In today’s gospel, Jesus offers a compelling example of faithful perseverance. It’s the brief but unforgettable parable of the pesky widow who won’t take no for an answer. For what Jesus hints must have been a considerable time, she has relentlessly beseeched the judge to resolve her case by giving her what she was due. The widow was looking for justice, but the infamous judge, whom Jesus said “neither feared God nor respected any human being,” didn’t want to be bothered. Eventually, however, her persistence wore him down. Knowing that she will never give up, the judge finally rendered a decision.
Sometimes we are tempted to give up because we wonder if what we do really matters. Day after day, week after week, year after year, we strive to be faithful to our commitments, to follow the way of Christ, and to live truly good and holy lives. But does it make any difference? We do our best to love the people God brings into our lives, we try to be just and thoughtful, generous and kind, but after a while can doubt whether the good we do will ever nudge the world to a better place. At that point, it is easy to grow disillusioned, replacing faithful perseverance with cynicism, hope with complacency, and love with a gradual turning in on ourselves.
This parable is the only one in the gospels that ends with a question, and a provocative one it is: “But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Through the story of this indefatigable widow, Jesus suggests that true “faith on earth” is exhibited not through spectacularly heroic deeds, but through the faithful perseverance by which we each day fulfill the commitments and responsibilities of our lives. What will Jesus find in us? We need to remember that the world is held together, and sustained in hope, not by the dazzling deeds of the powerful, but by the faithful perseverance of ordinary people like us.
Paul J. Wadell is Professor Emeritus of Theology & Religious Studies at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin, and a member of the extended Passionist family.