Prayer and the Parable of the Persistent Widow, 1-8
18:1 Then Jesus told them a parable to show them they should always pray and not lose heart. 18:2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected people. 18:3 There was also a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ 18:4 For a while he refused, but later on he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor have regard for people, 18:5 yet because this widow keeps on bothering me, I will give her justice, or in the end she will wear me out by her unending pleas.’ ” 18:6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unrighteous judge says! 18:7 Won’t God give justice to his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he delay long to help them? 18:8 I tell you, he will give them justice speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
‘This parable has its key hanging at the door; the drift and design of it are prefixed.’ (MHC)
She might equally be referred to as ‘the nagging widow’!
Then Jesus told his disciples a parable – The context, as well as the content, of this parable gives it a strong eschatological flavour. ‘This parable is really the closing part of the teaching about the future in Lk 17:20-37.’ (NBC) ‘Let it be noted that this parable is closely connected with the preceding chapter. After giving a fearful account of the sifting and tribulations which shall attend his own second advent, our Lord proceeds to urge on his people the importance of the habit of persevering in prayer as a preparation for the advent, and of not fainting under trial and giving up prayer in despair.’ (Ryle) The setting then is of the need for perseverance in prayer in times of persecution generally, and especially in those associated with the last days. The parable is similar to that recorded in Lk 11:5-8. Look out for the sharp character delineations of the judge and the widow.
That they should always pray and not give up – cf. Isa 62:6-7; Col 4:2; 1 Thess 5:17. For an example of the principle in action, cf. Acts 16:25. But whereas some of these other Scriptures enjoin a continual habit of prayer, this parable particularly encourages prayer in adverse circumstances, when the answer seems long delayed and there is a real danger of giving up. We might ask, ‘If God is all-loving and all-powerful, why does he not grant our requests immediately? If God is all-knowing, why do we need to bother him with our requests at all?’ The answer is found, of course, in the nature of the relationship that the Christian has with his God. ‘Jesus shows that God responds to prayer and listens to his children. He does not wind up the universe like a watch, as the deists of old argued. He does not merely send the universe ticking on its merry way and sit back to observe as an uninterested spectator; God relates to his creation.’ (IVP Commentary)
If we don’t pray, we will give up – either one or the other!
Corrie ten Boom asked: ‘Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?’
‘The subject of prayer ought always to be interesting to Christians. Prayer is the very life-breath of true Christianity. Here it is that religion begins. Here it flourishes. Here it decays. Prayer is one of the first evidences of conversion. (Ac 11:11) Neglect of prayer is the sure road to a fall..’ (Mt 26:40f) (Ryle)
Recall that in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus frequently focuses on prayer. ‘He prays before receiving the Spirit (3:21-22), all-night prayer precedes the selecting the Twelve (6:12), and two parables focus on prayer (11:5-13; 18:1-8).’ (IVP Commentary)
A judge who neither feared God nor cared about men – Although this is sometimes interpreted in a positive light (he was unbiased; cf. Mk 12:14) this is unlikely (it is a virtue to fear God, Acts 10:2). He defied God, and despised men.
‘The judge was clearly not a Jewish judge. All ordinary Jewish disputes were taken before the elders, and not into the public courts at all. If, under Jewish law, a matter was taken to arbitration, one man could not constitute a court. There were always three judges, one chosen by the plaintiff, one by the defendant, and one independently appointed.
This judge was one of the paid magistrates appointed either by Herod or by the Romans. Such judges were notorious. Unless a plaintiff had influence and money to bribe his way to a verdict he had no hope of ever getting his case settled. These judges were said to pervert justice for a dish of meat. People even punned on their title. Officially they were called Dayyaneh Gezeroth, which means judges of prohibitions or punishments. Popularly they were called Dayyaneh Gezeloth, which means robber judges.’ (DSB)
A widow…who kept coming – Luke loves to draw our attention to the underprivileged, and widows are often mentioned in his Gospel, Lk 4:25-26; 7:12; 20:47; 21:1-4). There are forty-three references to women in Luke’s Gospel, and of the twelve widows mentioned in the Bible, Luke has three (Lk 2:36-40; 7:11-15; 21:1-4. As a widow, this woman was one of the most vulnerable members of her society. We can imagine the ways in which she pestered the judge at all times of the day and night. The woman probably came before the judge with a financial matter.
In contrast to the powerful, arrogant man, this woman is needy and vulnerable. Such people are the objects of God’s special concern, Lev 19.9–10, 23.22, Deut 14.28–29, James 1.27.
Ian Paul highlights three aspects of her need:
- She has to represent herself; courts are normally the province of men, and it appears that she has no male relative who will represent her.
- She has to return continually, which means that she does not have the financial resources to offer a bribe and have her case settled quickly (not an unusual issue in many courts around the world today).
