2 Timothy 3. 14 – 4. 5
Luke 18. 1 – 8
We’ve had a run of tricky little parables recently, and today’s is no exception. I’d like us to focus on the two characters.
We have the judge – something like a justice of the peace – an upstanding citizen, with a duty to see that justice is done.
But he’s not a very good judge. He’s almost a caricature of a bad judge – “no fear of God and no respect for anyone” – not bothered, got better things to do. And it gets worse when we see who the petitioner is.
We’re told she’s a widow. In the parable, this means more than simply that her husband has died. In the scriptures, whenever we’re told someone’s a widow, we’re being told they’re one of the most vulnerable in society. They don’t have any security: ‘widow’ means no parents, no children, and of course no source of income.
That’s why in the Bible you often hear talk of justice specifically ‘for the orphan and widow.’ It’s scriptural code for people who are on their own, totally isolated from society.
However, paradoxically, it’s often widows who show the power of God, and reveal his work in the world. Think of Tamar, Naomi, Ruth, Judith, Anna – and Our Lady, to name a few.
And our widow has something more about her as well.
I don’t usually go into the original languages of the Bible in a homily… because, to be honest, when I hear a preacher do it I usually think, ‘well that was interesting’ and then promptly forget all about it.
But I think you’ll remember this one. In verse five our translation says that the judge relents and grants the widow justice, “so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.”
But a literal translation of the Greek says that he decides to give her justice because, “otherwise, she will keep coming and end up giving me a black eye!”
Perhaps this widow isn’t quite as helpless as our translators let on!
We’re told that this is a parable to help the disciples realise that they “need to pray always and not to lose heart.”
So the obvious response is to put ourselves in the place of the persistent widow, and God in place of the judge.
And the standard reading of this parable is that if even such a bad judge as this will grant justice in the end, how much more will God – who is justice itself – grant it to those who appeal to him.
And that’s absolutely true. But to me, it just feels a little problematic
You’ll have heard me say before that parables are not neat moral tales, with easy answers. Their purpose, rather, is to reveal something about who God is; and how he deals with us in Jesus Christ.
So is this really how Jesus thinks we should picture God, his father? As a bad judge, uncaring and unsympathetic – who’ll only give us what we want if we go on about it for long enough – and only then, to shut us up?
And is he really encouraging us to think that we’re the blameless ones, hard done by – and that we should pester God in our prayers to the point of violence to get what we want?
I think it’s unlikely. How, then, can we read this parable?
Well, what if we’re not the righteous widow, and God isn’t the terrible judge?
What if we flip it around, and it turns out that we’re the ones who fail to listen, and fail to care? The ones with better things to do – who continue in our own selfish and sinful ways instead of seeking for justice?
And what if God is the one who keeps coming back to us again and again? Who, in Jesus, continually knocks on the door of our hearts – even when we ignore him and follow our own way?
The people of Israel believed that they were like the widow – the oppressed ones, cut off from their birth right – crying out continually to God for justice.
But Jesus was the righteous one. Born in the poverty of a stable, he came to bring relief to the oppressed, and justice to the orphan and widow. He came to call the people back to God – and they judged him; they rejected him; they crucified him.
St Paul identified the problem in our first reading: we humans don’t put up with sound doctrine; we have “itching ears, and accumulate teachers to suit our own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.”
He could be talking about 21st century society, when people are casting aside the Church’s teachings, and instead follow the religion of ‘what seems right to me.’
The sad truth is that humans keep falling away from God. But the wonderful truth is that he keeps coming back for us, time and time again – like the persistent widow, he keeps crying out for justice, longing to show us mercy, and call us closer to him.
After the fall from Eden, when our first parents ignored God, and followed their own way… he came back for us, when he spoke to Abraham, and called a people to himself. He called to us again, through the prophets.
He called to us yet again, through the gift of a Saviour, his Son. And he calls to us even now, through the scriptures, through the sacraments of the Church – he is ever faithful, and calls us back to himself.
May we listen to that call; and may we be faithful to him. Amen.