(Begin by reading the Gospel. Better yet, ask someone to read it to you. The Word is meant to be heard.)
In the Gospel for this Sunday Gospel, Jesus tells us a parable about prayer. We know there are different kinds of prayer, different reasons for praying. We can pray in thanksgiving for the blessings we enjoy. We can praise God, telling all the world how great and good God is. The kind of prayer that most people know, though, is prayers of petition or intercession—asking for God's help for ourselves or for someone else. This is the kind of prayer that Jesus talks about in this parable.
“In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’”
There are two people in this parable: a judge who makes decisions about what is right and what is wrong, and a woman whose husband has died. We can ask ourselves, who are these people like?
What do we know about the widow?
In Jesus' time, women do not have the same rights they have today. Men are supposed to take care of women, making sure they are well fed and have a good home. When a woman has a problem, she requires a man to speak up for her, to get the help she needs. It is NOT appropriate for a woman to approach a judge directly.
A widow has a big problem—she has lost the person who takes care of her and the person most likely to get the help she needs. In the law of Moses, in the Holy Bible, it states that widows are to be taken care of—but who is taking care of this widow? When she approaches the judge on her own, then, we know that she is in serious trouble. We know that the community is not supporting her and is not following God.
Things are not right.
But this widow knows where she can get help. And she is persistent.
She asks and asks and asks for help. She does not give up.
What do we know about the judge?
There was a time in Israel's history when the rulers of the land were judges, not kings. Judges were honourable and made decisions about what was right and just. That time was long before Jesus was born. It was a glorious time in the history of Israel, but it is long gone. The judge in the parable is unjust, Jesus says. The judge does not necessarily care about doing what is right and just. He does not have wonder and awe before God; he does not respect people.
Things are not right.
But this judge has the power to do what is right and just. He delays in helping but eventually does what is right and just, because he gets sick of the woman's pestering. He can be worn down.
Certainly, the judge is not like God. This is pretty clear when Jesus says he does not respect people and only acts when he gets tired of the woman pestering him.
But it is also true that sometimes God can seem like the judge.
When answers to prayers do not seem to come quickly.
When it seems like God does not even care.
St. Luke tells us at the very beginning, that this is
a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.
St. Luke wants us to get the message that, although it may feel like God is not listening, we need to be like the widow and pray and pray and pray.
Eventually, the widow gets what she needs. Her faith demands and receives action.
What else, though? What can we say about the relationship between the widow and the judge after this encounter?
The widow knows with more certainty that the judge will act justly. She knows with more certainty that he has the power. The judge knows this woman is a very persistent person, and the woman knows that about herself, too. We can say then, that there is deeper knowing from this encounter. Their relationship has deepened.
When we pray, our relationship with God deepens. Bishop Robert Barron says that prayer, "awakens a blessing in us...it taps into a power that is there, that wants to help us." When we pray, we come to know God more deeply. We draw closer to the One who knows us and calls us each by name.