- She appears to have been denied justice, and the implication is that she has perhaps been deprived of her rights in inheritance.
(Formatting and emphasis added)
However, she is by no means a hopeless, helpless victim: ‘She…follows a line of biblical tradition represented by the figures of Ruth, Tamar and other widows, as well as in Luke the woman with an issue of blood in Luke 8.43–48. This pictures fits with Luke’s wider portrayal of women as active practical, moral and spiritual agents, and models of discipleship in one way or another.’ (Paul)
See Ex 22:22; Deut 10:18; Job 29:13; 1 Kings 27:9,12.
“For some time he refused” – he was probably waiting for a bribe. She, however, was too poor to pay. The only weapon she had was her persistence.
“Wear me out” – The expression can mean, ‘give me a black eye’! (The same word is used in 1 Cor 9:27.)
‘The language Luke uses is startling, perhaps even humorous, coming as it does from the boxing ring, for it invokes images of the almighty, fearless, macho judge cornered and slugged by the least powerful in society.’ (Green)
Paul remarks that there is scope here for a ‘short, entertaining drama’ as part of a sermon on this parable!
This part of the parable illustrates the power of persistence in ordinary life. Of course, God is not likened to the unjust judge in the parable, God is being contrasted with him. ‘The argument is not so much from the less to the greater, as from the worse to the better.’ (Taylor) ‘If even a judge who does not honour the laws of God and man can be induced to act by the incessant appeals of a widow, how much more will God act to uphold his people when they cry to him.’ (NBC)
‘The force of the argument drawn by our Lord from the parable lies in the unlikeness of God to this unjust judge, and in the unlikeness of the true Christian suppliant to this widow.’ (Taylor)
‘ “If a poor widow got what she deserved from a selfish judge, how much more will God’s children receive what is right from a loving Heavenly Father!”
Consider the contrasts. To begin with, the woman was a stranger, but we are the children of God, and God cares for his children. (Lk 11:13) The widow had no access to the judge, but God’s children have an open access into his presence and may come at any time to get the help they need. (Eph 2:18 3:12 Heb 4:14-16 10:19-22)
The woman had no friend at court to help get her case on the docket. All she could do was walk around outside the tent and make a nuisance of herself as she shouted at the judge. But when Christian believers pray, they have in heaven a Saviour who is Advocate (1Jo 2:1) and High Priest, (Heb 2:17-18) who constantly represents them before the throne of God.
When we pray, we can open the Word and claim the many promises of God, but the widow had no promises that she could claim as she tried to convince the judge to hear her case. We not only have God’s unfailing promises, but we also have the Holy Spirit, who assists us in our praying. (Rom 8:26-27)
Perhaps the greatest contrast is that the widow came to a court of law, but God’s children come to a throne of grace. (Heb 4:14-16) She pled out of her poverty, but we have all of God’s riches available to us to meet our every need. (Php 4:19) The point is clear: if we fail to pray, our condition spiritually will be just like that of the poor widow. That should encourage us to pray!’ (Wiersbe)
Because the relationship between the widow and ourselves is one of contrast, not similarity, we are not taught by this parable to approach God as she approached the judge. ‘The argument of the parable is, that if she succeeded by that plan, with such a judge, much more God’s people, praying to him in filial love and reverence and confidence, will receive from him at length that which he has promised.’ (Taylor) After all, prayer is not a belligerent overcoming of divine reluctance, but a laying hold of a God who is more willing to give than we to ask.
“Listen to what the unjust judge says” – The parable may be summarised as follows: ‘If even a conscienceless judge, who “neither feared God nor cared about men,” saw to it that a widow got her rights, not for the sake of seeing justice done but to get rest from her importunity, how much more will God, who is no unjust judge but a loving Father, listen to his children’s plea for vindication! It is vindication that they seek, just as the widow insisted on getting her rights, of which someone was trying to deprive her.’ (HSB)
‘The primary reference of this parable…is to the second coming of Christ, which would be so long delayed that the Church would be tempted to cease praying for it altogether; but its principle is equally applicable to all cases in which believers, seeking for that which God has promised, are in danger of growing faint through weariness in waiting, or through unbelief.’ (Taylor)
Will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones...? – Joe 3:1-7 Mic 5:15 Rev 6:10. The answer is, ‘Of course he will.’ The prayer, ‘Thy kingdom come’ will certainly be fulfilled. This, together with the next verse, defines the main focus of the prayer which is in mind in this parable: it is prayer for the coming of Christ as Judge of all people and Deliverer of his people.
“Who cry out to him day and night?” – Well, do we pray like that? Recall how frequently laments are found among the psalms. The OT saints had learned the secret of pouring out their hearts before God. Cf. Ps 13.
