In Luke 18 Jesus shared an interesting story about a widow.
The widow had been cheated and was attempting to get justice through the legal system, but things weren’t working out so well. Her appeals were being ignored by a judge whom Jesus referred to as unjust.
We aren’t given any more details. We don’t know who cheated her or how severe the offense was, but as it turns out that information isn’t important.
The point was, as a widow, she had about as much clout as a dead tree. Widows were on society’s bottom wrung, and the judge, who didn’t care about God or people, wasn’t interested in her problem. She was an inconvenience, a gnat to be swatted away.
But she never gave up. She knew the law and she knew her cause was just, so she did the only thing she could. She hounded the judge repeatedly.
And it worked.
He finally realized that processing her legal matter, though inconvenient, was far less bothersome than repeatedly listening to her complaint.
In spite of being marginalized by the system, she found a way to assert her cause.
And Jesus used her as an example. He shared her experience to teach the disciples persistence in prayer. But that explanation leaves us a bit curious. The parable never mentions this woman praying.
In the end of the parable Jesus referred to her as an example of faith and He wondered aloud if that kind of faith would still exist when He returns.
Since prayer and persistence and actions can all be expressions of faith, and that was at least a strong sub point of the parable, we can make several observations about faith. Several of these of these points don’t square with convention.
Genuine Faith Is Insistent
Faith isn’t necessarily about size, volume, outward displays, explosive sensations or immediate results. In fact, according to the widow’s example it fits nicely into the normal flow of life. Faith’s results materialize over time.
If you were going to measure this widow’s faith, if you were going to give it dimension, the only meter you could use is her insistence.
Her faith was no bigger than her status and was just as unnoticeable as she, but it was constant. Jesus lauded the only thing He could: her indefatigable effort.
I can just imagine this lady routinely – daily or as often as she could – making her way to the courthouse and presenting her case. The tedium, the red tape, the standing in queue, the mounds of paperwork didn’t stop her. They were all expressions of faith.
The inconvenience for her was just as big as the irritation for the judge.
We don’t know how long it took, but we have to assume she would have kept hounding till she died if the judge hadn’t finally heard her case.
The important lesson is this. Her example flies in the face of conventional thinking, which says “Lay hands on someone, encourage them to believe and all is well immediately!” Maybe. Maybe not.
Faith Is Human And Essential
There is definitely a link between God and human faith but it isn’t what you think. He is moved immediately when people exercise faith, but it must also be said that He doesn’t act in faith or give it. He allows for it. He prompts it. He encourages it but He doesn’t induce it in any person.
Faith is strictly a human choice/experience and like humans, it can be imperfect and still be faith. It is also essential. Nothing happens without it.
Without faith it is impossible to please God. (Hebrews 11:6)
According to this woman’s example, the act of faith you neglect may be responsible for the goals you never achieve. If she hadn’t acted, her case would never have been heard.
It was her faith, her inconvenience, her insistence, not God’s. God didn’t give or sustain her faith. He gave principles to live by and she believed those principles. The whole culture knew the principles including the judge.
Acting according to the law, which is a very human thing to do and is what this widow did, was an act of faith.
Faith’s Results Don’t Always Require God’s Intervention
Implied here is a truth we don’t readily see. Faith can sometimes be answered in very horizontal ways, meaning not mystical.
In other words, faith can sometimes be answered without God’s direct intervention.
It’s like a great meal. God doesn’t have to earn the money or buy and cook the food to provide us a feast. He maintains the natural order and we do the rest, but it’s still His provision.
Although God never forsakes us and is a very present help in trouble, there’s no indication He did anything special or out of the ordinary to support this widow. She dangled helplessly with no assistance from anyone, not even God.
Instead of begging for a miracle, she acted and her consistent action alone was sufficient.
Faith Is Focused
I’m sure this woman prayed but the Bible says nothing about what she prayed, how she prayed or when she prayed. What we know for certain is she didn’t spend all her time on her knees.
Prayer is action but in this case it wasn’t the only action or even the most important action. Instead of spending her time focused solely on God, she focused on the person ordained to provide the help she needed, the judge. And she focused on the actions required to get his attention.
She didn’t go around town harping and moaning about mistreatment.
She also didn’t write letters to the editor or complain to neighbors and fellow workers. If she were here today, I doubt she would have mentioned it at church. As far as we know moaning loudly about mistreatment wasn’t a part of her strategy.
