Sunday Gospel — the judge and the widow

The Gospel of Luke, Chapter 18, verses 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?”

I had tried to prepare this Sunday’s gospel with my children. I was not feeling inspired, but I have long ago given up the thought that my level of excitement is a good indicator of what’s really going on. Basically, I tried to extrapolate from the parable the idea that we should pray continually and not be afraid to make requests of God, because if the judge would finally yield to the widow, how much more would a just and loving God respond to our prayers.

This was awkward, at best, because going through my mind as we talked was the thought that I was passing on problem of “magical thinking”: we pray, and if we pray enough or in the right way, God gives us a pony, just like a big, magical Santa Claus. It’s no surprise that children who grow up with this idea of prayer reject God later, when it turns out that God is not a big, magical Santa Claus.

Today’s homily during Mass made things much clearer. The parable does tell us something about God and our relationship to God. It’s just that the judge is plainly not the god-figure. The widow is the god-figure, who persists in the face of human hard-heartedness, injustice, uncaring, and faithlessness. We are not usually in the place of the widow, pleading to a capricious judge; we are too often the judge who ignores the need for justice or the basic demands of discipleship, like acting kindly towards those closest to us, let alone those we don’t know.

This made such sense I felt embarrassed about our earlier discussion of the Gospel passage. I felt a little stuck in that childish idea of a God who grants wishes, and I felt relieved by being reminded that in Jesus God calls us to participate as “priest, prophet, and king” in the kingdom of heaven rather than begging for the scraps from the table.

The question “will the Son of Man find faith on earth” is then not a question about whether we’re begging God frequently enough to take our side against an adversary, but whether we are persistent in our work as Church.

Published in: on October 21, 2007 at 12:21 pm  Leave a Comment  

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