“Will he keep putting them off?” – The implication is that they have been waiting long without seeing their prayers answered. ‘God delays taking vengeance on behalf of his people, not through indifference, but through patient forbearance.’ (RWP)
“He will see that they get justice” – Believers are not to avenge themselves but to leave it to the Lord, (Rom 12:19) who will avenge them. (Lk 18:7-8 Rev 6:10 19:2)
“When the Son of Man comes” – ‘Many Jewish writers predicted great sufferings in the end time, on account of which many people would fall away from the truth; Jesus warns his own to persevere (Lk 21:8-19, 34-36; 22:31-32, 40, 46).’ (NT Background Cmt’y)
“Will he find faith on the earth?” – This sounds like a rhetorical question, with an expected answer in the negative. But it is not necessarily so. ‘The really vital question is not whether God will respond to prayer, but whether there will be faithful people who have persisted in prayer and not lost hope when the Son of Man comes.’ (NBC)
The question could mean, “Will he find that kind of faith on the earth?”
‘The lesson impressed by this discourse on the hearers is that they must keep on the alert and be ready for that day when it comes. When it comes, God will vindicate his righteous cause and therewith the cause of his people who trust him. But they must trust him and not lose heart; they must here and now continue faithfully in the work assigned to them. (This is the lesson also of the parable of the pounds in Lk 19:11-27) The Son of Man, whose revelation will be like the lightning, illuminating “the sky from one end to the other,” (Lk 17:24) will be able to survey the earth to see if there is any faith on it, any “faithful and wise steward” whom his master when he comes will find loyally fulfilling his service.’ (Lk 12:42-44 RSV) (HSB)
‘The end of this story connects back to the beginning of this narrative section—we will indeed long for the ‘days of the Son of Man’ (Luke 17.22) as we experience injustice and rejection in this world. The context of apparently unanswered prayer is not merely the frustration of our own desires and needs, but the cosmic time we live in, in the overlap of the ages so that we remain in this, passing age, whilst also experiencing the resurrection life of the age to come in Jesus, which we long to see fully expressed in his return. The context of our prayer is our patient waiting for Jesus’ return—hence Jesus’ challenging question that he ends with: will he find us as patient, persistent widows, crying out for justice in both hope and patience when he comes?’ (Ian Paul)
‘From this we learn: (1) That the primary and historical reference of this parable is to the Church in its widowed, desolate, oppressed, defenseless condition during the present absence of her Lord in the heavens; (2) That in these circumstances importunate, persevering prayer for deliverance is the Church’s fitting exercise; (3) That notwithstanding every encouragement to this, so long will the answer be delayed, while the need of relief continues the same, and all hope of deliverance will have nearly died out, and “faith” of Christ’s coming scarcely to be found.’ (JFB)
The Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector, 9-14
18:9 Jesus also told this parable to some who were confident that they were righteous and looked down on everyone else. 18:10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 18:11 The Pharisee stood and prayed about himself like this: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: extortionists, unrighteous people, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 18:12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.’ 18:13 The tax collector, however, stood far off and would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, be merciful to me, sinner that I am!’ 18:14 I tell you that this man went down to his home justified rather than the Pharisee. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
‘The common theme in this section of the gospel (Lk 18:9-19:10) is the offer of salvation to people who would normally be regarded as excluded from it.’ (NBC)
The two great problems associated with pride are noted at the outset: ‘First, we come to trust in our own abilities rather than trusting God. Second, we come to regard other people with contempt and disrespect rather than seeing them as created equal in the image of God.’ (IVP)
Confident of their own righteousness –
See the following
(Pr 30:12) ‘…those who are pure in their own eyes and yet are not cleansed of their filth.’
(Lk 16:15) ‘”You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men…”‘
(Rom 10:3) …’they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own…’
(Php 3:4-6) ‘If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more…as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.’
Looked down on everybody else:-
(Lk 15:2) But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
(Lk 19:7) All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner.'”
v10 ‘The two visitors are on opposite ends of the social spectrum. The Pharisee is a respected religious member in a most honored social group, while the tax collector belongs to one of the most hated professions possible for a Jew.’ (IVP)
‘Consider the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, (Lk 18:9-14) in which the Pharisee’s self-centered prayer is rejected and the tax collector’s plea for mercy was accepted. Most modern Christians accept this without question, having already accepted all Pharisees as self-righteous hypocrites. Yet this entirely misses the point…The Pharisee’s prayer was perfectly acceptable to Jews of Jesus’ day. The hearer would have been quite satisfied with the prayer and shocked to see the despised tax collector justified. Jesus’ original purpose was to unsettle his audience, to reverse their value system and force them to rethink their religious priorities. Modern readers are confirmed in their assurance that they at least are not guilty of “Pharisaism,” while partaking of the same errors.
