Saturday of Week 32 of Ordinary Time – Gospel

Commentary on Luke 18:1-8

One of the attributes attributed to Luke is that his is a “Gospel of Prayer”. We see Jesus praying in this Gospel more than in the others and he gives more teaching about prayer. Today Jesus tells a parable urging perseverance:

Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.

This is very much a theme in Paul’s letters (see Rom 1:10; 12:12; Eph 6:18; Col 1:3; 1 Thess 5:17; 2 Thess 1:11; 2 Thess 3:13; 2 Cor 4:1,16; Gal 6:9 and Eph 3:13).

The parable features a totally corrupt judge, who fears neither God nor man. It also features a widow, probably the most powerless, the most pitiful and least pitied of people in the society of that time. She has lost her husband, re-marriage is out of the question, she has lost the support of her own family and her husband’s family, and there is nothing comparable to social welfare for her to lean on.

As far as a corrupt judge is concerned, she can be ignored. She has neither power nor money (for bribing). But this widow is different – she is persistent and will not give up. Eventually, the judge, for his sheer peace of mind, settles in her favour.

If, Jesus concludes, a corrupt and ruthless judge can be moved by the perseverance of a helpless widow, what kind of response can we expect when we, his people, call out in our helplessness to our loving and compassionate God?

I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them.

That is, he will give them what is rightfully due to them.

But, says Jesus in a challenge which should make us sit up and take notice:

And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?

Times of persecution are on the way – they have already begun as this Gospel is written – and some will give up under pressure. They will not persevere in keeping close contact with God in prayer, finding him and his peace in the midst of their sufferings.

It is easy to pray when things are going well. It is often in times of pressure that we, too, give up praying when we need it most, when our faith is really being put to the test. We have to pray constantly and consistently. We should not be afraid to ask for what we believe we really need.

But then, if God is such a caring person, why should we have to pray to him at all? We need to keep praying, not for his sake, but for our own. By doing so, we maintain an awareness that:

I can do nothing on my own. (John 5:30)

Secondly, the more we pray, the closer we come to God. And, as we pray, what we ask for will gradually change. Ultimately what we want is what we need. And what we need is to bring our thinking, our dreams, our ambitions totally into line with God’s way of seeing things. The problem is, as Jesus says at the end today, how many people will really be doing that when he comes looking for us?

How often do I pray? How consistently do I ask? What do I ask for? What do I really want? Do I distinguish between what I want and what I really need? And do I really have that faith and trust in the loving providence of my God?

There is another and very different interpretation of this passage. 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 our needs are met.

But what happens 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 judgment, 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!

*This second interpretation of the parable comes from Sister Melanie Svoboda SND, Review for Religious, Sept-Oct 1996.

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