The Persistent Widow
1. And He spoke also a parable to them, [to the end] that men ought always to pray, and not be weary,
2. Saying, “There was a certain judge in a certain city, who feared not God, and had no respect for man.
3. And there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, ‘Avenge me of my adversary.’
4. And he was not willing for a time; but afterwards he said in himself, ‘Though I fear not God, and have no respect for man,
5. Yet since this widow makes labor for me, I will avenge her, lest in the end by coming she wear me down.’”
6. And the Lord said, “Hear what the unjust judge says.
7. And shall not God do vengeance for His chosen, who cry day and night to Him, and He bear with them?
8. I say to you that He will avenge them quickly. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, shall He find faith on the earth?”
The previous chapter was largely a series of warnings. It began with a warning about offending others. Jesus said, “Offenses will come, but woe to him through whom they do come!” (Luke 17:1). Then Jesus gave warnings about ingratitude (Luke 17:9), warnings about looking for the kingdom of God in the wrong places (Luke 17:20), and warnings about the self-destruction in store for those who ignore the divine truth which He describes as “the coming of the Son of Man” (Luke 17:30).
This series of warnings ends with the unsettling image of eagles devouring a decaying body—an image of our rational faculty feeding on and being fed by corrupt desires. This image provides a vivid warning as to what happens when people allow selfish desire to pervert their God-given rationality. It is not hard to imagine that when we are in states like this—when selfish desire overwhelms and controls our rational faculties—that we cannot understand or accept the voice of new truth (the Son of Man), even when it comes into our life like a flash of lightning.
While these are serious warnings, the next parable in the series, introduces a note of hope. Its moral lesson is clear, straightforward, and stated at the very beginning. As it is written, “Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). This focus on prayer—that it be continual, persistent, determined, and unwavering—serves to awaken the rational faculty and lift it to a higher level. Herein lies our greatest hope. This hope is found in prayer, especially the prayer that the Lord might open our eyes to understand His truth and empower us with the strength to live according to it. As it is written in the Hebrew scriptures. “I will lift my eyes unto the hills. From where comes my help? My help is from the Lord who made heaven and earth” (Psalms 121:1-2).
As this episode begins, Jesus’ exhortation to be persistent in our prayers is followed by a description of a judge who did not fear God or care about others. When a widow comes to him seeking justice because of an injury done to her, the judge ignores her concerns. Undeterred by this rejection, the woman perseveres, continually pleading for help. Eventually, the judge relents, not out of pity, but merely because he is tired of hearing the woman’s constant appeal for help. As it is written, the unjust judge says, “Because this widow makes labor for me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming” (Luke 18:5).
Jesus, then, explains the parable, using the widow’s persistence to represent how each of us must be similarly persistent in prayer. As Jesus puts it, “If even an unjust judge can be worn down like that, don’t you think that God will surely give justice to His people who plead with Him day and night? Will He keep putting them off”? (Luke 18:7). Jesus then answers His own question, saying, “Certainly not,” but quickly adds that we must be consistent in our prayers, keeping our mind continually open to the Lord’s coming into our lives with new truth. In other words, we should remain faithful in prayer, looking to the Lord for guidance, help, and support. As Jesus puts it at the conclusion of this episode, “When the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). This key question might also be stated like this: “Will we be ready to receive the divine truth when it comes to us? Does our prayer life adapt us to receive what is flowing in from God from moment to moment, that is, constantly and always?”
The representation of the widow
In this episode, the widow’s persistent efforts to seek justice represents the necessity of being persistent in our prayers. In sacred scripture, “a widow” represents a genuine longing to know the truth and to be connected to it. Just as a widow longs to be reunited with her husband, good longs to be reunited with truth. 1
This quality of “goodness longing for truth,” represented by the widow, might also be called a “genuine affection for truth.” Scripturally speaking, each of us is a “widow” longing to know God and to understand His will for our lives. However, in order for this to happen, we need to deal with another part of our mind. In this parable, that other part of our mind is represented by an unjust judge who “did not fear God nor regard man” (Luke 18:2). This is the rational faculty, the part of our mind that should be dedicated to the higher use of human reason but often fails to do so. 2
If, however, we have a good heart (the widow), a heart that yearns to know the truth and do it, the rational faculty will eventually comply and be reformed. But it will take persistent prayer on our part. This is why Jesus urges His disciples to continue in prayer and “not lose heart.” At the most literal level, this parable teaches that if an unjust judge can eventually be persuaded to render justice to a person who persists, how much more will God, who is Justice Itself, be persuaded to answer our persistent prayers.
