On first reading, today’s parable may seem uneventful. The widow does not strike the judge nor does the judge change and become just. He is more like the rich man in the story of Lazarus (16:19-31) who goes cluelessly to hell than Zacchaeus who repents and becomes a disciple (19:1-10). There is no movement either externally or internally. That indeed is the point and gives the parable its weight and power.
With his customary economy of language, Luke paints a devastating portrait of the judge. Fear of the Lord was deemed the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 1:7) and the esteem of the righteous a great honor. (Prov. 31:23) He shows neither. Also, as widows were dependent on families for their survival, they were a vulnerable class of people. To counteract this Jewish law gave them significant protections but these protections depended on honest judges for enforcement. (Deut. 24:17-19) The widow in the story understood quite clearly that the judge for her case did not care about her at all and would not extend himself to defend her. As he did not have a good side to exploit, her best strategy was to badger and intimidate him. She knew her man and it worked.
The early Christians were as vulnerable as widows. By the time Luke wrote they were excluded from Jewish worship and could be arrested for atheism: not worshipping the emperor. They expected the Lord to return soon but what should they do before he did? The parable opens today with Jesus insisting that we pray always and quickly adds without becoming weary.
They were told to look at the Lord as shrewdly as the widow looked at the Judge. What have they experienced of him. Unlike the judge, he is all wise and unlike him has shown his commitment to them by his sacrificial death. The greatest difference is that the judge did not want a relationship with the poor and the marginal. Like the rich man who ignored Lazarus, the widow was virtually invisible to the judge and most of the early Christians would have been likewise unseen.
The Lord, however, has counted the hairs on our heads. (Luke 12:7) He sees, knows, and loves us more clearly and passionately than we can comprehend. Jesus wants a relationship with us both as individuals and as a community. His sacrifice has created a covenant with us that he will never abandon.
The Lord will never break his bond with us, but we will break it with him. The history of Israel is the story of human unfaithfulness and we have continued it. The parable today reminds us that this relationship like any other is maintained and straightened by conversation. This special conversation we call prayer.
The part of the Catechism of the Catholic Church that I have most read is the section on prayer. (Part 4) It is both enlightening and moving. Prayer is the way we communicate with God; the catechism urges us to have a repertory of styles of prayer. We can never lose sight that we are never God’s equal, we always approach him as his servants but we should never feel too proud to ask Jesus for forgiveness and favor
There are many traditions of prayer. The foundation for Catholics is liturgical prayer. As we as a parish discovered during Covid our repertoire of liturgical prayer includes not only the Eucharist but the “Liturgy of the hours” as well. We continue this every Friday afternoon with online vespers as a parish and many parishioners have started saying the “Office” as it is also called at home.
There are many other public devotions as well that have proven the test of time. These include the Rosary (which I again remind you we have online on Monday and Wednesday afternoons), Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament but also retreats and pilgrimages. As Covid dissipates you will hear more about these options.
Prayer, however, must also be private. More than suggest, the church requires that we pray each day as individuals. She does not, however, tell us how to pray. The BBB read Fr James Martin’s “Learning to Pray” this summer. He outlined the most popular traditions and their techniques in the Church. Our conversation with God respects our individual personalities and experiences and we can choose the tradition that works best for us. Although they share many common elements there are enough differences that it may take time to find the best fit.
The best fit of course can change, I do not talk with my best friend of 50 years as I did when we were 20. My conversation with Jesus has also changed and I hope grown as well.
Our world is in many ways completely different from that of the early church, but the difficulties remain eerily similar. We do not get much external support for leading a Christian life in the global north. Keeping up our conversation with God by praying always is essential in maintaining our relationship with him. Yet it is so easy to become weary.
We must be clear eyed and unsentimental as the widow in the parable. She experienced the judge and acted accordingly. This was a town, not a city, he may not have known her, but she knew all about him. If we have truly experienced Jesus, then we will know that no matter how strong the forces that work against the gospel Jesus is so powerful that he has already conquered.
Should members of the early church join us today perhaps they would be surprised and saddened that the Lord has not returned but they might be even more surprised but overjoyed that there is still faith on the earth. However imperfectly Christians have maintained the covenant with Jesus for 2000 years and may need to do so for uncountable generations to come. Only God knows for certain, for us perhaps the only certain thing is that if our fathers and mothers in the faith were to be with us today, they would join us in unceasing prayer.