ILLUSTRATION OF THE PERSISTENT WIDOW
THE PHARISEE AND THE TAX COLLECTOR
Jesus has already told his disciples an illustration about being persistent in prayer. (Luke 11:5-13) He may now be in Samaria or in Galilee, and he again emphasizes the need not to give up in praying. He does so with this further illustration:
“In a certain city there was a judge who had no fear of God and no respect for man. There was also a widow in that city who kept going to him and saying, ‘See that I get justice from my legal opponent.’ Well, for a while he was unwilling, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Although I do not fear God or respect any man, because this widow keeps making me trouble, I will see that she gets justice so that she will not keep coming and wearing me out with her demand.’”
As to the application, Jesus says: “Hear what the judge, although unrighteous, said! Certainly, then, will not God cause justice to be done for his chosen ones who cry out to him day and night, while he is patient toward them?” (Luke 18:6, 7) What is Jesus thus indicating about his Father?
Jesus certainly does not mean that Jehovah God is in any way like the unrighteous judge. His point involves a contrast: If even an unrighteous human judge will respond to persistent entreaties, God unquestionably will do so. He is righteous and good and will answer if his people do not give up in praying. We can see that from what Jesus adds: “I tell you, [God] will cause justice to be done to them speedily.”
The lowly and the poor often do not receive justice, whereas the powerful and the rich often are favored. But that is not God’s way. When the time is ripe, he will justly see to it that the wicked are punished and that his servants receive everlasting life.
Who have faith like that of the widow? How many truly believe that God will “cause justice to be done to them speedily”? Jesus has just illustrated the need to persist in prayer. Now, as to faith in the power of prayer, he asks: “When the Son of man arrives, will he really find this faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8) The implication is that such faith may not be common when Christ arrives.
Some who are listening to Jesus feel self-assured in their faith. They trust in themselves that they are righteous, whereas they look down on others. To such ones, Jesus directs this illustration:
“Two men went up into the temple to pray, the one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and began to pray these things to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like everyone else
The Pharisees are known to make public displays of their seeming righteousness. They do so to impress others. The usual occasions for their self-imposed fasts are on Mondays and Thursdays, the days large markets are busy, when many will see them. And they scrupulously pay a tithe of even small plants. (Luke 11:42) A few months earlier, they expressed their contempt for the common people, saying: “This crowd who do not know the Law [according to the Pharisees’ view] are accursed people.”
Jesus continues his illustration: “But the tax collector, standing at a distance, was not willing even to raise his eyes heavenward but kept beating his chest, saying, ‘O God, be gracious to me, a sinner.’” Yes, the tax collector humbly acknowledges his shortcomings. Jesus concludes: “I tell you, this man went down to his home and was proved more righteous than that Pharisee. Because everyone who exalts himself will be humiliated, but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
Thus Jesus makes clear the need to be humble. That is beneficial counsel for his disciples, who have been reared in a society in which the self-righteous Pharisees stress position and rank. And it is valuable counsel for all of Jesus’ followers.