The deeper reality, however, is that God is always with us, ready to answer our persistent prayers. These prayers, spoken in love and from faith, can include, but are not limited to, asking for patience, courage, compassion, understanding, wisdom and empathy. In brief, when our prayers are of this nature, we are asking God to grant us the heavenly and spiritual qualities we will need in order to do His will. 3
To the extent that we cultivate an unselfish, persistent prayer-life, we will also cultivate the rational faculty. The “unjust judge” in us will be replaced a just judge. As God grants us through His Word the ability to discern rightly between truth and falsity, good and evil, our understanding will grow. Flashes of insight that seem to come from ourselves, but are really from God, will spontaneously arise without any effort on our part. As we have seen, these moments of enlightenment that come to us and help us judge rightly are called, in the language of sacred scripture, “the lightning that flashes from the east to the west” and “the coming of the Son of Man.” The parable of the persistent widow adds another dimension to how we can best adapt ourselves for the reception of this enlightenment. We must pray for it, continually and persistently.
In addition, our prayers must be for qualities that are spiritual and heavenly. A wonderful example of this kind of prayer is given in the Hebrew scriptures. When King Solomon was given the opportunity to pray for anything he wanted, he prayed for “an understanding heart” so that he might govern in ways that are wise and discerning. In response, God said to Him, “Because you have asked for this thing and have not asked for long life, or riches, or the death of your enemies, but have asked for discernment to understand justice … I have given you a wise and discerning heart” (1 Kings 3:9-11). 4
The Pharisee and the Tax Collector
9. And He said also this parable to certain who trusted in themselves that they were just, and made the rest as nothing:
10. “Two men went up into the temple to pray, the one a Pharisee and the other a publican.
11. The Pharisee, standing to himself, prayed these things: ‘God, I thank Thee that I am not as the rest of men--rapacious, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.
12. I fast twice in the week; I give tithes of all things, as many as I possess.’
13. And the publican, standing afar off, was not willing to lift up even [his] eyes to heaven, but struck on his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’
14. I say to you, This [man] came down justified into his house than the other; for everyone that exalts himself shall be humbled, but he that humbles himself shall be exalted.”
15. And they brought also to Him babes, that He should touch them, but when the disciples saw [it], they rebuked them.
16. But Jesus called them to [Him], and said, “Let the little children come to Me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of God.
17. Amen I say to you, whoever shall not accept the kingdom of God as a little child shall not enter into it.”
The next parable in this series continues to deal with the subject of prayer. This time, the focus is not so much on the need for persistence, but rather on the attitude of the one who is praying. In other words, what matters is not only our words, or how persistently we repeat them, but also the attitude behind our words.
This time the parable is directed at the Pharisees. As it is written, “He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others” (Luke 18:9). The parable is about two men who “went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector” (Luke 18:10). In Jesus’ day, tax collectors were seen as traitors who collected taxes from their own people and gave the money that was collected to an oppressive government. Because of this, the Pharisees despised them. They had nothing but contempt for the tax collectors.
On the external level, the Pharisee in the parable considered himself to be “righteous.” After all, he did all the “right” things: he read the scriptures, he attended religious services, he prayed, he fasted, and he made contributions to the temple treasury. The parable, however, takes us beyond external appearances and gives us a glimpse into the inner world of this Pharisee. As it is written, “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortionists, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all I possess” (Luke 18:11-12). Though cloaked as a prayer of thanksgiving to God, the Pharisee’s prayer is really a glorification of himself and a condemnation of others.
The prayer of the tax collector, on the other hand, is very different. He says, quite simply, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13).