‘This plot twist is quite common in the parables. The hated Samaritan, not the priest or Levite, is the one to bind the wounds of the robbery victim; (Lk 10:30-37; normally the Samaritans were the muggers not the saviors!) the profligate son is the one given the banquet; (Lk 15:11-32) the poor and the crippled sit at the great feast; (Lk 14:15-24) the steward who alters the master’s credit sheet is lauded. (Lk 16:1-13) By doing so Jesus can force the hearer to take a new look at God’s true kingdom realities.’ (Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral)
‘Note, Among the worshippers of God, in the visible church, there is a mixture of good and bad, of some that are accepted of God, and some that are not; and so it has been ever since Cain and Abel brought their offering to the same altar. The Pharisee, proud as he was, could not think himself above prayer; nor could the publican, humble as he was, think himself shut out from the benefit of it; but we have reason to think that these went with different views.’ (MHC)
‘The Pharisee went to the temple to pray because it was a public place, more public than the corners of the streets, and therefore he should have many eyes upon him, who would applaud his devotion, which perhaps was more than was expected. The character Christ gave of the Pharisees, that all their works they did to be seen of men, gives us occasion for this suspicion. Note, Hypocrites keep up the external performances of religion only to save or gain credit. There are many whom we see every day at the temple, whom, it is to be feared, we shall not see in the great day at Christ’s right hand.’ (MHC)
‘The publican went to the temple because it was appointed to be a house of prayer for all people, Isa 56:7. The Pharisee came to the temple upon a compliment, the publican upon business; the Pharisee to make his appearance, the publican to make his request. Now God sees with what disposition and design we come to wait upon him in holy ordinances, and will judge of us accordingly. ‘ (MHC)
Prayed about himself – It is very significant that the focus of his prayer was himself.
‘A great many good things he said of himself, which we will suppose to be true. He was free from gross and scandalous sins; he was not an extortioner, not a usurer, not oppressive to debtors or tenants, but fair and kind to all that had dependence upon him. He was not unjust in any of his dealings; he did no man any wrong; he could say, as Samuel, Whose ox or whose ass have I taken? He was no adulterer, but had possessed his vessel in sanctification and honour. Yet this was not all; he fasted twice in the week, as an act partly of temperature, partly of devotion. The Pharisees and their disciples fasted twice a week, Monday and Thursday. Thus he glorified God with his body: yet that was not all; he gave tithes of all that he possessed, according to the law, and so glorified God with his worldly estate. Now all this was very well and commendable. Miserable is the condition of those who come short of the righteousness of this Pharisee: yet he was not accepted; and why was he not? (1.) His giving God thanks for this, though in itself a good thing, yet seems to be a mere formality. He does not say, By the grace of God I am what I am, as Paul did, but turns it off with a slight, God, I thank thee, which is intended but for a plausible introduction to a proud vainglorious ostentation of himself. (2.) He makes his boast of this, and dwells with delight upon this subject, as if all his business to the temple was to tell God Almighty how very good he was; and he is ready to say, with those hypocrites that we read of, (Isa 58:3) Wherefore have we fasted, and thou seest not? (3.) He trusted to it as a righteousness, and not only mentioned it, but pleaded it, as if hereby he had merited at the hands of God, and made him his debtor. (4.) Here is not one word of prayer in all he saith. He went up to the temple to pray, but forgot his errand, was so full of himself and his own goodness that he thought he had need of nothing, no, not of the favour and grace of God, which, it would seem, he did not think worth asking.’ (MHC)
‘The Pharisee in this parable did not go to the temple to pray to God but to announce to all within earshot how good he was.’ (Life Application)
‘A young woman went to her pastor and said, “Pastor, I have a besetting sin, and I want your help. I come to church on Sunday and can’t help thinking I’m the prettiest girl in the congregation. I know I ought not think that, but I can’t help it. I want you to help me with it.”
The pastor replied, “Mary, don’t worry about it. In your case it’s not a sin. It’s just a horrible mistake.”‘ (Haddon Robinson)
“I fast twice a week” – he fasts above and beyond the call of duty, twice a week, in contrast to the one fast a year on the Day of Atonement required of Jews. (Le 16:29) Only those who wished to gain special merit would also fast on Mondays and Thursdays. These days happened to be market days, when Jerusalem was full of people who had come in from the country. Thus, there was a large audience for those who wanted to put on a show of piety by whitening their faces and wearing dishevelled clothes.
“I…give a tenth of all I get” – Cf. Lev 27:30-32; Num 18:21-24; Deut 14:22-27. See also Lk 11:42. He tithed much more than the law required.
‘There is a recorded prayer of a certain Rabbi which runs like this, “I thank, thee, O Lord my God, that thou hast put my part with those who sit in the Academy, and not with those who sit at the street-corners. For I rise early, and they rise early; I rise early to the words of the law, and they to vain things. I labour, and they labour; I labour and receive a reward, and they labour and receive no reward. I run, and they run; I run to the life of the world to come, and they to the pit of destruction.”‘ (DSB)
‘When the devil cannot stay us from a good work, then he laboureth by all means to make us proud of it.’ (Henry Smith)
“A sinner” – literally, “the sinner;” that is, “If ever there was one, I am he.”
