God never gives up his call to justice
By Denise Simeone
Catholic Key Scripture Columni
The Good News for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 17, 2004
2 Timothy 3:14 - 4:2
MOST SCRIPTURE scholars agree that Jesus is the one who told the parable found in verses 2-5 of this weeks' Gospel. Yet the introductory verses aligning the parable to persistent prayer and the closing verses comparing the actions of God and the judge may show Luke's hand in interpreting the parable. So we might consider this story in two parts. What might Luke have been saying to his community by adding this interpretation? And what might the original parable mean if it is separated from the additions about prayer?
Lucy Lind Hogan writing in "New Proclamation" reminds us that Luke's community waited and prayed for the return of the Son of Man. "But that community may have waited with even more fervor and more distress. .The early church expected Christ to return at any moment and agonized when, each moment, his return did not occur. We may say and sing, 'Come, Lord Jesus,' but for them it was a heartfelt plea. And so they felt like the widow who was waiting for vindication."
Luke wanted his community to remain hopeful in the face of persecution and oppression. Like Moses' arms that wearied and dropped during battle, the members of Luke's community were losing their strength and resolve. When would the Messiah return? They were weary and hope was fading away. Luke reminded them to stay the course. Pray and God's reign would come in God's time. We can see why Luke reminded his community to pray unceasingly and keep faith so that the Son of Man would find it when he comes.
But what of the original parable? What would it have been like for Jesus' listeners to hear this story?
Jesus was a great storyteller, an artist with language and imagery. Sometimes in our effort to explain the parables, we turn them simply into allegories and miss their point. Even more difficult is hearing the stories the way that Jesus' Jewish and Gentile listeners would have heard them. It is difficult for us to comprehend the cultural, social and political implications of his stories because we are not immersed in their Galilean world. Yet that is what made Jesus such a master - his stories intimately touched the world in which he lived. Jesus' listeners loved to hear stories. It was a means of both learning and entertainment since most could not read.
This story began in a town with a judge who was recognized as one of the elite in contrast to many of Jesus' listeners who were the lowly and poor. But this judge was not worthy of such status. Judges were expected to take special care of widows, orphans and aliens as the law mandated. In stories judges were supposed to represent God. Yet this judge was shameless and paid no notice to the law. Jesus' listeners would have looked at each other and scratched their heads over this judge's behavior.
Then a second character was introduced: a poor and defenseless widow at the mercy of society and in this case, the judge's actions. She came to him for vindication and justice from her opponent. Again Jesus' listeners would have wondered about this woman's behavior. She was supposed to be quiet and in the background. Women don't speak in courts. She shouldn't be talking to any judge. Yet she boldly went to him again and again.
The judge relented! He caved in to the widow's demands lest she blacken his eye or sully his reputation. (The phrase has both connotations.) This parable unsettled Jesus' listeners and prodded them into new ways of seeing. The story should have been about a judge who showed mercy and compassion and gave justice as the law demanded. Instead the listener can almost laugh at the incongruity of the dialogue. Once again Jesus, the master storyteller, has turned the world upside down.
A question to ask when one hears a parable is: "Who would have found it Good News?" So in today's story of an unjust judge and a persistent widow, who would have found it Good News? Certainly to the poor and outcast of Jesus' society the idea that a widow, one of them, could upstage a judge would have given hope. To the comfortable and secure it would have been one more reason to be rid of this dangerous storyteller.
And us? What is the Good News? Could God be like the widow knocking on our bench giving us the opportunity to finally respond just like the judge? God persistently invites us to look at injustice and act, to dismantle systems that keep people poor and exploited, to liberate all held captive by poverty or oppression. Again and again God is relentless and never gives up in calling us. And that's the Good News!
Denise Simeone is the director of the diocesan Center for Pastoral Life and Ministry.