While the parable of the persistent widow illustrates the importance of relentless determination in prayer, the parable of the Pharisee and tax collector, offers important instruction about the attitude we need to bring to prayer—an attitude of genuine humility, one in which we recognize our weaknesses and our need for God. This is what truly opens us to receive the love, wisdom, and gentle guidance that God is always offering. Indeed, humility is the essence of prayer and of all true worship. 5
The Pharisee, however, is anything but humble. His prayer is filled with self-righteousness and contempt. He says, “I thank You that I am not like other men—extortionists, unjust, adulterers,” and then he goes on to praise himself and his good deeds: “I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.” This Pharisee, who appears externally righteous is internally filled with contempt for others and inordinate pride in himself. Therefore, it is written that “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself.” In other words, this was not speech with God—it was speech with himself.
The tax collector, on the other hand stood “afar off and would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven.” In his utter humility, the tax collector took a place at the back of the temple, head bowed, not even daring to look upwards. Here we have a picture of two men whose external lifestyles are quite different: a pious Pharisee, and a despised tax collector. And yet, it is the tax collector who “went down to his house justified”—that is, in a right relationship with God (Luke 18:14). As Jesus puts it at the conclusion of this episode, “Everyone who exalts himself will be abased, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14). 6
Becoming a child of the kingdom
The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector counsels us, especially as we pray, to enter a holy state of humility. In that prayerful state, we admit our sins, acknowledge that without God we can do nothing, and pray for His help.
Jesus then speaks about the necessity of becoming “as a child” in order to receive the kingdom of God. This is one of those places where, at first glance, there seems to be an abrupt break in the narrative. The truth is, however, that the connection is a seamless one. The relationship between a humble prayer life and becoming “as a child” becomes clear when we consider that a little child is dependent on parents for love and protection. Similarly, we can approach our heavenly Father in prayer, seeking to receive His love for others and to be led by the truth that will protect us from false ideas and selfish desires. This is why Jesus says, “Let the little children come to Me and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:16).
In each of us, there are tender states that are called in the language of sacred scripture, “little children.” These tender states contain intimations of what it means to love and be loved, to hear the truth and receive it with gladness, to feel joy, and experience gratitude. These are the “little children” within us, those precious impressions implanted in us by God in our childhood which can serve as a foundation for greater faith and deeper love as we grow in our understanding of God and in our love for our neighbor. 7
It is these innocent states in us that Jesus endeavors to awaken as He concludes this episode with words which are both an assurance and a warning: “Assuredly, I say unto you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it” (Luke 18:17).
A practical application
Earlier in this gospel the disciples said, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). At that time, Jesus taught them to pray by giving them a specific example, which is called, “The Lord’s Prayer.” However, His instruction did not stop there. As we have seen in the two previous parables, Jesus has also been teaching about the need for persistence and humility in our prayers. It should also be noted that the parable of the persistent widow and the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector occur only in the Gospel of Luke. It is a further indication that this gospel, more than any other, focuses on the development of our understanding, the life of the mind, and the higher use of human reason—all of which are essential aspects of prayer. For at the heart of all prayer is opening one’s understanding to truth along with the willingness to live according to it. In fact, it could be said that the person who lives according to truth is continually at prayer.
As a practical application then, select a passage of sacred scripture, one that conveys an important truth to you, and keep it in mind throughout the day. Be both persistent and humble in asking for that truth to become manifest in your life. Remain “continually at prayer and do not lose heart.” 8
The Rich Ruler
18. And a certain ruler asked Him, saying, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?
19. But Jesus said to him, “Why callest thou Me good? None [is] good except One, God.
20. Thou knowest the commandments: Thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not murder, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not bear false witness, honor thy father and thy mother.”
21. And he said, “All these have I kept from my youth.”
22. And when Jesus heard these things, He said to him, “Yet one [thing] is left for thee [to do]: sell all, as much as thou hast, and distribute to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”
23. But on hearing these things, he became very sorrowful, for he was exceedingly rich.
24. And when Jesus saw that he had become very sorrowful, He said, “How difficult [it is for those] who have wealth to enter into the kingdom of God!
25. For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich [man] to enter into the kingdom of God.”
Can a person be good without God?
The previous episode ended with the words, “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it” (Luke 18:17). Little children trust and rely on their parents. They are dependent on them for the essentials of their natural existence—food, clothing, and shelter. Therefore, in the Word, a “little child” often signifies the innocent willingness to rely on the Lord, to trust in Him, and be dependent upon Him for the essentials of our spiritual existence—love, wisdom, and protection from spiritual enemies.
