Sunday, October 20
Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Luke 18: 1-8
Jesus told his disciples a parable
about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary.
He said, “There was a judge in a certain town
who neither feared God nor respected any human being.
And a widow in that town used to come to him and say,
‘Render a just decision for me against my adversary.’
For a long time the judge was unwilling, but eventually he thought,
‘While it is true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being,
because this widow keeps bothering me
I shall deliver a just decision for her
lest she finally come and strike me.'”
The Lord said, “Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says.
Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones
who call out to him day and night?
Will he be slow to answer them?
I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily.
But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
CAUTION– don’t make God the judge in this parable. By his own admission, he neither fears God nor has any respect for any human being. This certainly is not the God of Jesus’ words and teachings nor the God of our faith. A better God-image would be the widow. She is persistent in seeking justice, just as God is persistent and never grows weary of seeking what is lost; never goes weary of seeking ways for peace and justice.
It helps to know the BACKSTORY for today’s passage. With that in mind, let’s look at the characters in the parable for today.
THE JUDGE: Nearly every village had a judge and if anyone had a dispute they would come, usually to the city gates, and the judge would listen and give his or her decision. The judge is unwilling to do so in this case. Jesus puts the focus on the judge by telling us to pay attention to his words. ‘While it is true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being, because this widow keeps bothering me, I shall deliver a just decision for her lest she finally come and strike me.'” His decisions, although right, seem to be made in his best interest and reputation.
THE WIDOW: Widows in the ancient world were extremely vulnerable. Frequently in scripture widows and orphans are always mentioned as the two most vulnerable and needy groups. A widow was dependent on her sons or some other male relative for her basic needs. If the responsible male did not exist or if they were indifferent to her needs, she would have no other recourse than to take her case to the local judge. It was part of a judge’s responsibility to ensure the rights of widows, orphans and the poor.
The widow in the parable today does that, but she is at the mercy of an unjust judge. She is persistent (she had to be if she were to survive). This judge, again by his own admission, has no regard for the two great commandments of loving God and neighbor.
The judge does relent and says he will do the right thing because the woman might strike him. This translation dilutes the original meaning. A more literal translation of the judge’s fear is that the “Woman is giving me a black eye.” It might well be physical, but more likely it meant that to be unresponsive to her, would give him the black-eye of public shame. Shame in this culture was to be avoided at all cost. The judge’s relenting does not mean he has had a change of heart toward the widow. The judge wants to shut her up, get rid of her and thus protect his reputation.
This parable gave me an opportunity to pray and reflect over these two characters. As I look at the world we are living in, I wondered – Who today are the people like the widow who are searching for justice? Who are those searching for basic human needs of food, clothing, shelter, health care, survival? Who are those seeking sanctuary from lives that have known only tyranny and war brought on by greed and inordinate lust for power? I prayed about the poor in our own city and in the world: the immigrants, the homeless, trafficked human beings, infirmed, aged and very young. Are the voices of the powerless and poor heard today?
I wonder if the widow in Luke’s parable is not her own voice, but the voices of those who are speaking for justice around the world? There is so much goodness in our world, but we cannot be blind to the enormous amount of wrongs in our homes, in our church, in our community and in our world.
Maybe we are like the judge – we are tired of hearing about the injustices, the poor and the needs of others. Maybe we think the injustices are so complex that we can do nothing about them. Maybe we have a case of “compassion fatigue,” or indifference or paralysis.
Such feelings of indifference tempt us to quit our efforts at praying for and working for God’s kingdom here on earth. I think Luke might be warning us not to take that route. It will bring us “a black eye.” It will bring a shame that goes right to the core of a disciple of Jesus. In Luke’s version of the parable, Jesus is worried about that possibility, too. “The Lord hears the cry of the poor” and, as the Lord’s followers we, too, must have our eyes and ears open and be persistent in seeking and working for justice for all our brothers and sisters.
Yes, the issues facing us today are serious, complex, overwhelming, and at times seemingly insurmountable. Jesus knows how powerful the forces against us are and seems to worry about the effects on his disciples in his day and his disciples in our day. He asks, “But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” As disciples we have hard work and persistent, relentless prayer to do until the Lord returns. He is with us! He promised he would be! Anchored in that belief, even though we do not always or rarely see signs of “success,” we continually rely on the Spirit of God within us to not let disillusionment threaten or deter us.
Yes, we will get weary of praying. We may get tired of working for justice, just like Moses did in the first reading. Others had to be called upon to hold his arms up, for when Moses’ arms began to drop, the Israelites began to lose the battle. We can’t work for peace and justice alone. We need others to hold us up when we get tired and weary. We need to hold others up, when they get weary and tired. I hope that you and I will be like the widow in her persistency, and never stop seeking justice.
Sr. Teresa Tuite, OP