One of the ways I tell our students they can get more out of their Bible reading is to notice the strange and unusual. When you look at a text, what seems like it shouldn’t be there? What doesn’t fit? Who is the odd man out? Many of us who have grown up around the Word cease to be surprised by it, which can sometimes hinder our ability to see what it actually says.
The Parable of the Persistent Widow in Luke 18 provides us with a great example of this. You know the story. Luke records for us that Jesus told a story “to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart” (18:1). He tells a parable about a corrupt judge who fears neither God nor man, and a widow who needs justice against her adversary. She continues to ask; he continues to say no. Jesus tells us that this continues for a while, and it is the judge who breaks first. “Though I neither fear God nor respect man,” he says to himself, “ yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming” (18:4-5).
So the widow gets justice in the end, and Jesus tells his disciples that God will surely answer their prayers if they cry out to him day and night. The story seems all neatly wrapped up, until the Lord adds this line in verse 8: “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
Wait. Where does faith come into it? This is about praying, about persistence, about being diligent with my prayer list. Jesus hadn’t said anything about saving faith, had he? Why does he introduce this here?
I believe that Jesus mentions faith here (as opposed to prayer, persistence, etc.) because prayer is possibly the purest and strongest expression of true saving faith in a believer. Why do I think this to be the case? Well, just think about prayer for a second. Prayer takes God at his word that it is within his power to answer prayer, as the Almighty God. Prayer believes that it is Christ’s prerogative to answer prayer, as our mediator and the high priest of our confession. And prayer believes, because we are united to Christ by his Spirit and are therefore children of God, that it is God’s pleasure to answer prayer.
J.C. Ryle, in A Call to Prayer, says “I cannot call anyone justified until he believes. I dare not say that any one believes until he prays. I cannot understand a dumb faith.” As the surprising element in Luke 18 turns to a remarkable statement about the connection between faith and prayer, the question before us is this: Do you pray? Will you pray? “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”