As we advance in years, we take on more adult responsibilities. We begin to believe, and rightly so, that we can take care of ourselves without the help of our parents. In fact, maturation requires that we move from dependence to independence. While it is important to eventually assume adult responsibilities, a problem arises when people begin to believe that they can manage not only their external world but also their internal world without the help of God.
When it comes to matters of spirituality and religion, this is the independent attitude that says, I’m basically a good person. I keep the commandments. I don’t steal. I don’t lie. I don’t commit adultery. I don’t need any help. This is the idea that a person can be good without God. Being independent of parents because we no longer need their physical support is one thing. But being independent of God is an entirely different matter. In fact, it is impossible to be good without God, as Jesus will now explain through the next parable.
The parable begins when a rich ruler approaches Jesus and asks, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 18:18). Before answering his question, Jesus reminds this ruler to be cautious about attributing good to anyone except God: “Why do you call Me good?” says Jesus. “No one is good but One, that is God” (Luke 18:19).
Jesus is taking this opportunity to remind the ruler that God is the source of all goodness, including what appears to be the ruler’s “own” goodness. The lesson is a simple yet profound one: As Jesus puts it, “No one is good but One. That is, God.” The delusion that we can be good apart from God is a powerful one, but if we are to advance in our understanding of the spiritual path, this delusion of an independent life must be dispelled. 9
After establishing the foundational truth that no one is good except God, Jesus then goes on to answer the ruler’s question about how to inherit eternal life. “You know the commandments,” says Jesus. “Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not bear false witness, honor your father and mother” (Luke 18:20). The ruler responds by saying, “All these things I have kept from my youth” (Luke 18:21). Therefore, Jesus says to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me” (Luke 18:22).
While Jesus’ literal words seem to be about giving away all material possessions, His spiritual message is quite different. He is speaking about giving up the false idea that we can be good without God. In other words, when we no longer “own” the idea that goodness is from ourselves, we gain an increased sense of gratitude and humility. This is called, in the language of sacred scripture, “selling all that you have,” which means disowning pride in our own goodness. This is followed by the words, “give to the poor” which means fostering states of humility within ourselves.
If the rich ruler could recognize and put aside his pride, he could begin to nourish those states of humility in himself that had been ignored and underdeveloped. In the language of sacred scripture, he would be “giving to the poor.” As a result, through cultivating the quality of humility in himself, he would receive real treasure, not the kind that perishes. He would have “treasure in heaven.” 10
For each of us, this is a call to realize that from ourselves we have nothing. To think and believe that we have any goodness from ourselves, or even that we have the power to keep the commandments, is to be inflated with a delusive sense of pride and self-importance. It is to feel that we are very “rich,” when, in fact, we are spiritually impoverished.
Sadly, the rich ruler’s heart is set on earthly treasures, of which he has a great deal, and from which he is unwilling to be separated. Therefore, Jesus’ request that he sell all that he has and give to the poor is a huge disappointment for him. As it is written, “He became very sorrowful, for he was very rich” (Luke 18:23).
The symbolism of a rich “ruler”
As the rich ruler departs, Jesus sees the man’s sorrow and understands his struggle. Turning to those who have gathered, Jesus says, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:24). Jesus even goes so far as to say, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:25). 11
As we continue to study this story, we should keep in mind that in sacred scripture, every parable, every sentence, and every word, when understood spiritually, is given in a seamless order and contains infinite depths of meaning. In this episode, then, the rich ruler symbolizes a tendency in each of us to arrogantly believe that we can govern our inner lives without help from the Lord.
