In our Gospel reading for Sunday (Luke 18:1-8), Jesus tells a parable “about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary.” The parable is about a widow who keeps after a dishonest judge to “render a just decision” for her against her adversary. The judge couldn’t care less about the merits of her claim, but decides to render a decision in her favor for fear that she might do something to him.
Jesus is not equating God with a dishonest judge, but says to the people: “Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says. Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night? Will he be slow to answer them? I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily. But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
When I look at our world today, and see wars and oppression, poverty and discrimination and injustice, I find myself struggling with those words of Jesus: “I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily.” Has that been our experience? I think many of us would say “No.”
When I started to write this, one thing came to mind, but now there are two. One has to do with how we normally understand justice. It is tempting to equate justice with vengeance. I’m sure many people in Jesus’ time would have thought that justice meant the obliteration of the Roman occupiers, as well as the tax collectors, and probably the Pharisees and the scribes as well. But Jesus never calls for that.
What else could justice mean except the punishment of the wicked? But could it mean more the salvation of the righteous (Not the self-righteous, mind you)? And has God been slow with that?
Another thing that comes to mind is that perhaps God wants to use us as instruments of answering the prayers of others for justice and peace. In our first reading from Exodus (17:8-13), Amalek has waged war against the Israelites. As Joshua leads the Israelites in battle, Moses watches from a high place, and as long as Moses “kept his hands raised up [with the staff of God], Israel had the better of the fight, but when he let his hands rest, Amalek had the better of the fight.” So Aaron and Hur take a rock for Moses to sit on, and they support Moses’ hands, until Israel wins the battle.
This speaks to me of our call to help support others in their need. There are times when we do get weary, and we cry out to God for deliverance. Are we willing to help lift others up, as God sends others to lift us up?
We are called to be persistent in prayer, that we continue to live in hope and in trust of God. We continue to pray that we may be open to God using us to answer the prayers of others. We are called to be persistent, as St. Paul writes in our second reading (2 Timothy 3:14-17, 4:1-2) in proclaiming “the word, whether it is convenient or inconvenient.” This is so to help others, as well as ourselves, to not grow weary.
And one more thing: It may not only be the widow or poor person being persistent at knocking at our door. It may be God.
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P., is the local superior of the Passionist Community in Birmingham, Alabama.