The Parable of the Judge and the Widow

The Parable of the Judge and the Widow

Thoughts on the parable of the Judge and the Widow – Please read Luke 18:1-8.

THE CONTEXT. Jesus told this parable immediately after conversations with both the Pharisees and his disciples about the coming Kingdom of God. His comment and parable are about prayer, both for present needs and for the 2nd Coming of the Lord. Jesus tells here an amusing story to his audience to inspire persistence and faith in their prayer life. The audience was probably a mixture of disciples and Pharisees, the common religious person and the religious elite, all of whom could use some wisdom on prayer.

THE JUDGE. He was a recognized power figure in society. During this time period, there were municipal authorities assigned by either Herod or the Romans. They were not Jewish, were not held to religious standards, and were generally pagan in their values. Jews considered these unpopular “village-judges” ignorant, arbitrary, dishonest, but still with the kind of authority they had to accept and deal with. These judges were not inclined to handle their duties in a just manner, and they didn’t care about public opinion. The judge in Jesus’ story would have been immediately recognized as one of these pagan judges, since he didn’t fear God and didn’t respect anyone.

THE WIDOW. a. She was the opposite extreme from the judge, powerless and vulnerable, weak and in low standing in the community, not at all influential in society, and without an advocate in the courts.

b. Her situation appears hopeless from the beginning. In society at that point in history, men always advocated for women in the courts. Widows would not even be allowed in the courtroom. In this case, the widow was advocating for herself before the judge, which means that there was no male in her family to advocate for her. She was utterly alone, with no husband, son, uncle, cousin, brother to plead her case. She was desperate and alone.

c. Despite her low standing, she feels she has been victimized and continues to plead her case before the judge. She wants his attention, and she won’t give up till she has justice. She pesters and badgers the judge, persistently demanding his attention to her case. She is insistent that the judge defend her against her adversary, and she won’t be ignored.

d. It’s interesting that, in a traditionally patriarchal culture, Jesus puts a woman into the heroic role in the story. Women were loved and appreciated and held up for admiration by Jesus throughout his ministry. Here we have a widow held up as a role model when it comes to patience, courage and persistence in prayer.

THE JUDGE. a. True to form, the judge initially couldn’t have cared less about this wronged widow. He stubbornly didn’t give her the time and attention she demanded.

b. He finally gets worn down by her persistence. He could turn a deaf ear for only so long. He realized this widow was prepared to go on indefinitely, forever, and simply is determined to continue her aggressiveness for as long as it takes. “The Greek word has an unusual verb that means ‘ever tapping,’ signifying one who keeps knocking on the door of heaven until he receives what he came for.” (Dr. Brian Simmons, from notes in his Passion Translation).

c. The Greek word for “wear me out” is actually a boxing term, and has been translated to mean “punch in the eye,” “slap in the face,” or even “give me a headache.” It’s clear that the judge was physically intimidated as well as exasperated, which would have amused Jesus’ listeners.

d. So finally the judge relented, just to get her out of his hair. He caved in, through sheer courage and persistence from the widow. The audience would have felt like cheering, the villain being beaten by a powerless widow.

JESUS. a. For Jesus to use this unscrupulous, unpopular judge as a symbol for God is laughable. Jesus told this parable with a twinkle in his eye. The judge was an extreme opposite of God in every way. Every Jew knew that in Scripture God was a tireless defender of widows, a passionate advocate for widows and orphans. For example, “Your widows too can trust in me.” (Jeremiah 49:11). That thought is all through the Law and the Psalms and Prophets. The audience would have laughed at the irony of God and the judge.

b. Jesus used a particularly Jewish form of teaching… How much more! If even a callous judge, who cared for no one, will help out a poor widow who keeps pestering him, how much more will a loving Father help those who approach Him!

c. “By role-playing with divine nature and by using an exaggerated characterization of what God is not like, Jesus teaches what God is like.” (Brad Young, Jesus the Jewish Theologian)

FINAL THOUGHTS. a. If a powerless widow persistently badgered a pagan judge knowing sooner or later she would find justice, how much more should we not give up when appealing to a righteous God? We are encouraged here to pray, and keep praying under all circumstances, even when it looks like an answer is long in coming and discouragements are many.

b. By contrast, it is important to remember in faith that we pray to a just judge, who shows no favoritism to the powerful, who loves people, who won’t ignore or overlook those who seek Him.

c. Referring to this parable, Hultgren comments, “Soon Jesus and his disciples will be in Jerusalem. That could mean disaster, even death, for Jesus and his followers. But within such perilous times, one should not lose heart. God will not only care for his own, but even vindicate them. Therefore the disciples should persist in prayer and faith.” (A. Hultgren, The Parables of Jesus).

d. Jesus asks a frightening question at the end of the story. “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” Oh my. Why did he ask that? Was he discouraged about the amount of faith he witnessed around him? Did he lack confidence that his followers would hang on? The reader is not sure where Jesus is going with this puzzling question. Perhaps he is preparing his disciples for the tough times ahead, telling them that they will have a difficult time holding onto the faith unless they have the persistence and courage of the widow in the story. Let us consistently pray that Jesus will indeed find faith on the earth when he returns in glory. If doubts about this surface, remember that Jesus told us he would never leave us or forsake us, and rejoice that he has left us his Holy Spirit to transform us and prepare us for the Final Day.

e. There is a story told by Rev. Kenny Borthwick of an old building in Scotland that had a bakery shop on the first floor, with the kitchen on the second floor. This kitchen had a huge bread kneeling machine that, for most of the day, banged and knocked and vibrated, shaking the floor and walls. One day, the entire building collapsed unto itself with no warning. Evidently there was a cumulative effect of the bread machine after many years of use, and all that shaking and vibrating eventually resulted in the collapse of the floor and walls. There wasn’t one big vibration that collapsed the building, there was no way one could point to one vibration more than any other. Prayer can be like that. Sometimes when a prayer gets answered, it’s impossible to tell if there was one prayer that took effect, or if it was the cumulative effect of persistent prayers over a long time. Sometimes prayers are only answered after a persistent knocking on heaven’s door. Jesus wants us to keep knocking, like the bread machine, and in God’s timing the door will open, the response will happen. Just keep praying, hopeful and expectant, and eventually those prayers will take effect.


  1. Why does God seem to delay in his responses to prayer? Actually, does God even have to respond at all?
  2. Have you ever prayed for something, and after receiving no discernible answer, given up praying about it? Did you give up, get impatient, grow tired, lose heart? What happened?
  3. How is persistence related to faith?
  4. God apparently likes to be asked again and again. Why would that be?
  5. What is the yes-or-no answer to the Lord’s puzzling question at the end of the story in verse 8? Why did He ask this scary question?
  6. Do you pray for the Lord to return soon? Clearly, he’s delaying. Do you keep praying for His return? Are we supposed to?

Resources: Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah; Kenneth Bailey, Through Peasant Eyes and Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes; Herbert Lockyer, All the Parables of the Bible; Joachim Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus; the Passion Translation, by Dr. Brian Simmons.