Therefore, it is not an accident that the rich man who is told to sell everything is called a “ruler.” Interestingly, neither the Gospel According to Matthew nor the Gospel According to Mark refer to this rich man as a “ruler.” This term appears only in the Gospel According to Luke. In this case, then, it would refer to the reformation and development of the understanding. When it comes to the inner world of the spirit, to go through the “eye of the needle,” means that we must be willing to be led by the Lord rather than be ruled by our own self-intelligence. By humbly allowing the Lord to be our ruler, we pass through “the eye of the needle” and enter the kingdom of God. 12
Leaving It All Behind
26. And they who heard [it] said, “Who then can be saved?”
27. And He said, “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.”
28. And Peter said, “Behold, we have left all things, and have followed Thee.
29. And He said to them, “Amen I say to you, There is no one who has left house, or parents, or brothers, or wife, or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God,
30. Who shall not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come, eternal life.”
Leaving house, parents, brothers, wife, and children
Those who are listening to Jesus take Him quite literally. Jesus has just told them that it is harder for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. Surprised and confused, they say “Who then can be saved?” (Luke 18:26).
Jesus then adds an important caveat. He says, “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God” (Luke 18:27). Peter, who is listening, says, “See, we have left all and followed You” (Luke 18:28). Jesus responds to Peter, and to all who are listening, with words that seem to be supportive of Peter’s response. As Jesus puts it, “Truly I tell you, no one who has left house, or parents, or brothers, or wife, or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come, eternal life” (Luke 18:29).
Here, again, we see another series of terms that have deeper meaning and are given in a seamless order. It should also be pointed out that in sacred scripture the same word can have either a positive or negative meaning, depending on the context. In listing the things that must be left behind, Jesus begins with the word “house.” In sacred scripture, a “house” signifies our “dwelling-place.” It can be either the “house of the Lord” or the “house of bondage.” In this context, if Jesus is telling us to leave our house, this would refer to the house of bondage, and all the people in that house would symbolize negative states in us that should be left behind.
With this in mind, the term “parents” refers to our inherited tendencies to evils of every kind. The term “brothers” refers to the false and self-serving thoughts that hold us captive. The term “wife” refers to those negative feelings to which we have become “wedded.” Our “children” are these negative states and self-serving thoughts and feelings that have become so much a part of us that we see them as our own. Jesus is saying that if we leave these states behind for the sake of the kingdom of God, we will receive much more in this age, and in the age to come, eternal life. 13
A practical application
In the series that includes leaving “house,” “parents,” “brothers,” “wife,” and “children,” we noted that our “house” is the first thing to be given up. This refers to our mental “dwelling-place,” those thoughts and feelings that we dwell on. Therefore, in sacred scripture, leaving one’s “house” refers to leaving behind those thoughts and feelings that keep us dwelling on things that are not in harmony with the will of God. As a spiritual practice, observe the thoughts you “dwell” on and decide which of these “dwelling-places” are to be left behind. Then welcome the positive, constructive thoughts that come to you, seeing them as divine escorts leading you through “the eye of the needle” and into the presence of God. If this seems to be too difficult, call to mind the words of Jesus in this episode, “The things that are impossible with men are possible with God” (Luke 18:27).
Going Up to Jerusalem
31. And taking the twelve, He said to them, “Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and all things must be finished which are written by the prophets respecting the Son of Man.
32. For He shall be delivered up to the nations, and shall be mocked, and insulted, and spit upon,
33. And they shall scourge [Him], and shall kill Him; and the third day He shall rise again.”
34. And they understood none of these things; and this saying was hidden from them, and they knew not the things that were said.
The rich ruler had asked, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life” and he was basically told to give up everything. As we have seen, this is not necessarily about giving up our material possessions and certainly not about abandoning our families. It’s about giving up everything that separates us from receiving the kingdom of God. This includes the idea that we can understand anything that is true or do anything that is good apart from God. We must experience this realization repeatedly because the illusion is so strong that we live life from ourselves. The truth is that we cannot do anything—not even lift a finger, take a step, or draw a breath—without God. 14
In sacred scripture, when this great truth and others like it come to us, it is called, “the coming of the Son of Man.” Jesus has already referred to the Son of Man as coming into our lives like a flash of lightning (Luke 17:22). And after He told the parable about the persistent widow, emphasizing the necessity of continual prayer, Jesus asked, “When the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8). Now, as the episode about the rich ruler comes to an end, Jesus speaks again about the Son of Man. Taking His twelve disciples aside, He says to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished” (Luke 18:31). 15
Jesus is referring to the prophecies in the Hebrew scriptures that predict His death at the hands of those who would “despise and reject Him” (Isaiah 53:2) and those who would “laugh Him to scorn” while piercing His hands and feet (Psalms 22:7;16). More deeply, He is also referring to the way people would regard the divine truth that He came to bring. It would be mocked, ridiculed, and spat upon. And yet, it would withstand every trial and eventually emerge victorious, even as Jesus would survive the crucifixion. As Jesus puts it, “And on the third day, He will rise again” (Luke 18:33).
