So after finishing His account of the words that reflected the mindset of the unjust judge, how did Jesus respond? He pointed to faithfulness of the Creator God of Israel. He answered by saying, “I tell you, He will give justice to them speedily” (Luke 18:8a). Yes, by way of this, Jesus insists that God will be faithful to the promises that He makes to His covenant people. We can imagine the smug Pharisees and rulers, as Jesus says these words, believing themselves to be the widow of the parable, being God’s elect, while their evil Gentile rulers were represented by the unrighteous judge. Then Jesus adds an important “Nevertheless.” Jesus says, “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes will He find faith on earth?” (18:8b)
That was a big question. The Son of Man was a term for the messiah, the expected king who was expected to do nothing more than enable national Israel to cast off its bonds. Jesus asked if the messiah will find God’s elect people trusting the God to Whom they claim to cry day and night. Will the messiah find, in God’s people, the spreading of the knowledge of God’s covenant faithfulness throughout the whole of the earth? The implied answer is “no, He will not.” The widow, representing the Gentile nations, had demanded “justice against my adversary” (18:3b). We can surmise that, in this scenario, it is God Himself that is the adversary. The Gentile nations, filled with divine image-bearers that Israel had failed to reach, wanted the justice of God’s righteousness applied to them, so that they could stand against the adversaries of death, decay, and the grace that was the lot of all mankind. Israel, by and large and as a whole, had broken and disregarded the trust that had been given to it and kept the knowledge of God to itself. In this day, as believers in Jesus as King claim to be the covenant people of the Creator God, we must be careful that we do not do the same. Believers must remember that the call to missions, offering the proclamation of Jesus as King and Lord of all (the Gospel) to all nations and making disciples is the greatest of duties.
Just in case His hearers did not grasp the point that Jesus seemed to be making with the parable of the persistent widow and the unrighteous judge, He moves on to the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector. Somewhat clearly, continuing in context of the Gospel as a whole and that had been created by the prior parable, the Pharisee represents Israel. He stands by himself and prays, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector” (18:11).
Ultimately, this is how Israel looked upon the Gentiles. The Pharisee thinks quite highly of himself, as one of God’s very special covenant keepers, saying “I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get” (18:12). It seems that the Pharisee, in this story, wanted his God to know how much he sacrificed for Him. The Pharisee wanted to remind his God of how he cries to Him day and night. Drawing the contrast, Jesus says, “But the tax collector, standing far off” (18:13a). The Pharisee (representing the failing portion of Israel, with specific direction to its leaders) made sure that the tax collector (Gentiles and those of Israel looked up on as being outside the covenant because they did not keep to the then current covenant markers) stood far off. This tax collector “would not even lift up his eyes to heaven” (18:13b), indeed, how could he, without the knowledge of the covenant God that Israel was supposed to spread but had refused to do so? All that he could manage to do, in a general awareness, was “beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner’!” (18:13c). It is possible to hear an echo of the Apostle Paul here, in that even without Israel’s help, when it came to the Gentiles, “what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them” (Romans 1:19).
What does Jesus say? He says, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other” (18:14). It is the tax collector of the story that joins up with the covenant people. Do we not hear the widow of the earlier story crying out with the tax collector, saying “Give me justice against my adversary”? (18:3b) The Pharisee stood in the place of the unrighteous judge, while the tax collector served as the widow. Like the unrighteous judge, the Pharisee was more concerned with self-preservation than with the offer of justice. Jesus continues on, saying “For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (18:14b). This is the standard “reversal of position” language that regularly fell from the lips of Jesus, which would have carried even more meaning in a society defined by honor and shame. By now, the point being made should be quite clear. Israel looked upon the Gentile nations with contempt, especially those that ruled over them, rather than looking at them in thankfulness as evidences of God’s faithfulness towards them, as they were the instruments of God’s cursing, by which He faithfully disciplined them according to His covenant promises. God had not forsaken them. They had been faithless, but He remained faithful, executing His redemptive plan for all mankind through Israel and its Messiah.
Because Israel had neither truly feared God, as evidenced by their idolatry and disregarding of God’s laws for them; and because they clearly had no respect for man (as a whole), choosing to isolate themselves from Gentile nations rather than engaging them at the level of extending God’s covenant blessings to them, they did not serve as God’s righteous judges through which He could administer His judgment of “righteous” to the families of the earth. As the renewed Israel, Jesus believers that are children and servants of the King of Kings, must be ever so careful to not fall into the same snare through isolating themselves in their communities, looking only to those communities as being the true divine image-bearers, or to nothing more than a future blissful state, in an attempt to escape this world.