Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Luke 18: 1-8
The classic way to stay in touch with God is prayer. Small wonder then that Luke writes so insistently about prayer when he shows us how to accompany Jesus on his journey to Jerusalem. Although the ideal prayer for Christians is praise and thanksgiving, there is also a place for prayers of petition, as today’s gospel parable makes quite clear.
The story-line of the parable is clear and compelling. In ancient Israel, widows were often listed among the more vulnerable members of society. And it appears that the widow of the parable has in fact been defrauded of her property by unscrupulous persons. Her only recourse is the local judge. But he has long since abandoned his covenant morality and is swayed only by bribes–something that the destitute widow cannot provide.
This unprincipled judge is proud of his freedom from the demands of true religion, Moreover, he is happy to proclaim this false freedom on every occasion. (He may remind us of the agnostic physician in Bernanos’ Diary of a Country Priest). However, the persistence of the widow gradually wears him down and finally causes him to grant her justice. The lesson drawn by Jesus is crystal clear: How much more likely is God, the most just of all judges, ready to grant our requests for justice when we are treated unfairly!
The point of this parable is probably more subtle than we may at first surmise. Jesus is not just telling us that we must doggedly persevere in prayer even when no answer seems to be provided. That is true, no doubt, but the real point here concerns our attitude toward God. For many of us, God seems so remote and so insensitive to our pleas that we may feel that he is not that different from the judge in the parable. As a matter of experience, our God does not always seem ready to give us the justice that we seek.
The deeper lesson of the parable is concerned, therefore, with our experience of the reality and presence of God in our lives. It is faith alone that enables us to experience God as One who is exceedingly good and who loves us very much. We will want to persist in our prayers to him, not just because we need his help, but primarily because we want simply to stay in touch with this wonderful Person, who loves us unconditionally. In the long run, this loving God will give us all that we need…and much more.
Our relationship with God is not unlike that of children who expect their parents to respond positively to every request they have. But good and loving parents know that these requests are not always in the best interest of their children. I suspect that many children would quit school or eat only junk food if their parents would allow it. The important thing for all concerned is to maintain a loving and trusting contact, in spite of occasional bumps in the road. Today’s parable reminds us that this is even more true of our relationship with God.
Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B.