The widow’s prayer

And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. 3 And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ 4 For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” 6 And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. 7 And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night?, Will he delay long over them? 8 I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Jesus’ story about a poor widow who seeks vindication against her adversary is usually read as a model of Christian prayer in a quite general sense (see, for example, these commentaries collected at textweek). This approach certainly yields some important insights, but it also illustrates a widespread tendency to disregard the eschatological-historical context of Jesus’ teaching.

As the widow pleads with the judge to ‘get justice for me against my accuser’, so the disciples will cry out to God day and night for vindication against those who oppose and persecute them. The assurance given is that God will not delay but will ‘vindicate them quickly’ (vv.7-8; cf. Sir. 35:12-20). The parable immediately follows teaching about the coming of the kingdom of God and the judgment of a sinful generation in a manner analogous to the flood or the destruction of Sodom (17:20-37). It opens with a pointed reference to ‘a certain city’, and concludes with a question: will the Son of man find faith on earth when he comes?

The story is told, therefore, not to a global audience but to the few who had started down the difficult narrow path that leads to life, who were about to enter the dark tunnel of Israel’s eschatological crisis, not knowing when - or even whether - they would emerge from the other end. It is not a general parable about prayer but a parable specifically about the vindication of Jesus’ disciples. If we wish to learn lessons from the parable for our own circumstances, we should at least begin from this eschatological starting-point and generalize from it only very carefully. Jesus promised his followers that when they cried out to God for vindication against their adversaries (the Jewish authorities, Rome), God would certainly hear them; he would not delay long (18:7). Can we draw the conclusion from this, however, that under any circumstances perseverence in prayer will get results?

Andrew, it's been a long and arduous journey from Arminianism to Calvinism, to the Early Fathers to the 1st Century. It's been a difficult road but nevertheless worth it. So much to learn while unlearning, the unlearning is very difficult.

As we look at your (N.T.Wright friendly) 3 Horizons paradigm, the third sitting just on the edges of our New Testament, how does prayer fit in? While we're not in Judea around 62CE nor in Rome around 150CE, how does one go about re-learning to pray for today, for this post-Christendom age?

Also, is it fair to say that if it wasn't for a couple of verses in Revelation and a couple of more from Paul, your vision for the future would be more like Marcus Borg's than Tom Wright's ?

Again, thanks.




Two very pertinent questions.

First, if we exist as a people called by the Creator God to be new creation, a people of worship, justice and mercy, in the power of the Spirit rather than according to Law, as a dynamic corporate witness to the nations and cultures around us, we should be dependent on prayer at every turn to fulfil that calling. Prayer arises constantly at the point of concrete, lived out reliance on the God who dwells in the midst of us; and it arises at the circumference of our life in the world, at the point of mission. It is a crucial means by which we demonstrate our otherness, our belonging to a good and powerful and present Creator.

Secondly, possibly, but I think that the “third horizon” of new heavens and new earth is not dependent simply on a couple of passages—I think it arises out of an understanding of the resurrection of Jesus as being not only a sign of the restoration of Israel, not only a guarantee that the martyrs will be vindicated, but also an event that anticipates an ultimate renewal of all things. Jesus does not simply return to God, return to his true place in heaven, through the resurrection—the inclusion of the martyrs in his destiny makes that clear. As a resurrected body he presupposes an eventual new creation.

@Andrew Perriman:

Thanks Andrew, by the way, your book The Future of the People of God arrived yesterday.

Throughout my life I've always wondered this one question, all the answers but one proved insufficient, inadequate or too general. That one good answer came from our favorite theologian and bishop, NT Wright.

The question: What has Paul the apostle been doing for 2000 years?

It's not a tricky question, I always really wanted to know, partly perhaps because the answers were always too vague, partly because it'd give dimension and depth to my faith.

So, what saith you, sir?

Read time: 3 minutes