TWENTY-NINTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (2019)
2 Timothy 3:14-4:2
We are accustomed to hearing Jesus’ parables and assigning the appropriate roles to individuals with whom we are familiar. Thus, if we appear in our lives to be like the widow, praying ceaselessly for “things to happen,” then it might seem appropriate to view God as the judge. But the judge is dishonest, he “neither feared God nor respected any human being,” something he was even able to admit to himself in Luke 18:4. Certainly our psalmist would not view God as the judge in this parable, for God is a “guardian,” who protects us from all “harm,” while He “neither slumbers not sleeps” on the job. Furthermore, looking at God as the judge makes it appear that if we pester God enough we can wear God down, and receive whatever it is that we happen to be praying for. That isn’t, or should not be, a proper understanding of prayer.
Fr. William Bausch suggests that there is a “more fruitful and less obvious way” of looking at today’s gospel. “Why not see the widow,” Bausch suggests, and “not the judge, as the image of God?” His novel and unique approach to the gospel is particularly relevant for so many of us, for he sees the widow, and anyone “who determinedly resists injustice – faces it, names it, and denounces it until right is achieved – is acting as God does, is God-like.” Against all odds the widow will endure until justice is done; there is no turning her away until God brings about the justice which is due her. The widow in Jesus’ parable was the symbol of all who were poor, defenseless, and without hope of ever obtaining justice.
“Like the Israelites and the widow in today’s Gospel, we face opposition and injustice,” says noted author Scott Hahn, and “at times from godless and pitiless adversaries.” We see this in our first reading from the Book of Exodus, which needs to be read, not in the light of modern standards against violence, but in the light of a people who were seeking the justice desired by God. Regardless of what we think about biblical warfare, which is often described in very exaggerated language, we are meant to view Moses, the holy man of God in our first reading, like the persistent widow in the Gospel, whose prayer for a just outcome in this battle with the Amalekites even needed the assistance of others, so tired were Moses’ hands and arms raised in blessing. It is the persistence of Moses and the unnamed widow which bring about changes for the better, and it is persistence that we are called to in our prayers.
“Prayer really works,” says Sr. Mary McGlone, “it grounds us in the grace we need to move unjust judges and is the impetus for every other good work.” It is never about “wearing down” a loving God, who then “gives in” to something that was never in His divine plan for the world. Persistent prayer draws us deeper into the mystery of God, and thus it changes us for the better; it doesn’t change God. The widow in today’s gospel represents all men and women who act like God when they persistently seek, often against terrible odds, to have justice done: whenever people hold self-serving politicians feet to the fire, when they uncover the greed and corruption that siphon off money from the poor, when they work to have children well-fed and free of violence, work to improve education and break down the barriers of hate and prejudice, and fight insurance companies and hospitals to provide the health care their sick loved ones need; it is then that the gospel widow is in our midst. When Moms become advocates, and Dads become guardians, taking on the most obstinate bureaucracies for the assistance and services their child is entitled to but denied, it is then that the widow is in our midst. When parents and spouses work tirelessly to raise awareness, raise money, and, when necessary, raise Cain, so that their loved one may live as full a life as possible, so that a cure might be found, so that other families will not have to experience the pain and anguish they have known, it is then that the Gospel widow in our midst.
When all peoples who face down the “dishonest judges” of arrogance, pride and avarice, and who take on the “fearful judges” of insensitivity and unawareness, and go toe-to-toe with the “judges who fear neither God nor respect any human being,” who bully but never advise – it is then that the persistent widow is in our midst. Today’s parable is not only about persistence in prayer, it is about justice, the justice that can only be brought about by a loving and caring God.