Reading for Wednesday, March 28: Luke 18
As He journeys toward Jerusalem, Jesus teaches His disciples a parable “that they ought always to pray and not lose heart” (v1). Sojourners do a lot of praying, or at least they ought to. Yet, prayer can be incredibly discouraging at times. When God doesn’t answer our prayer the way we’d like, we may find ourselves wondering if God is really listening. “Does God really care? Is He too preoccupied to hear my prayer?” These are the thoughts we have sometimes as we wrestle with prayer.
But the prayer life Jesus holds up for us here is likened to a widow in search of justice. With no one else to defend her cause, she petitions the judge constantly until he acquiesces to her request. And the point Jesus makes is this: if this pagan judge gave in to this persistent widow, how much more will our Father — the Righteous Judge — dispense justice? Therefore, pray…and do not lose heart.
The second story Jesus tells in this chapter deals with prayer, too, but also self-righteousness and humility. A Pharisee stands praying aloud and beating his chest, proudly displaying his “piety” while praying “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector,” (v11). Meanwhile, the tax collector can muster only “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (v13), a heartfelt plea reminiscent of the lepers’ cry in the previous chapter. Jesus says the tax collector leaves justified in the eyes of God, “for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted,” (v14).
The children who come to Jesus fall into the same category as the lepers, the persistent widow, the tax collector — lowly, easily overlooked, in need of mercy. These characters embody the spirit of 17.10: they recognize how unworthy they are to receive God’s gifts. The irony of this chapter is that Luke shows us characters who are equally in need of mercy, yet their position keeps them from fully recognizing it. The Pharisee and the rich ruler fall into this category, blinded by self-righteousness and material wealth. Little children receive gifts joyously, without pretense. And this is the way the Kingdom of God comes to us (v17).
The crowd asks Jesus a legitimate question: “Then who can be saved?” (v26). But Jesus responds: “What is impossible with men is possible with God,” (v27). Not only is this an echo of Luke 1.37 (“For nothing will be impossible with God.”), it takes us deeper into the wonder of God’s redeeming work. When salvation seems far off, we would do well to remember that we are never beyond the reach of God’s hand. If I’m reading Luke correctly, it seems axiomatic that God’s availability is predicated solely on our humility. Will we humbly receive what He intends to freely give?