Saturday, November 15, 2014



This is the time of the Church year when we’re invited to think about the “last things,” heaven and hell, death and judgment. So at first glance it seems a strange time to be listening to today's gospel parable of the poor widow and the unjust judge. But in fact Luke places it perfectly, toward the end of a discourse on the end of the world.
The Pharisees came and asked Jesus “When is the kingdom coming?” He tells them that it’s already here among us. But, he goes on, this is not yet the end time, but that the disciples will first have to endure a period when they “long to see the days of the Son of Man but will not see it.” We too find ourselves living in that in-between time before Jesus returns to finish the work of establishing the Kingdom.
It’s at this point that Jesus offered his disciples some advice “on the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary" (Lk 18:1). He told them a parable about a corrupt judge and a certain widow.
The judge was part of a judicial system rife with bribery and corruption and that favored the rich and the powerful over the weak and the poor. The widow, on the other hand, was in a particularly vulnerable situation; when she lost her husband she had also lost her status in society. There was no welfare system or Social Security for her to fall back on, so she had to fend for herself as best she could, which is exactly what she was doing when she appeared before the unsuspecting judge.
On the surface the story of her clash with the judge seems straightforward enough; but in fact there are some lively and even humorous images beneath the surface of the original Greek.
The parable begins with the widow coming to the judge to demand justice against her opponent. In the original language the verb "came" is in the imperfect tense, which is Greek's way of expressing a repeated action: "she kept coming and coming." We get the idea that the woman intends to just keep badgering the judge until she gets what she wants.
Then suddenly the story comes to a speedy conclusion in a single sentence: “For a while [the judge] refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming’” (Lk 18:4-5). In the original this sentence is both more picturesque and perhaps more instructive. First, there is the expression "this widow keeps causing me trouble." The word kopos, “trouble” comes from the root kop-, “to chop, hack.” And this expression too is in the imperfect tense, implying constant repetition.  Imagine! This powerful judge felt that he was getting chopped and hacked by this supposedly helpless woman!  
The parable ends with another forceful image: the judge decides “I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out” (Lk 18:5) The verb translated here as "to wear someone out” is hupōpiazō, literally "to strike below the eye;" it is used in describing fistfights. It seems the judge is afraid that the determined widow may haul off and literally sock him in the eye!


This three-sentence parable paints an unforgettable picture of a completely powerless person managing to get her way with a mighty judge. Then Jesus draws the lesson for his hearers – including all of us: “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them” (Lk 18:6-8).
The phrase "who cry out to him" is a present participle in Greek, literally "calling out to him” day and night. Once again we have the image of constant relentless asking – but this time the constant calling out in prayer is to be done by you and me.  

So, as the nights get darker and colder and the dead leaves blow along the slates in the cloister garden, and some of us start to feel like that oppressed widow with nowhere to turn, Our Lord lightens the mood with a bit of humor as he tells us the tale of the feisty widow. He invites us to keep on praying “without becoming weary,” and to keep our confidence in God even in the face of unanswered prayers, the long dark nights, and the dead leaves.


No comments:

Post a Comment