And from her example we learn that focusing is important to the proper exercise of faith. Moaning to the people who can’t help is more like gossip than constructively focused effort.
Faith Has No Audio or Visual
The actions of faith are visible but the look and sound of it can’t be stereotyped. It isn’t the same for every person, so it isn’t always obvious. Sometimes you can recognize it only after the mountain moves.
When you compare William Carey’s experience to David Livingstone’s you find occasional similarities, but there is no absolute parallel.
The widow didn’t make any flamboyant declarations about acting in faith. There were no exclamations of what she expected God to do in response.
There was also nothing in her actions that screamed “I’m acting in faith!” There was nothing particularly spiritual or biblical about what she did.
Do we normally think people are acting in faith when they press charges or file legal complaints?
The judge observed her actions. The public observed her actions. Neither recognized her as an example of faith. Only Jesus did that.
Faith Is A New Way To Pray
This passage opens by saying that Jesus intended to teach the disciples to always pray and never give up. But the primary character in the parable is a woman whose posture reflects none of the traditional images of prayer: kneeling, folding hands and voicing complaints to God.
Most people respond to injustice emotionally. They are incensed or numbed. One becomes a vigilante, the other is inert. One strikes out, the other only prays.
The point is there are more than two responses to injustice. No doubt this widow prayed but we are only told what she did in addition to praying.
We should follow her example. Settle yourself down or pull yourself together, and pray while taking every legal step you can.
Praying in faith is kind of like praying for good health. The most effective prayers are offered while jogging.
Faith Is Smart And Knowing
Faith sits somewhere between all knowing/seeing and completely blind, but unfortunately is associated more with blindness than sight.
Some even brag on how blindly they trust, but acting in the blind is not a sign of courage. What we can know, we should know and Jesus is the one who made that point. He taught us to take stock.
Which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, to see if you have enough to finish it? (Luke 14:28)
Faith isn’t all knowing or all seeing. It wouldn’t be faith if it was, but faith should at least find all the facts before acting.
What the widow knew for certain kept her going when things looked bleak.
Faith Is Not The Same As Belief
The difference between faith and belief is faith requires courage and action. It never happens in your head.
There should be a correlation between belief and faith, yes, but generally belief is a state of being and faith a state of action.
The widow acted on what she believed and we call that faith.
That’s an important distinction because everyone has belief, even non-Christians. Every religious person, every politician, every teacher, every student, every worker, every person believes something.
But not every person has the faith to act on what they say they believe.
And not every person has the sense to know what action is best for a given belief.
Entertaining a belief or voicing it out loud isn’t an act of faith unless your discussing the best way to act on that belief.
We call that strategic thinking. It’s a good thing to do. It isn’t anti-faith but it isn’t faith either.
Belief without faith is barren. Faith without belief is reckless.
Faith And Evangelism Are Not Synonyms
You can do many things by faith: build buildings, attend church, give an offering, plan for retirement and more. In this case the widow was attempting to get justice but that didn’t require evangelistic overtones.
The widow wasn’t attacking the Judge’s beliefs about God or his disinterest in men. She wasn’t trying to change the judge, she was just trying to get him to do his job.
Her example left an impression and the judge may have changed later but only because justice was served first.
It was a godly thing for the judge to do his job but he could do that without being godly on a personal level. The widow didn’t confuse the two issues.
Not everything we do in faith must be infused with evangelism.
Faith Impresses Jesus
Especially the unconventional kind.
We don’t usually mention this, but Jesus never once recognized piety. His response to those who claimed to be pious was accusing. He never wasted time flattering the supercilious.
Maybe that’s because piety is inwardly focused, and can easily become a badge of superiority. What’s the point?
Jesus did, however, often praise faith loudly and he found it expressed by the most unlikely people, doing the most ordinary things. Taking care of a legal matter, for example, isn’t usually thought of as an act faith, but that is exactly what this widow was doing.
How sinful she was, we don’t know. What her situation was, we don’t know. How many children she had or how misbehaved they were, we aren’t told. We don’t even know her name.
We aren’t given any gossip worthy details.
Regardless, in the case of this widow, Jesus’ recognition was the equivalent of the Nobel Prize and she has been one of faith’s many laureates ever since. Her lowly status only makes the recognition more significant.