And he spoke a parable to them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint;…
Our Lord, in the two parables composing the present passage, gives the disciples encouragement to pray. The one brings out the need of perseverance and importunity in prayer; the other brings out the spirit of self-abasement which should be cultivated in prayer. They are thus linked together as twin lessons in the art of prayer.
I. LET US NOTICE THE NEEDFUL IMPORTUNITY OF GOD'S ELECT AS ILLUSTRATED BY THE IMPORTUNATE WIDOW. (Vers. 1-8.) The story is about an earthly judge of unscrupulous character, to whom a widow in her weakness, but with a deep sense of injury, appeals for redress. The weak woman is able by her importunity to extort from the heartless judge the redress which he would give on no other conditions. He even becomes facetious and humorous over it, and declares that he will avenge her, lest "by her continual coming she strike me" Having related this story, our Lord makes certain deductions from it. And:
1. He declares that at his coming there will little faith in his advent. (Ver. 8.) Now, this unbelief about his advent can be accounted for on several grounds.
(1) The procession of nature is so uniform. All things seem to continue as they were from the creation. Nature is on so largo and grand a scale that we do not appreciate the real progress, and imagine that we are in the midst of a standstill. Uniformity, however, is not standstill.
(2) Hope deferred will make many hearts sick. And so what has been so long talked of and yet has never appeared will be thought at last as never to appear. And
(3) stoicism will lead many just to take things as they are, and entertain no concern about any change. It is astonishing how easy-going people tolerate manifest wrongs rather than take the trouble either to pray about them or to work for their removal. But:
2. Our Lord acknowledges the wrong to which his elect ones have been exposed. Their cry is for justice, for redress, like the widow. Now, our Lord admits that his people have not got justice from the world. The world has not been worthy of them. The world has made them time after time martyrs. It is a great assurance that the Lord acknowledges his servants' wrongs.
3. He intimates at the same time that, like the widow, they will need importunity. The one weapon must be wielded and wielded incessantly. He keeps us waiting doubtless for our good. If we got all the moment we asked it, how should we ever learn patience? But:
4. He promises a sudden redress. The idea seems to be not "speedily" but "suddenly" he will avenge them. It will be a sharp and decisive deliverance when it comes. We thus see that all life's discipline is planned to stimulate prayer. And when we have least taste for it, we should, like Luther, pray on. This is the importunity the Lord loves and will answer.
II. LET US NOTICE THE SPIRIT OF SELF-ABASEMENT WHICH SHOULD CHARACTERIZE OUR PRAYER AS ILLUSTRATED IN THE PARABLE OF THE PHARISEE AND THE PUBLICAN. (Vers. 9-14.) And in this second story we have a Pharisee first presented whose prayer is an outburst of self-confidence. He thanks God that he is so much better than his neighbours. For in these he recognizes extortioners, unjust men, and adulterers. A self-righteous spirit is censorious; its prayer is a criticism; even a publican's modesty in standing afar off, and his contrition in smiting on his breast, are set down to his disparagement. Then the Pharisee can congratulate himself on fasting twice a week, and on giving tithes of all he possesses. But he was not a bit the better for all tiffs so-called prayer, this bit of blatant self-praise. On the other hand, the publican, though he remained afar off and hardly ventured to look up, but smote on his breast and cried, "God be merciful to me a sinner!" went down to his house a happier and better man. For the important point is not their consciousness, but God's attitude towards their respective spirits. To the one spirit God responds by justification and a sense of acceptance. The other is sent empty away. Hence the principles Jesus deduces are twofold.
1. Self-exaltation always precedes abasement. The proud will sooner or later get his fall. The Pharisaic spirit is always humiliated in the end. The man who is filled with self-satisfaction is only demonstrating his own self-ignorance and distance from God and his great ideal.
2. Self-abasement always leads to exaltation. It is when we feel "as a beast" before God, like Asaph in the seventy-third psalm, that we are on the way to spiritual rapture. For God has provided for the abased sinner the pardon he needs, and, besides the pardon, sanctification and everlasting progress. Let us, then, pray in the penitential key continually, and let us pray determined not to be deified; and heights of spiritual exaltation and rapture will be seen rising from our very feet, and inviting us to sit down on them with Jesus. - R.M.E.
Parallel VersesKJV: And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint;