In Luke’s Gospel the central section, often described as “the journey narrative,” stretches from chapters 9 – 19:27 and contains many parables that are unique to his story of Jesus. Towards the end of this “journey” Jesus addresses a number of issues regarding prayer through the parables of “The Widow and the Judge” (18:1-8) and “The Pharisee and the Tax-Collector” (18:9-14). In the course of the story of the widow Jesus characterizes the response of the judge to the widow’s pleas for help in this way: “Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out (hupōpiazēi) with her coming” (18:5). In Luke’s Gospel Jesus uses the verb hupōpiazō to describe why the judge decides to do something in response to the woman’s petition. This verb only occurs here and in 1 Corinthians 9:27 within the New Testament.
The NIV translation of this verb in Luke 18:5 is somewhat different from the primary meanings listed in Liddell and Scott, Greek-English Lexicon (1966, p.1904): “strike one under the eye, give him a black eye” or “bruise, mortify.” The cognate noun hupōpion refers to the section of a person’s face beneath the eyes. In the Greek translation of Proverbs 20:30 we learn that “wisdom is an ornament to young men, and grey hair the glory of the aged. Bruises (hupōpia) and wounds befall evil men….This lexicon lists a special, more metaphorical meaning for Luke 18:5 as “annoy greatly, wear out.” We have to discern whether Luke (and Paul) are using this verb in a literal sense or a more general, metaphorical sense.
When Paul used the verb in 1 Corinthians 9:27, his discussion in the context describes how he moderates his own freedom in Christ in order to be an effective herald of the Gospel and “gain” some for the kingdom. In vv. 24-25 he incorporates an athletic metaphor to define more clearly his meaning. He describes how those participating in a race run in order to win the prize (v.24). Further, those competing prepare for this based on strict regimens (v.25). The goal for the runner is to win the race and gain “a corruptible crown” but for Paul the prize is “an incorruptible crown” (v.25). He then states that in terms of pursuing his apostolic vocation he does not run “aimlessly.” Paul quickly shifts to another athletic contest — boxing, and says that he “fights” but “not as a man beating the air” (v.26). Finally, he arrives at his concluding point (v.27). “I beat (hupōpiazō) my body and make it my slave,” he claims, indicating the self-discipline he exercises so as to fulfill God’s assignment. The suggestion seems to be that Paul works with extreme diligence so that his body serves his mission and does not become his mission. The 2011 edition of the NIV renders this verb here as “I strike a blow,” probably seeking to minimize the suggestion that Paul engaged in extreme ascetic practices. The NRSV translates this verb here as “I punish” my body, suggesting a very deliberate bruising to keep it under rigorous control.
When we consider the usage in Luke’s Gospel, the dynamics are different, particularly in distinction between a widowed woman and a male judge. Issues of gender, power and status all interweave to leave the widowed woman with few options for gaining justice. Plainly the judge shows no interest in responding to her petition. She could spend the rest of her life outside his residence and he would feel no personal need to do anything for her. However, he is considered that in some way she will be bothersome (18:5; Jesus used the same idiom in 11:7 to describe the response of the householder to his friend’s midnight request for food; he also used it to scold his followers for criticizing the woman who washed his feet with perfume (Mark 14:6); at the conclusion to Galatians (6:17) Paul asks that no one bother him any more about his mission).
What kind of trouble then could this woman bring into his life, given his position and authority? The only influence she might have would be moral, as people in his community heard about her situation and his refusal to do anything for her. His reputation might suffer harm. And even though he protests that he “neither fears God nor human,” this may not be a true confession. His motive for acting is expressed as “lest at the end of this she by coming cause me to lose face me or give me a black eye (hupōpiazēi).” The adverbial phrase eis telos (finally, completely, forever) could modify the verb hupōpiazēi or the participle “by coming (erchomenē). I would support the view that he is more concerned about his reputation than anything else and does not want “a black eye” figuratively speaking in the community because of his failure to act on behalf of this widow.
God is concerned for his glory as well. However, his response to human need, although enacted with a view to his glory, is motivated more by justice, love and mercy. It is much swifter and completely impartial (cf. Sirach 35:12-19) than humans imagine. Given the eschatological context of Luke 17-18 it is probable that the praying illustrated by the parable is related to the primary theme of the Lord’s prayer, i.e. “your kingdom come.” Jesus’ followers can have confidence that God is hearing and responding to this prayer.
i. how concerned is God for his reputation and glory? Does his concern influence his actions?
ii. how should we link our prayers with God’s concern for his glory? In the Old Testament the prophets at various times urge God to act lest the nations think that he does not keep his promises or that he is powerless to affect situations. Does the New Testament and in particular this parable encourage us in this direction?