Twenty-Ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time (C)


Commentary on Exodus 17:8-13, 2 Timothy 3:14-4:2 and Luke 18:1-8

God will see justice done to his chosen who cry to him. (Gospel)

PRAYER AND SPECIFICALLY PRAYER OF PETITION is the theme of today’s Mass. There are many kinds of prayer: praise, thanksgiving, intercession and petition. There is mental and vocal prayer. There is meditation and contemplation. We can pray privately on our own or in the company of others. There is private prayer and the public prayer and worship of the Church, which we call liturgy. Each one has its time and place.

In today’s Gospel Jesus speaks about prayer of petition, asking God for what we need (as opposed to just what we want or would like to have).

The First Reading describes the prayer of Moses in time of battle. As long as he kept his arms up, the Israelites were winning; if he let them down because of tiredness, they would begin to lose. Eventually his aides propped up his arms so that they would have the final victory. Although it could be seen that way, this is not really manipulation or superstition. Rather it is an expression of total dependence on God: without him there would be no victory. “Without me, you can do nothing,” Jesus told his disciples at the Last Supper.

The widow and the judge

The Gospel is a parable about a judge and a poor widow who is seeking justice. The point is that if even a totally corrupt person who cares neither for God nor man can be made to yield to the pestering of a totally defenceless and resourceless (no money to bribe) widow, how much more will a loving and caring God take care of his children? The lesson then is to keep on asking.

Does that mean we can keep asking for just anything? Some friends asked me once to pray they would win the $50,000 jackpot at the local parish bingo. I half-jokingly replied that this was an abuse of prayer! It was not a prayer that we could seriously expect God to honour. (And, if they had won, would that have been an answer to their prayer or simply good luck?)

The widow, on the other hand, asked for something which God would certainly want for her – justice. Jesus elsewhere compares God to a decent, caring parent. Would such a parent give a child a stone when he asked for bread? Would a parent give a scorpion to a child who asked for an egg? If even worldly parents will give their children what they need, says Jesus, how much more will a loving God see to the needs of his children?

On that occasion, Jesus concluded his teaching by saying that God will always give good things to those who ask him. Luke’s version says that God will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask.

The good things

What are these “good” things? How do we ask for the Holy Spirit? Surely it means asking for those things which will bring us closer to God; what helps us to know, love and serve him better; what helps us reach a deeper understanding of his teaching… It means above all asking to know what is his will for us and the strength to carry it out. It is asking that his will become our will so that there is a complete harmonising of the two. I want to do what God wants me to do. His will and mine are one. And I end up doing what I want! Isn’t that wonderful?!

Another way of reading the parable

When we read this parable about perseverance, we usually think of it in these terms: God is the judge and we are the widow. This means we should persevere in pestering God until we are given what we want.

But what happens, asks Sister Melannie Svoboda, if we turn that around and say that we are the judge and God is the widow? In some ways, this interpretation makes more sense.

We, like the judge, are basically unjust. Sometimes we, too, have no fear of God; that is, we do not allow God to scare us into being good. Similarly, like the judge we persist in refusing to listen to the cries of the poor all around us.

But God is the persistent widow who will not go away. God keeps badgering us, refusing to accept as final our no to love. God will persist until we render a just judgement, that is, until we let the goodness out, until we learn to love. In Genesis we are told we are made in the image and likeness of God.

Perhaps our prayer could be: Dear God, Persevering One, make us more like you!

[The ideas in the last section come from Sister Melannie Svoboda SND, Review for Religious, Sept-Oct 1996]

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