The question is addressed to each of us. Do we really believe God's kingdom is germinating among us now? How far are we willing to go to cultivate it? Are we faith-filled enough to pray for those who mistreat us and for those who promote injustice?
Do we desire the kind of faith that leads us to persist, as 2 Timothy suggests, whether it is convenient or inconvenient?
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By Tim Trainor
3 John 1:5-8
When we meet the judge of today's Gospel parable in Luke, we are quickly informed that the widow can't appeal to his good side, because he doesn't have one! So, faced with his stony heart, she becomes the water that drips incessantly until his rock like resistance is worn away.
To understand the two messages in this parable, we should pay careful attention to Luke's two editorial comments. This is a parable about praying always and never giving up. The second message says be mindful of our relationship with God, and persist in faith. As the old song goes, "You can't have one without the other." and the other ingredient, a key one, is providence.
By interpreting this parable in the above light, I propose some new dimensions for the teachings Jesus packed into this parable. The widow in this story represents the praying Church and/or disciple, while the judge is anyone who presides over injustice.
Digging further into this story, we ask for what is the widow to pray and for whom does Jesus tell us to pray? Get ready for a surprise.
If we search the Gospel of Luke, we won't find Jesus say "Pray for one another" anywhere. Rather, we find, "Pray for those who mistreat you" (Luke 6:28).
The only time in Luke's gospel where Jesus said He prayed for someone, He said it to Peter. "I have prayed that your own faith may not fail" (Luke 22:32). The implication seems to be that in a situation of seemingly unending injustice, especially when we have no power to change it, we are called to pray for those who have the power, as well as for the perpetrators of this unfairness.
This is, to me, a very timely message to reflect upon today. It is the day after a major national election. I am sure there are some yet to be determined impacts awaiting us down the road. A few of our newly elected representatives may well reveal themselves to be dishonest judges who will mistreat us.
Those represented by the widow is the Church (you & I). We are told to keep praying. Jesus doesn't say to do so in hiding. No, this widow's persistence is more than obvious to the judge and probably to the general public. A New Testament prototype for the Energizer Bunny, she just keeps coming and coming with her demand for justice.
Since the judge in our story would not move for love of God or human respect, the widow got him where it counted — his very human desire for peace and quiet.
Background on Luke finds multiple use of widows by Jesus in His teachings. Luke presents widows who had either encountered Jesus in His ministry or were characters cited by Him in His parables. I believe we might characterize widows as among the vulnerable, the ones in whom Jesus takes a particular interest. Jesus recognizes the poor widow in Luke 21:3 who has given more than all the other wealthier patrons of the temple. She has given all that she has. He condemns the scribes who “devour widows' houses” (in 20:47).
In addition to being vulnerable, widows also appear as prophetic, active, and faithful; certainly the widow who gives her last coins is not only vulnerable but also a model of faithful generosity. The first widow in the Gospel of Luke is Anna (see 2:37), a prophet, who spreads the good news of Jesus’ birth. Jesus in his inaugural sermon at Nazareth mentions the widow of Zarephath, who feeds Elijah from her meager supplies in a famine. Her son is returned to life by the prophet, an act Jesus replays in the raising of the only son of the widow of Nain (see Luke 7:12).
All these stories appear only in Luke's Gospel, including the widow of our current parable, who is persistent, active, and forceful enough to get the justice she demands even from an utterly unjust judge. In the end, the unjust judge is finally, by implication, a step closer to being included among the chosen ones of God because he ultimately does the right thing and renders a just decision.
This becomes a story of potential salvation, which is not as it appears at first glance. Sure, the widow finally got her due, but in the process, do you see that she helped save the judge? She never gave up in her prayer or in the actions that flowed from it. She kept at it, asking for divine help while devising the tactics that had the best chance of success. She made it easier for him to do the right thing, rather than the wrong thing.
When we look to the widow as a model of prayer, few can do better than she did in making good on the petition "Thy kingdom come." In spite of what everyone knew and said about the judge, she wouldn't stop believing that God could transform his heart! She refused to give in to the idea that he would never change. Like Moses, who kept holding up his staff over the outnumbered Israelite army, she refused to give up. There was no earthly reason to expect success, but if there had been, she would not have needed to persevere in prayer as she did.
Of course, Jesus' audience probably chuckled at the story as they pictured the pompous judge coming around to do what the lady asked, trying to preserve his dignity as others snickered at seeing who had worn him down. But Jesus' last remark was designed to bring the disciples up short. It is the second teaching point in this story. "When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" (Luke 18:8).
The question is addressed to each of us. Do we really believe God's kingdom is germinating among us now? How far are we willing to go to cultivate it? Are we faith-filled enough to pray for those who mistreat us and for those who promote injustice? Do we desire the kind of faith that leads us to persist, as 2 Timothy suggests, whether it is convenient or inconvenient?
As we look around at our political situation, at the injustice and violence that plague our country and world, there is no earthly reason to believe that it can all be changed. That's precisely why our widow friend in this story is held up to us as an example. Weariness is no excuse.
Looking back over the centuries, prayer has been found to be effective. Remember Pope Pius V asked the Christian faithful to pray the Rosary and seek the intercession of the Blessed Mother to defeat the much larger Muslim navy at Lepanto in 1571. Prayer will awaken our memory of Jesus and remind us that God's Kingdom doesn't operate on the rules of this world.
Only prayer will open us to the grace to overcome the inevitable disillusionment we meet in daily life. Only prayer can open us to the inspirations that will keep us going, and going, and going ... just like the Energizer Bunny, until justice reigns!
Verse eight in our Gospel reading summarizes well the point of Jesus' teaching. Will the Lord “find faith upon the earth” when He returns? Make no mistake here, it is not just anyone, who is being asked this. This question is aimed at you and me. Will each of us persevere in our prayers and therefore in our faith till He returns?”