The case of the Invincible Widow
GUIDING LIGHT - Rev. Fr. Benjamin Sim sj (The Freeman) - October 20, 2019 - 12:00am

In our Gospel readings during the recent weeks, Luke seems to read like our local papers.  Few weeks ago Luke’s Gospel ran “A dishonest manager exposed!”  Today Luke’s parable runs “A dishonest judge exposed!” 

At any rate, today we have a provocative parable.  The parable raises a puzzling question; and the question suggests something over and above the point of the parable.

First, the parable itself: 

Jesus confronts us with two intriguing characters – a powerful judge and a powerless widow.  Only a single sentence tells us what the judge was like.  He “neither feared God nor cared about people.”

What’s left?   Only himself: lots of silver and gold coins for a short day’s work, a private jet, or SUVs and foreign junkets.  Big bash with steaks, lechon, and Peking ducks, perhaps mansions and resorts for mistresses.

“Execute justice” with the prophet Jeremiah? With Micah, “Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God?”  With Isaiah, “Correct oppression, defend the fatherless, and plead for the widow?” Forget it! 

That’s for the goody-goody, weak and stupid. No sir! Justice is for the right price.

And the widow?  She fits an Old Testament picture: the widow to whom justice was so often denied, who was cheated by lawyers appointed to take care of her estate – one of the outcasts for whom Jesus was concerned.

Our widow here has a tough time getting justice from the judge, no matter how long and how tearfully she pleads.   So what does she do?  She makes a nuisance of herself – “makulit.” 

Luke gives no details, but if you use your imagination, you can see her throwing stones at the judge’s bedroom window at midnight, hounding him on the streets, crashing his party.  Finally, the judge has had enough; he breaks down, not because the widow has put the fear of God into him, not because he now cares for helpless widows.  She is simply wearing him out. 

He is going out of his mind from sleepless nights.  Gourmet food gives him heartburn.  He has to sneak out of his own house, turn the lights out when he’s in. “All right,” he says, “you win.  Whatever you want, you’ve got. Just leave me alone in peace… please!”

The lesson of the parable? The Gospel makes it clear beyond doubt.  If sheer persistence can prevail on a dishonest judge to do justice, how much more will an upright God listen to the persistent prayer of his own, “His chosen ones, who cry out to Him day and night!”

So much for the parable.  But the parable raises a perplexing question: Isn’t Jesus being naïve?  On the one hand, you have his absolute assurance that persistence in prayer will prevail.  It fits in beautifully with his other encouraging teachings: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” “Whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you receive it, and you will.” “Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it.” “If you have faith no bigger than a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to over there,’  and it will move.”

On the other hand, you have in apparent contradiction a whole history of everyday experience.  I see a young man of 23 dying of cancer, a girl of 7 dying of leukemia, despite the profound faith, the persistent tears and prayers of family and friends. 

I hear thousands and thousands of people fleeing from flash floods and landslides  that cover their homes, people competing with snakes for a place of safety on rooftops, father of families, who die of heart attack, or terrorist bombs, and the refugees… The list can go on and on of sorrow-laden people of your own experience and mine, who prayed to God and were disappointed. 

Perhaps what can be most helpful is the experience of Job in the Old Testament.  Here is a man utterly blameless, totally God-fearing.  Suddenly all he has is destroyed: livestock, house, servants, sons and daughters.  A disease gives him constant pain, keeps him sleepless, and makes him ugly to the eye.  He is an outcast to human society.  He lives in a garbage dump.  People spit when they see him.  His wife’s advice?  “Curse God, and die.”

Job is terribly confused.  Why is this happening to him?  He loves God, wants only to please Him.  Then why has God turned on him, turned hostile, oppressive?  Close to despair, he curses the day he was born, begs God to just leave him alone.

In Job’s wrestling with his faith in God there are two important considerations.

The first is Job’s act of faith, of trust.  God only seems to have changed; He still cares.  If Job’s sufferings made no sense, God has His own reasons. 

And still, though faith dissolves Job’s doubts, it does not diminish his desolation.  The sharpest torment of all is still there: a dark night of the soul.  He cannot “get through” to God.  He used to experience God’s presence, now he experiences God’s absence.

And the second important moment?  At last God speaks to Job.  He shows Himself to this anguished believer, this rebellious lover, who has raged against his situation, has demanded that God justifies His ways. 

But notice that God says nothing to Job about his suffering and its meaning.  He does not explain.  And Job does not say, “Ah, yes, now I understand.  Thank you.” 

The real experience is simply the encounter.  God lets Job find Him.  And in the encounter Job is happy to disown his speculations, his complaints. 

Like you and me, Job had to face the problem of evil – Why do the innocent suffer, the wicked prosper?  Why does God not “vindicate His chosen ones, who cry out to Him day and night?”  Why does He “delay too long over them?” 

In the face of evil, Job found human wisdom bankrupt.  His anguished questioning ended in a theophany – God manifests Himself to Job – not to defend His wisdom, but to stress His mystery. 

Job trusted God not because he could prove that God merited his trust, but because he had experienced God.  Only trust makes evil endurable – trust not because God has offered proof, because God has shown His face.

This suggests a third point – something over and above the point of the parable, but not irrelevant to it.  You sit here in the church because God has gifted you with an incredible power, the power to believe, on His word, that God has shown His face in Christ, that the same Christ who died and rose for you is here among us, here within you, hidden here in what looks like bread and tastes like wine.

This you believe.  But your belief risks turning sterile unless the God who once showed His face in Christ shows His face to you.  I mean the experience of God, who is as real to you as the person sitting next to you.  I mean a relationship, where you not only know truths about God,    you know God.  I mean a relationship of love – a love for God so intense that it rivals the love Christ reached out to you on the cross.

This is the kind of relationship, the kind of love, you must have if you are to live Christianity with that eternal why: “Why, dear God, did you let this happen?  How could you and still be God?” 

You will not answer it with Aristotelian logic.  You can live through it with crucified love.

My dear brothers and sisters, one final caution.  Despite the unresolved questions to which it gives rise; we have much to learn from “the case of the invincible widow.”  Whatever your sad experience with prayer, with the prayer of petition, God still wants you to “hang in there.” 

Like Moses against the Amalek, hold your hands high; however weary your arms, till the sun goes down – and after. 

Like the powerless widow, make a nuisance of yourself.  Storm heaven like crazy; don’t let the Lord rest even on the Sabbath.  You just might prove enough of a nuisance to get what you want – especially if what you want is woven of love.

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