‘The truly humble Christian does not inquire into his neighbour’s faults; he takes no pleasure in judging them; he is occupied wholly with his own.’ (Athanasius)
‘When a Christian man declares that the four times repeated response in the Litany of the English Church – “Have mercy upon us miserable sinners” – has no meaning for him, he proclaims that he has as yet no understanding of the Christian religion or that he has apostasized from it.’ (E.C. Hoskyns, Q in A Dictionary of Christian Spirituality, 308)
(Isa 66:2) “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.
‘It is a great mistake to regard the publican as a decent sort of fellow who knew his own limitations and did not pretend to be better than he was. It is one of the marks of our time that the Pharisee and the publican have changed places, and it is the modern equivalent of the publican who may be heard thanking God that he is not like those canting humbugs, hypocrites, and killjoys, whose chief offense is that they take their religion seriously. This publican was a rotter, and he knew it. He asked for God’s mercy because mercy was the only thing he dared ask for.’ (T.W. Manson)
‘A sovereign elixir full of virtue may be given in a few drops; so a little prayer, if it be with the heart and spirit, may have much virtue and efficacy in it.’ (Thomas Watson)
‘Many souls, we may safely say, do not only perish praying, repenting and believing after a sort, but they perish by their praying and repenting, &c., while they carnally trust in these. As it falls out sometimes, that the soldier in battle loseth his life by means of his own armour, it is so heavy he cannot flee with it, and so close buckled to him, that he cannot get it off, to flee for his life without it. If we be saved, we must come naked to Christ, for all our duties: we will not flee to Christ while confiding in them, and some are so locked in to them, that they cannot come without them, and so in a day of temptation are trampled under the feet of God’s wrath, and Satan’s fury. The poor Publican throws down his arms, (that is, all confidence in himself,) cries out for quarter at the hands of mercy, ‘God, be merciful unto me a sinner;’ and he comes off with his life; he went away justified: but the Pharisee, laden with his righteousness, and conceited of it, stands to it, and is lost.’ (Gurnall)
Rather than the other – i.e. ‘and not the other’. The Pharisee had felt no need of justification, and so therefore had not sought it.
‘The Christian alternative to Pharisaism is not Publicanism but costly discipleship. The laxity of the Publican is just as repugnant to God as the self-righteousness of the Pharisee. In the parable it is not the Publican as such but the repentant Publican who is praised.’ (Donald G. Bloesch)
- He knew what he was – a condemned sinner.
- He knew where he stood with God – at a distance.
- He knew how he felt – guilty and ashamed.
- He knew what he needed – mercy.
- He knew how to get it – confess and call upon God.
- He knew he got it – went home justified.
“For everyone…” – Cf. Lk 1:51-53; 6:20-26; 14:11; 15:11-32; 16:19-31. ‘To be self-emptied, or, “poor in spirit,” is the fundamental and indispensable preparation for the reception of the “grace which bringeth salvation:” wherever this exists, the “mourning” for it which precedes “comfort” and the earnest “hungerings and thirstings after righteousness” which are rewarded by the “fulness” of it, will, as we see here, be surely found. Such, therefore, and such only, are the justified ones.’ (Job 33:27,28; Ps 34:18; Isa 57:15) (JFB)
‘God is always ready to receive the unrighteous when they call to him, but he closes his ears to those whose pride in their religious practices and good works makes them feel self-sufficient.’ (NBC)
He who humbles himself will be exalted – An example set by our Lord himself, even though he was without sin, Php 2:5-11. “He who thinks favourably of himself, or highly of his own soul, because he has partaken of grace, has not yet begun to lay his foundation right. Consider Jesus: from what height did he, the Son of God, himself God, descend! and to what sufferings! even to the death of the cross; for which humiliation he was exalted to sit at the right hand of the Father.’ (Macarius the Egyptian, AD 301-391) ‘
(Ps 138:6) Though the LORD be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly: but the proud he knoweth afar off.
(Mt 5:3) “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
(Jas 4:6) But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
Jesus and Little Children, 15-17
18:15 Now people were even bringing their babies to him for him to touch. But when the disciples saw it, they began to scold those who brought them. 18:16 But Jesus called for the children, saying, “Let the little children come to me and do not try to stop them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 18:17 I tell you the truth, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.”
