reign in this world, in this time. James speaks of the oppression of the poor, the failure of the community to provide even the most basic of necessities: “If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:15-17)

We should not let the meaning of the this parable be restrained to “persistence in prayer” even as true as that it. The parable exists within the context of the coming of the Reign of God which is not only a matter of faith, but also of justice. When the Son of Man comes, will He find a faith that seeks God’s justice?


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).

Luke 18:3 widow: chḗra : this word, meaning “widow,” derives from a root meaning “forsaken.” The fate of the widow is bewailed (Ex. 22:25). Widowhood may indeed be a divine penalty (Ex. 22:22ff.). Widows are associated with others who are disadvantaged, e.g., orphans, aliens, or day laborers. They suffer wrongs (Is. 10:2) or loss of rights (1:23). They are held in low esteem (54:4); cf. their special clothes (Gen. 38:14). Like harlots or divorceées, they may not marry the high priest (Lev. 21:14), or, in the program of Ezek. 44:22, any priest at all unless they are the widows of priests. Some widows enjoy high regard (cf. Gen. 38), and the OT enjoins all the righteous to be kind to widows. God is their refuge, and he helps them to their rights (Ps. 146:9; Dt. 10:18). He threatens judgment on those who wrong them and promises blessing to those who assist them (Ex. 22:21ff.; Jer. 7:6). He witnesses in their favor (1 Kgs. 17:20). The supreme disaster is when he no longer pities them (Is. 9:16). Their vows are valid (Num. 30:10), they have a share of the tithe (Dt. 14:29), they may glean (24:19ff.), they participate in feasts (16:11), their clothes may not be taken as a pledge (24:17), and incidentally Levirate marriage grants them some protection (25:5ff.).       [G. Stählin, TDNT 9:440–65]

Luke 18:5 strike me:  hypōpiázō means “to strike on the face” with resultant disfigurement (i.e., from the Greek boxing ring – to give a black eye), then figuratively “to defame,” “to castigate” (with words). It may, however, be used here in the much weaker sense of “to wear one out.” [K. Weiss, hypōpiázō, 8:590–91]

Sources

  • Alan Culpepper, Luke in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. IX (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995) pp. 334-40
  • Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1997) pp. 636-43
  • Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke, vol. 3 of Sacra Pagina, ed. Daniel J. Harrington (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1991) pp. 269-74
  • Jerome Kodell, “Luke” in The Collegeville Bible Commentary, eds. Diane Bergant and Robert J. Karris (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1989) p. 968
  • Leon Morris,. Luke: An introduction and commentary. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries Vol. 3: (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988) pp. 279-81
  • K. Beale and D. A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos, 2007) p. 349
  • Brian Stoffregen, “Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes” at www.crossmarks.com
  • Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich and Geoffrey William Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1995, c1985).
    G. Stählin, chḗra, 9:440–65
    W. Grundmann, enkakéō, 3:469-87
    K. Weiss, hypōpiázō, 8:590–91
  • Scripture quotes from New American Bible by Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. ©
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