29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
In today's Gospel, Jesus tells us a parable about prayer. We know that parables are stories, little mysteries that invite us to ask questions: what more can Jesus mean?
“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--someone who is supposed to make decisions about what is right and what is wrong; and a widow--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, a woman was supposed to be cared for by a man. If she had a problem, a man should speak up for her. A woman whose husband had died would have lost the man most likely to speak up for her. It would NOT have been appropriate for the woman to approach the judge directly. In the law of Moses it states that widows are to be taken care of, but who is taking care of this widow? We know then that she is in serious trouble, and also that the community is not supporting her and is not following God. Things are not right.
We also know that the widow knows where she can get help. She is also persistent. She asks and asks and asks for help. She doesn't 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 was long gone. The judge in the parable is unjust, Jesus says. The judge doesn't necessarily care about doing what is right. He does not have wonder and awe before God; he does not respect people. Things are not right.
We also know that the judge has the power to do what is right and just. We know that 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.
A parable about praying.
The judge is certainly not like God, right? That's pretty clear when Jesus says he does not respect people and he only acts when he gets tired of the woman pestering him.
But it is also true that God can seem to be like the judge. When answers to prayers don't seem to come quickly. When it doesn't seem like God cares.
It is pretty safe to say that although it can feel like God is not listening, we are supposed to take away the message that we need to be like the widow and pray and pray and pray.
But why? Eventually, the widow got what she needed. Her faith demanded and received action.
What else, though? What can we say about the relationship between the widow and the judge after this encounter?
The widow knows more certainly that the judge will act justly. She knows more certainly that he has the power. The judge knows who this woman is--she is a very persistent person, and she 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.