‘This narrative is highly useful; for it shows that Christ receives not only those who, moved by holy desire and faith, freely approach to him, but those who are not yet of age to know how much they need his grace. Those little children have not yet any understanding to desire his blessing; but when they are presented to him, he gently and kindly receives them, and dedicates them to the Father by a solemn act of blessing. We must observe the intention of those who present the children; for if there had not been a deep-rooted conviction in their minds, that the power of the Spirit was at his disposal, that he might pour it out on the people of God, it would have been unreasonable to present their children. There is no room, therefore, to doubt, that they ask for them a participation of his grace; and so, by way of amplification, Luke adds the particle also; as if he had said that, after they had experienced the various ways in which he assisted adults, they formed an expectation likewise in regard to children, that, if he laid hands on them, they would not leave him without having received some of the gifts of the Spirit.’ (Calvin)
To receive…like a little child means ‘receiving in the manner of a child’, in an attitude of trust and dependence. ‘Though Jesus will be no romantic about children, somewhere among their openness, willingness to trust, freedom from hypocrisy or pretension, conscious weakness, and readiness for dependence Jesus finds those qualities that are essential for entry into the kingdom of God.’ (Nolland, WBC)
To understand this as referring to receiving the kingdom of God in the same way that one would receive a little child is fanciful.
Greidanus (DJG, art. ‘Preaching from the Gospels’), suggests how the preacher might approach this passage, bearing in mind Luke’s distinctive approach compared with that of Mark and Matthew: ‘If one preaches on Luke 18:15–17, the story of people bringing their children to Jesus, a comparison with Mark (10:13–16) and Matthew (19:13–15) will enable one to discern Luke’s homiletical interests. First, in contrast to Mark and Matthew, Luke precedes this story with the parable of the pharisee and the tax collector (see Taxes). Thus Luke sets this story about children in the context of proper humility: “he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Second, in contrast to Mark and Matthew, Luke changes the Greek word for children in verse 15 to a word denoting infants or babies. Thus Luke sharpens Jesus’ point for his particular audience: “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child [the way a helpless baby receives its nourishment] shall not enter it” (v. 17 RSV). A sermon on Luke 18:15–17, therefore, would seek to emphasize our utter inability to contribute anything toward receiving the kingdom of God and encourage us to place our full trust in our heavenly Father who provides this wonderful gift for his children free of charge.’
The Wealthy Ruler, 18-30
18:18 Now a certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18:19 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 18:20 You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’ ” 18:21 The man replied, “I have wholeheartedly obeyed all these laws since my youth.” 18:22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 18:23 But when the man heard this he became very sad, for he was extremely wealthy. 18:24 When Jesus noticed this, he said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! 18:25 In fact, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 18:26 Those who heard this said, “Then who can be saved?” 18:27 He replied, “What is impossible for mere humans is possible for God.” 18:28 And Peter said, “Look, we have left everything we own to follow you!” 18:29 Then Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, there is no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of God’s kingdom 18:30 who will not receive many times more in this age—and in the age to come, eternal life.”
The connection between this passage and the verse immediately preceding it is significant. The proud self-sufficiency of the rich, powerful, and moral contrasts with the childlike dependence of those who see their need of grace.
See Mk 10:17-31
Ruler – Only Luke gives us this information. The term is quite general, and does not imply that he was, for example, a ruler of the synagogue.
It is Matthew who tells us that the man was young.
“Good teacher” – An unusual greeting. since ‘goodness’ was recognised as attributable only to God. This, is therefore, ‘a piece of thoughtless flattery’ (Morris)
“What must I do…?” – It is clear from v21 that the man thinks that he already does a lot of praiseworthy things. It is as though he is asking, ‘What else do I need to do; is there some small thing that I have omitted?’
“Eternal life” – What did the man mean by this expression? Dan 12:2 indicates that the idea was associated with final resurrection.
To ‘inherit eternal life’ is the equivalent of ‘entering the kingdom of God’, v24, and ‘being saved’, v26.
‘This case presents some remarkable points. (1) The man was of irreproachable moral character; and this amidst all the temptations of youth, for he was a “young man,” (Mt 19:22) and wealth, for “he was very rich.” (Lk 18:23; Mk 10:22) (2) But restless notwithstanding, his heart craves eternal life. (3) Unlike the “rulers,” to whose class he belonged, (Lk 18:18) he so far believed in Jesus as to be persuaded he could authoritatively direct him on this vital point. (4) So earnest is he that he comes “running” and even “kneeling before him,” and that when he was gone forth into the war (Mk 10:17) -the high-road, by this time crowded with travellers to the passover; undeterred by the virulent opposition of the class he belonged to as a “ruler” and by the shame he might be expected to feel at broaching such a question in the hearing of a crowd and on the open road.’ (JFB)
MHC adds: ‘it is probable that he had abilities beyond his years, else his youth would have debarred him from the magistracy.’
“Why do you call me good?” – Jesus is neither admitting his own sinfulness, nor asserting that, being sinless, he is divine. He is, rather, beginning to probe ‘the question behind the question’: why the man seems dissatisfied with the usual Jewish answer to his question, which was that a person must do the good things that have already been commanded by a good God.
