Prayer; not a duty but a privilege – Saturday, 32nd week in Ordinary Time – Luke 18:1-8

Prayer; not a duty but a privilege – Saturday, 32nd week in Ordinary Time – Luke 18:1-8

This pericope has been tied to Luke 17:20 -37 by 17:8. Luke 17:20 and following are a collection of teachings by Jesus on the end times and the need to be in a constant state of readiness and unencumbered by baggage. Jesus is so close to entering Jerusalem (Luke 19:27) and it is here that he will lay down his life, hence he has to teach his disciples the need to faithful and faith filled. Verse eight of our pericope ties these two passages together with the reference to the Son of Man ‘who will come back’. Hence this is an eschatological or end time parable.

Now that we know the context of the parable let us understand its purpose and that has been given to us in verse one. This parable was meant to be words of encouragement to Luke’s beleaguered community. The lesson was clear; God would not abandon them but they in turn must remain faithful and therefore steadfast in prayer until Jesus comes.

St Luke tells us that Jesus told them this parable about their need to pray. Clearly prayer is not an option, there is a need to pray. Sadly, many translate the need to pray as a burden and look at it as a duty; prayer is a privilege. Yet as we will see in verse eight, merely ‘continual prayer’ is not what is meant by Jesus but rather a prayer that increases faith (verse 8). Fidelity to God and Jesus must be the engine of prayer.

The parable speaks of a widow. In a patriarchal world widows had little standing and most of their rights would have been stripped away. Quite clearly the widow represents much more for Luke. In Luke and Acts, St Luke employs the imagery of widows to stand for all that is seen as powerless. (Luke/Acts 7:11-17, 20:45-21:4)

Using the parable, Jesus is making a contrast not a comparison. He is contrasting the unjust judge and God. Using the argument that moves from the lesser to the greater Jesus wants to show us that if the persistent pleading of the woman triumphs over the unjust judge then how much more will the persistent praying of the Christian disciple achieve? And if the unjust judge yields to the pleas of the widow, how much more will a gracious God desire to grant us what we want?   God does not need to be badgered into listening, and God, when he responds does so willingly, in fact God wants to be ‘bugged’ with our prayers.

The translation of the text is very amusing in the Greek as compared to the English. Verse 5 reads, “because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming”. In the original Greek, though, the judge says: “because this widow causes trouble for me, I will give her justice, so that she may not, in the end, give me a black eye by her coming” (verse 5). By using the verb hypopiazo, which means “to give a black eye,” Luke situates the judge’s language within the arena of boxing metaphors. (See also Paul’s use of the verb hypopiazo in 1 Corinthians 9:26-27.) However, when English translations do not capture the meaning of this verb, they soften the tenacity of the widow’s actions, as well as her perceived status as a “trouble-maker” to the system.

Yet the decisive question in this text is not about God’s vindication of Luke’s persecuted community. God will vindicate them and all of us. The decisive question is whether Jesus’ disciples will remain faithful to him during the long haul caused by the delay of his return.

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