29th Sunday in O.T. October 16. 2016
Ex 17:8-13 Ps 121 2 Tm 3:14—4:2 Lk 18:;1-8
Deacon Jim McFadden; SJB & (New) Folsom Prison
This parable conjures up images of people petitioning God for a specific purpose, not getting what they want, not giving up, but turning up the volume until God caves in. Behind this view is that we can change God’s mind in prayer if we just nag him until he gives in. This parable instead shows us that persistent prayer allows us to tap into divine energy that will ultimately transform the most intractable injustice.
Today’s parable involves two persons, a widow and a judge, who are opposed to one another. The judge neither fears God nor respects any human being. The widow is an irresistible force who is not going to be put off by being put off. So what happens?
The widow knows she can’t count on the judge adhering to the covenant duty of taking care of widows. Nor can she appeal to his sense of mercy and compassion because he has none. She only has one thing going for her: justice is on her side and he, being a judge, is supposed to minister justice. So, the one who has no voice, has to rely only on her voice. Therefore, persistence is her only fall back position. She keeps on praying and the judge finally gives in. It’s not because he fears God or respects people. No, the only reason he capitulates is that the widow keeps bothering him and he wants to get rid of her. The prayer of the widow that is grounded in God’s loving power finally wore him down.
There is no power, there is no principality, there is no unjust situation that can destroy God’s caring love. We too must not let the violence, wars, hunger, and poverty that abound in our world to wear us down, but rely instead on the power of prayer to guide us to right action.
From Moses to Jesus, we know that God answers the cry for justice by pouring his mercy and grace into the hearts of those who cry out to him. This truth is explicitly revealed in the Burning Bush episode (Ex 3:7-10) when God reassures Moses that he witnesses the affliction of his people, that he hears their cries of complaint, and that he understands full well what the are suffering. And, he sends Moses to liberate his people from Egyptian oppression just as he sent Jesus to free us from the tyranny of sin and death.
Now it is our turn to pray continuously so that the channel between God and the human person remains open. If we pray when we feel like it, do it in spurts, then the divine energy will occasionally spurt, but may ultimately dry up. Rather, when we pray persistently, a steady, divine flow will permeate us and this divine energy will wear down injustice. There is no force that can overcome God’s goodness, which is the boundless source of the passion for justice. St. Therese of Lisieux put it beautifully when she wrote that “For me prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy” (cf. CCC, 2558). Therese’s love for God was so full that she gave her heart totally. That’s what transforms people; that’s what changes society. Prayer is the language of a loving promise between ourselves and God.
Our prayer will lead each of us in our own unique way to have an open heart and be the face of God in the world. Some will feel compelled to minister to those in prisons; others will be drawn to feed the hungry; others will use their gifts to advocate for and be the voice for the marginalized. Our Dismissal Rite at the end of the Mass sends us into the world. In the Liturgy of the Eucharist we receive the Body and Blood of Christ. Now, we, the Body of Christ, the Church, become the Bread of Life to the world. We engage in a spiritual battle against the forces that do not fear God nor care for the dignity of human beings. We can do no other because we are members of the mystical Body of Christ and we follow where Jesus leads us.
Church at SJB, we are challenged to pray always and not lose heart. This is more than being persistent in the face of difficulties. It’s more than not giving up. It means we come forward with a courageous love and a strong faithfulness to the ways of peace and justice because we worship God who is Love, who is just, and who is the only source of peace. The temptation in wrangling with injustice is that we become unjust ourselves. We try to win on the same terms that the unjust judge used. If we give into that, we will respect God and others less and less. So, Jesus teaches us not to fight evil with evil, violence with violence but with goodness. That’s his Way. And, we can only live this way if we integrate our hearts into the merciful and Sacred Heart of Jesus.
After pondering over this parable, I’ve come to the conclusion that Jesus is the relentless widow who prays always to the Father until the heart of his Church becomes fully the heart of God. Amen.