Ps 121 R/. Our help is from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
2 Tim 3:14-4:2
Today, Luke’s Gospel gives us yet another one of Jesus’ famous parables: the ‘Parable of the Unjust Judge’, sometimes also called the ‘Parable of the Nagging Widow’. Perhaps the first title is more appropriate, because it better describes the judge as unjust, and it puts the widow in a better light, as one who pleads for justice rather than just being a nag…
I’m not trying to make a joke about it, nor am I trying to split hairs: Luke’s made this a bit more explicit than you might think! If we look at the Gospel text, we notice that 4 times in these 8 verses Luke speaks about ‘granting justice’ (vv. 3, 4, 7, 8). Whenever a Biblical author repeats something several times like this, it’s always a cue for us to pay closer attention to that point.
In the context of this parable, the point of ‘granting justice’ is key to properly understanding the message. You see, Jesus isn’t telling us here that if we nag Him or the Father we’ll get whatever we ask for! He’s not saying that if we have a tantrum over and over again we’ll get our way, as if we’re spoiled children and God is a weak, manipulatable parent!
No! The word ‘justice’ prevents that kind of interpretation. You see, Luke’s very clear in explaining that the judge is selfish: he neither feared God nor had respect for any human being (v. 2). On the other hand, the widow is pleading for ‘justice’. Now there’s a hidden power here in the title of ‘widow’. In Scripture, the title of ‘widow’ a loaded one! A ‘widow’ is a woman who was essentially destitute: she no longer had an adult male relative (husband, sons, etc.) to provide for her and protect her, and she hadn’t been able to inherit his property. That meant a widow was vulnerable and open to abuse. That’s why Scripture usually puts her in the same group as orphans: the poorest of the poor, the weakest of the weak (cf. Ex 22:21-22; Dt 24:17; 24:19; 20-21; Job 24:4; 29:12; 31:16; Is 10:2).
It’s also why God specifically states that a widow has special protection in the Law and in His heart: Cursed be anyone who deprives the alien, the orphan, and the widow of justice (Dt 27:19; and cf. also Ex 22:21-24; Dt 10: 17-18; 14:28-29; 26:23; 27:19; Ps 72:4, 12-14).
So this is the context of this parable: the judge is an evil man who’s ignoring the plight of the poor and weak widow. She, on the other hand, isn’t evil: she’s righteous and pleads only for justice. That’s why Jesus says the Father will hear the cries of His chosen ones and quickly give them justice (v. 7).
But herein lies the key point for us: our cries to God must be righteous and not evil; they must be done in goodness and not in selfishness. Just because we cry for something we think we need doesn’t mean that it’s the best thing for us. God is wisdom: He knows what’s best for us, and He’ll only give us what is good. I think you who are parents can identify with this!
So before we can turn to God in our need, we first need to turn to Him. Our hearts and minds need to be attuned to God so that we might know what we need. As the Opening Prayer said, we need to conform our will to His; we need to desire what He desires, what He wants to give us. And notice how Jesus says God will grant to His ‘chosen ones’ (v. 7)? His ‘chosen ones’: this implies a relationship, an intimacy with God, a dependence on His grace and mercy. And this is where the image of the widow comes into play again: the widow, in her destitution, is completely dependant on God.
Well, prayer awakens us to how, in a sense, we’re all widows and orphans in the eyes of God, how destitute we really are, how helpless we are without Him. Prayer helps us realise our need to depend on God, and this dependence on God, this trusting abandonment to His grace and help, this is the real message of today’s Gospel! Our help is from the Lord, we said in the Psalm, and we always need to remember that. We aren’t saved by our own works; we don’t get justice by our own hands. The Lord is our keeper (Ps 121:5)! That’s why Moses had to keep his hands raised in prayer: to invoke God’s help. And notice how he’s not alone in this: through Aaron and Hur, the whole community is supporting him.
The Lord is our keeper; He is our strength and our shield (cf. Ps 28:7); the more we turn to Him, the more we recognise how much we need Him. That’s why prayer is so important for us. Prayer keeps us close to Jesus, and keeps our hearts and minds fixed on Him as our Saviour. Without prayer, we become independent, self-absorbed, distant from God, blind, spiritually dead.
But prayer awakens and strengthens faith, and faith, in turn, strengthens prayer. That’s why Jesus finishes His parable by asking, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth (v. 8)? Faith, then, is necessarily tied to prayer and dependence on God. If we don’t depend on God for salvation and help, how can we say we have faith? How can we say we trust in Him?
May we, then, like the pleading widow, constantly turn to God in trustful prayer so as to grow in faith and in complete dependence on Him; may our hope and salvation be in Him alone. Amen.
We don’t always know what’s best for ourselves, but God knows! So in our prayer, we must ask Him to helps us know what it is we need, and then to ask Him for it. Now, I think I need to clarify what ‘prayer’ means. There’s a difference between ‘saying prayers’ and ‘praying’. Saying prayers, like reciting the Rosary or the Our Father, is good, and we need to do it; but it’s not quite ‘praying’. Saying prayers, which is properly called ‘vocal prayer’, is meant to lead us into ‘praying’, by focussing our hearts and minds and opening them up to God. It’s the first stage, if you will. But ‘praying’ goes deeper than that: praying is a conversation of the heart with God. In other languages there’s a different word to describe it; perhaps we could more properly call it ‘meditation’, which is when we make ourselves present to God to ponder on His wonders, His actions, His Word. This takes silence and time. It’s what helps us to go deeper in our relationship with Him; what helps us to know Him better, and to better recognise His presence in our lives. It’s in this level of prayer that the grace of the Sacraments is opened up.
It’s in this ‘praying’ or ‘meditation’ that we’re sanctified as we grow in faith and in love for God. It’s here that our hearts are changed, our minds enlightened, and our consciences formed. Now, this isn’t to say that God doesn’t hear us in vocal prayer; He most certainly does! But He wants us to go deeper, He wants us to grow closer, and that can only happen through regular meditation. And it’s in this meditation that we will recognise our true needs: our need for God, our need for His grace, our need for His gifts.