The Importunate Widow - Parables of Jesus

The Parable of the Importunate Widow Teaches that Persistence Pays

A parable is a figure of speech, an extended metaphor, a story using common actions or circumstances designed to illustrate a spiritual truth, a principle or a moral lesson. The word parable comes from the Greek word parabole, which means to place beside or side by side for the purpose of comparison. A parable can usually be identified by the use of the word “like.” This was the method of teaching Jesus used most often.

The story in Luke 18:1-8 is brief but potent. Importunate means persistent or unrelenting. It is out of the ordinary that the point or meaning of this parable is given first, then the parable itself.

“Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart, saying: “There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man. Now there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, ‘Get justice for me from my adversary.’ And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, ‘Though I do not fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.’” Then the Lord said, “Hear what the unjust judge said. And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?”

The little word “ought” means it is necessary, needful, right and proper. It implies that something is absent or missing, and that thing is prayer. The word “always” means constantly. One might think that constant prayer is impossible, but the heart of the challenge is to take all things directly to God, with the emphasis on persistence. The Message translates this verse well. “Jesus told them a story showing that it was necessary for them to pray consistently and never quit.”

The parable presents a judge who is aloof and unsympathetic, who doesn’t care about God or anyone else. The second person is a widow, alone and helpless, who comes to the judge seeking appropriate punishment for someone who has wronged her. The judge ignored her because he didn’t care. But she kept coming, and after a while, he decided to take action. He was getting annoyed with her endless requests. The word weary in verse 5 in the Greek literally means to be beaten black and blue in the face. Only the Message translation captures this. “But because this widow won't quit badgering me, I'd better do something and see that she gets justice—otherwise I'm going to end up beaten black-and-blue by her pounding.”

Jesus then emphasized the judge’s words to make the point that if an indifferent, calloused human judge can be moved by persistence, then certainly the loving Heavenly Father hears and answers the prayers of His people. “I tell you that He will avenge them speedily.” Jesus reassured His disciples that God hears and responds. God does not forget, and He will absolutely settle all scores in due time. “For yet a little while, and He who is coming will come and will not tarry.” (Hebrews 10:37)

In the Psalms, David often prayed for God to take answer and act quickly. “Lord, I cry out to You; Make haste to me! Give ear to my voice when I cry out to You. Bow down Your ear to me, deliver me speedily… Do not hide Your face from me in the day of my trouble; Incline Your ear to me; In the day that I call, answer me speedily.” (Psalm 141:1; 31:2; 102:2) David was called a man after God’s heart, and clearly, God doesn’t mind if His people ask for swift action.

God’s timing is different than people’s timing, and people can be so impatient that they give up and quit right before their answer comes. At the end of this parable, Jesus asked, “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” Faith, therefore, does not waver. The kind of faith Jesus was talking about is persistent faith. James wrote this exact truth many years later. “But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.” (James 1:6 KJV)

The thirtieth President of the United States, Calvin Coolidge, spoke these now-famous words: “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination are omnipotent.”

Written by: Pete Miller