‘Jesus is not admitting sinfulness here, nor is he leading the ruler to the realization of his divinity. He is directing attention away from himself to God, reminding the ruler that all goodness comes from him.’ (ECB)
In fact, the man has too superficial a view of his own goodness, v21, as well as that of Jesus.
v20 The commandments that Jesus cites are from the second table of the law, and concern one’s outward, observable behaviour.
In beginning with the commandments, Jesus is answering in the usual Jewish way, and thereby ‘beginning where his hearer was’.
Jesus here points the man to five of the commandments, Deut 5:16-20. All have to do with one’s relationship with other people.
Since the man’s question was framed in terms of ‘doing’, Jesus’ response begins at that point.
‘Gulater here remarks, that our Lord treats the ruler as a wise physician treats a sick patient. He administers the medicine most likely ultimately to conduce to his spiritual health. He addresses him in the way most likely to bring him to self-knowledge. As the ruler spoke of “doing” Jesus begins by speaking of God’s commandments.’ (Ryle)
v21 The rabbis taught that the law could be kept in its entirety, so the man’s claim was not outlandish.
But the man’s self-confidence is reminiscent of the attitude of the Pharisee in Lk 18:9-14.
“You still lack one thing” – But that one thing is critical, for it has to do with giving God his rightful place. A person may be ‘healthy’ in all sorts of ways, and yet still be suffering from one fatal disorder.
Despite the man’s claims to have kept all the commandments, he has failed to keep the 10th comandment (‘you shall not covet’) and, more fundamentally, the first two. So, Jesus challenges him to give up his love of wealth in order order that he might love God supremely.
The man’s enquiry implied that he thought he was nearly there. Jesus’ response shows him just what a stumbling block lies in his way – his love of money.
“Sell everything” – ‘Like St Paul and his companions on board ship, he must cast overboard the lading of the ship if he would save his life.’ (Ryle)
‘The call to give everything away was more than simply a dramatic challenge: it showed that the man had not understood the commandments he professed to have kept. The first of these enjoins the worship of one God. But when he was faced with the choice he found that he could not serve God by parting with his money. It was not really God that had first place in his heart.’ (Morris)
‘Jesus is not asking the man to do something he asks everyone to do, since he will commend Zacchaeus’s generosity in 19:1-10 without asking him to sell all. What Jesus does is test the man’s heart and attachments. Is God placed ahead of worldly possessions in this man’s life? Does the man really love God and others? So Jesus tells him that he lacks one thing: he must sell all his possessions.’ (IVPNTC)
“Then come, follow me” – This passage is sometimes thought to place a worrying emphasis on works. But, ‘the need to come to Jesus, to trust him, is not absent from the passage. It is merely defined by reference to the obstacle that stands between the man and God: his security in his wealth.’ (IVPNTC)
‘Jesus knew the young man’s heart, so instead of preaching to him about covetousness, he asked him to do something that a covetous person would not do.’ (Wiersbe)
Blomberg (Matthew, NAC), writes, ‘In Luke two stories follow closely on the heels of this episode (Lk 18:18-30) that prove Jesus makes different demands of different individuals. Zaccheus gives away only half his income and uses some of the rest to pay back those he had defrauded. (Lk 19:1-10) The parable of the talents encourages God’s people not to give money away but to invest it wisely for their Master’s use. (Lk 19:11-27) But in each of these passages, Jesus commands Christians to use all their possessions, not just some fixed percentage of them, for kingdom priorities. If money stands in the way of a person’s committing his or her life to Christ, Jesus will make the identical demands on that individual as he did on this young man. If the obstacle is something else, the demands will vary. But many who have claimed to trust in Christ are still unprepared to serve him with all of their possessions. True Christian stewardship will examine mortgages, credit, giving, insurance, investments, and a whole host of areas of life not often brought under Christ’s lordship.’
He became very sad – ‘Probably thinking, “This requirement is not fair. None of the other rabbis would have demanded this much of me.” (Hendriksen)
‘The man’s refusal to do as Jesus had told him showed that he did not truly love his neighbour as himself, and that he put himself and his wealth, rather than God, at the centre of his affections (cf. 10:27). Although he kept the law outwardly, his heart was not right with God.’ (NBC)
‘Many that are loth to leave Christ, yet do leave him. After a long struggle between their convictions and their corruptions, their corruptions carry the day at last; they are very sorry that they cannot serve God and mammon both; but, if one must be quitted, it shall be their God, not their worldly gain.’ (MHC)
‘Sorry he was, very sorry, to part with Christ; but to part with his riches would have cost him a pang more.’ (JFB)
The incident illustrates the truth that “You cannot serve both God and money” Lk 16:13.