Jesus is telling His disciples to be prepared for the coming trials. He tells them directly that “the Son of Man will be delivered to the Gentiles, and will be mocked, insulted, and spat upon. And they will scourge Him and put Him to death” (Luke 18:32-33). Jesus is also speaking about how each of us treats divine truth. At first, we may reject it, even mock it and despise it, but eventually—through trial and suffering—we will come to see its central importance in our own lives. Before we accept the truth and allow it to rise in our minds, a false belief must be identified and overthrown. In the context of the preceding episode, it might be the false belief that we are “rich rulers” who can enter heaven by our own efforts while, in truth, we can do nothing without God.
Our acceptance of truth, and the ensuing willingness to live according to it, does not happen instantaneously. It comes about gradually and only after numerous unsuccessful attempts to find happiness apart from God. Throughout our spiritual development, we will necessarily undergo tribulations, not because it is the will of God to punish us or make us suffer, but because spiritual trials help us to understand how much we need the Lord and the truth that He offers. Whenever this realization comes to us, and we acknowledge how much we need God, the divine truth is beginning to rise in our mind. As Jesus puts it, “And on the third day He will rise again” (Luke 18:33).
This is the third time Jesus has predicted His death and resurrection. On the literal level, He is speaking about the suffering He is about to undergo in Jerusalem where He will be cruelly beaten and crucified. Again and again, He has told His disciples that this trial is coming soon. On the spiritual level, He is speaking about the necessity of temptation in every person’s life, with the promise that those who trust in the Lord will overcome. In either case, the disciples do not understand. As it is written, “They understood none of these things; this saying was hidden from them, and they did not know the things which were spoken” (Luke 18:34).
This third prediction of Jesus’ death and resurrection is also given in Matthew and Mark in almost the same language, and in both of these previous gospels this prediction is placed immediately after the discourse on how hard it is for a rich person to enter heaven. But only in Luke, the gospel which focuses on the understanding, are we explicitly told that “they understood none of these things,” that “this saying was hidden from them,” and that “they did not know the things which were spoken.” Each of these terms refers to the opening of the understanding.
As we shall see, the emphasis on the opening of the disciples’ understanding will continue to be a dominant theme in Luke. For example, in the very next episode, a blind man will receive his sight. It is a parable about how each of us can be healed from our spiritual blindness, but only if we are both humble and persistent, trusting that the Lord alone can heal us through the truth of His Word.
A Blind Beggar
35. And it came to pass as He drew near to Jericho, a certain blind [man] sat along the way begging.
36. And hearing the crowd go through, he inquired what it meant.
37. And they reported to him, “Jesus of Nazareth passes by.”
38. And he cried, saying, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.”
39. And they who went before rebuked him, that he should be silent; but he cried out much more: “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
40. And Jesus standing, ordered him to be brought to Him; and when he was near, He questioned him,
41. Saying, “What willest thou that I shall do to thee?” And he said, “Lord, that I may receive [my] sight.”
42. And Jesus said to him, “Receive thy sight; thy faith has saved thee.”
43. And immediately he received his sight; and he followed Him, glorifying God; and all the people when they saw [it] gave praise to God.
The disciples do not always understand what Jesus is saying. As it is written at the close of the previous episode, the disciples “understood none of these things” (Luke 18:34). This is the case for all of us at the beginning of our spiritual journey. There are many things in the Word of God that simply defy our understanding and cause us to wonder, What does this mean? How can this be true? As we learned earlier in this gospel, the Lord has “hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children” (Luke 10:21).
