Last week we read in Luke about a widow who badgered an official into listening to her case. Jesus used her as an example of prayer, to be constant, to not give up. The very next verses, today’s reading, take up prayer in a different context.
In the first parable, Jesus encouraged us to pray without ceasing (the words of Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 KJV). This second parable tells us something about how to pray. The obvious lesson regarding the Pharisee and the Jewish IRS man is that God does not reward pride. He does reward genuine repentance of sin.
There is more depth to the parable when we read the whole chapter. After telling the crowd that we are to pray constantly, Jesus asks an important question. Let me give you five versions of that question, though the NIV seems to be close to the Greek.
However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth? NIV
Yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find men on earth who believe in him? Phillips
But when the Son of Man comes, will he find this trust on the earth at all? CJB
But how much of that kind of persistent faith will the Son of Man find on the earth when he returns? MSG
When I, the Messiah, return, how many will I find who have faith and are praying? TLB
In spite of the closeness to the Greek of the NIV, I think the interpretation of The Message comes closest to our American meaning of what Jesus was saying. He had just told us to pray without ceasing, so it seems he is wondering if many of us will be doing that.
The very next verse reads, He told his next story to some who were complacently pleased with themselves over their moral performance and looked down their noses at the common people. MSG The way Luke writes this section, it seems that 18:1-14, and perhaps 15-17, happened at the same time. It may be that 17:20-37 opened the day’s events. In any case, Jesus gives us two valuable lessons on prayer.
The third lesson on prayer comes in verses 15-17, with the final verse giving us the lesson. Mark this: Unless you accept God’s kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in. TLB Too often we pray like adults. We pray as though we don’t believe God knows what’s going on. We tell him what is happening and what we want him to do about it. Pray like a child. “God, here I am, and I really don’t know what I need. Help me, please.” Prayer, for us, should be ninety percent listening. How do you think all those prophets knew what God was saying? They listened for the still, small voice.
One more thought. Inviting the children to him gave Jesus a perfect setup for the next event, the Rich Ruler. Before the man opened his mouth, Jesus knew that wealth ruled his life, so he asked the man to sacrifice the love of his earthly life so that he could share in the eternal life.
Think of two children. One lives in a family where food is in short supply for the child and is generally neglected by the parents, who eat well. The other child is loved by the parents; they have little food, but share it more than equally with the child. Give each child a package of twelve cookies and ask them to share with their parents. Which child is most likely to share?
Most likely, the first child would be the rich ruler and keep all the cookies.
We need to be like the child who is loved because God loves us.
Be righteous and do good.