This incident highlights not only this man’s neglect of God, but also implies his neglect of the poor. The apocryphal Gospel according to the Hebrews emphasises this in its version of the story:-
“The other rich man said to Jesus, ‘Master, what good thing must I do really to live?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Man, obey the law and the prophets.’ He said, ‘I have done so.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go, sell all that you possess, distribute it among the poor, and come, follow me!’ The rich man began to scratch his head because he did not like this command. The Lord said to him, ‘Why do you say that you have obeyed the law and the prophets? For it is written in the law,”You must love your neighbour as yourself,”and look you-there are many brothers of yours, sons of Abraham, who are dying of hunger, and your house is full of many good things, and not one single thing goes out of it to them.’ And he turned and said to Simon, his disciple, who was sitting beside him, ‘Simon, son of Jonas, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.'” (DSB)
‘We learn from these verses what harm one master-sin may do to a soul…One leak neglected, is enough to sink a mighty ship. One besetting sin, obstinately clung to, is enough to shut a soul out of heaven. The love of money, secretly nourished in the heart, is enough to bring a man, in other respects moral and irreproachable, down to the pit of hell.’ (Ryle)
The man had come to the right person, asked the right question, received the right answer, and yet had made the wrong decision. (Wiersbe)
‘The young man thought that eternal life came to those who “did something,” (Lk 18:18) which was a typical Jewish conviction. (Lk 18:9-12) But when Jesus gave him something to do, he refused to obey! He wanted salvation on his terms, not God’s, so he turned and went away in great sorrow.’ (Wiersbe)
v24 ‘The affluent are always tempted to rely on things earthly and they do not find it easy to cast themselves on the mercy of God (contrast v13). The same is true, of course, of those whose riches are other than material, the intellectually outstanding, those rich in moral or artistic achievement and the like. Such always find it difficult to rely on God rather than on their own efforts.’ (Morris)
Not impossible, but difficult. See 1 Cor 1:26. ‘It is not possessing riches that keeps people out of heaven, for Abraham, David, and Solomon were wealthy men. It is being possessed by riches and trusting them that makes salvation difficult for the wealthy. Wealth gives people a false sense of success and security, and when people are satisfied with themselves, they feel no need for God.’ (Wiersbe)
‘It is a plain matter of fact, that comparatively few rich men are to be found in the way of life. For one thing, riches incline their possessors to pride, self-will, self-indulgence, and love fof the world. For another thing, the rich man is seldom dealt with faithfully about his soul. He is generally flattered and fawned upon. “The rich hath many friends” Pr 14:20. Few persons have the courage to tell him the whole truth. His good points are grossly exaggerated. His bad points are glossed over, palliated, and excused. The result is, that while his heart is choked up with the things of the world, his eyes are blinded to this own real condition.’ (Ryle)
‘This man’s wealth smoothed his life and gave him power and prestige. When Jesus told him to sell everything he owned, he was touching the man’s very basis for security and identity. The man did not understand that he would be even more secure if he followed Jesus than he was with all his wealth. Jesus does not ask all believers to sell everything they have, although this may be his will for some. He does ask us all, however, to get rid of anything that has become more important to us than God. If your basis for security has shifted from God to what you own, it would be better for you to get rid of those possessions.’ (HBA)
v25 The camel is the largest beast of Palestine. The eye of a needle is the smallest opening.
Attempts to re-interpret this humorous hyperbole by suggesting that ‘kamelon’ (camel) should be ‘kamilon’ (‘rope’, ‘cable’), or that ‘the eye of a needle’ was a small gate in Jerusalem’s city wall (no such gate exists!), are misleading.
‘The hyperbole here makes it clear that a rich man on his own will never make a choice for the kingdom. It is impossible. The priorities it requires demand a new heart.’ (IVPNTC)
For Paul’s counsel to rich Christians, see 1 Tim 6:17-19.
“Who then can be saved?” – Their amazement must be understood against the background belief that the wealthy were those who were specially favoured by God. If those who have been thus blessed find salvation so difficult, what hope is there for the rest of us?
v27 All who would be saved, whether rich or poor, must be saved by grace, not by anything they might do. ‘Salvation, for rich or poor, is always a miracle of divine grace. It is always God’s gift.’ (Morris)
‘The word of God contains many striking instances in illustration of this doctrine. Abraham, and David, and Hezekiah, and Jehoshaphat, and Josiah, and Job, and Daniel, were all great and rich. Yet they all served God and were saved. They all found grace sufficient for them, and overcame the temptaitons by which they were surrounded. Their Lord and Master still lives, and what he did for them he can do for others. He can give power to rich Christians to follow Christ in spite of their riches, as well as he did to rich Jews.’ (Ryle)
For an example of a man whose interaction with Jesus did lead to a true repentance which involved giving up his riches, see the story of Zacchaeus, Lk 19:1-10.
‘God can change hearts and priorities. God’s power and grace yield the change. People do not save themselves or earn God’s blessing; God provides it. This is why Paul calls the gospel the power of God in Rom 1:16-17. God deals with sin and changes the heart.’ (IVPNTC)