The inability to understand sacred scripture and the truth it conveys is called “spiritual blindness.” When a person does not understand something, it is customary to use expressions like, “I am in the dark” and “I just cannot see what you mean.” On the other hand, when understanding arises, it is customary to use expressions like, “Oh, now I see the light,” or “I see what you mean.” The connection between physical sight and mental vision is an obvious one. 16
Less obvious, however, is what causes spiritual blindness and how a person can be healed from that condition. In the next episode, which involves a blind man whom Jesus meets along the way, we are given an object lesson about the cause and cure for spiritual blindness. This is especially significant in the Gospel According to Luke with its focus on the understanding of truth and how it can be developed.
Jesus’ encounter with the blind man begins with these words: “As Jesus approached Jericho, a certain blind man sat by the road begging. And hearing a multitude going by, the blind man asked what it meant. So they told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by” (Luke 18:35-37). In contrast to the rich ruler, the poor beggar exhibits an entirely different response. When the poor beggar learns that Jesus is passing by, he does not ask, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Instead, he cries out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Luke 18:38).
The blind beggar’s cry for mercy is similar to the tax collector’s prayer, “God be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13). It is also reminiscent of the persistent widow’s pleadings, which were so determined that she finally wearied the unjust judge (Luke 18:5). Even though the people try to silence the blind man, he perseveres. As it is written, “He cried out all the more,” saying, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Luke 18:39). This combination of persistence and humility catches the attention of Jesus who orders that the blind beggar be brought to Him. And when the beggar is brought near, Jesus asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Luke 18:41).
The blind man is accustomed to begging. He could have asked Jesus for money or food, as was his normal routine. Instead, he says, “Lord, that I may receive my sight” (Luke 18:41). This humble yet determined request is instructive. We, too, are to approach God with a humble yet steadfast faith, asking for spiritual sight, knowing that we are blind beggars. It is then that the miracle happens: Jesus says, “Receive your sight; your faith has saved you” (Luke 18:42).
This same miracle takes place in both Matthew and Mark, and many of the details are similar. But a significant detail is added in Luke. As it is written, “Immediately he received his sight, and followed Him glorifying God” (Luke 18:43). The additional phrase, “glorifying God” brings to mind the tenth leper who returned to Jesus “and with a loud voice glorified God” (Luke 17:15). The leper’s display of gratitude at that time, even falling down on his face to give thanks, prompted Jesus to say, “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well” (Luke 17:19).
Whether Jesus is dealing with a leper or a blind man, it becomes clear that the only kind of faith which is truly saving is faith that understands and proclaims our reliance on God. This is the faith that “sees” that it’s not about what we can do; it’s about what God can do through us. Like the blind beggar, when we humbly approach the Lord asking for spiritual sight, our spiritual eyes can be opened, and we see with new understanding. In our humility and gratitude, the desire to praise and glorify His name arises in us. And so, in Luke, the blind beggar, after being given his sight, follows Jesus, glorifying God.
As this episode concludes, the Gospel of Luke adds one more detail that occurs in no other gospel. Once again, it is a reference to sight. As it is written, “And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God” (Luke 18:43). Something similar happens within us when our spiritual understanding begins to open. We see that God is the fount of our every blessing, and the source of our very being. True understanding leads to an overflowing heart—a heart overflowing with gratitude and praise.
In the end, we learn that the cause of spiritual blindness is egotistical pride and confidence in self-intelligence—the belief that we have no need for God. And the cure is humility and faith—the humble belief that without God we can do nothing, and the faith that “the things that are impossible with men are possible with God” (Luke 18:27). This is the attitude that is contained within the blind beggar’s prayer when he cries out with humility and with persistence, “Son of David, have mercy on me” and adds, “Lord, that I may receive my sight.”
A practical application
When the blind beggar cried out to Jesus, some of the people rebuked him and told him to keep quiet. But the blind beggar paid no heed to their warning. Instead, it is written that “he cried out all the more” (Luke 18:39). There are times in our own lives when inner voices might tell us to not bother God, that our petty concerns do not matter to Him, and that prayer is useless. However, both the story of the persistent widow, which begins this chapter and the story of the blind beggar which ends it, remind us that we should not listen to discouraging messages, whether they are given by others or if they arise within us. Instead, we should continue to cry out to the Lord, persevering in prayer, knowing that God will grant every request that is consistent with His will. In this regard, try using the words, Lord, that I may receive my sight, as a prayer to the Lord, asking the Lord to open your eyes so that you may understand His Word and see the way in which you should go.