29 Sunday C: Persistent Widow

From The Connections:

The focus of today’s Gospel parable is not the evil judge but the persistent widow.  The judge here is not one of the Jewish elders but a paid magistrate appointed by the Roman governors.  These magistrates were notoriously corrupt, extorting money from plaintiffs to secure favorable verdicts.  The widow, typically defenseless in such dealings, persists until the judge just wants to be rid of her.
Jesus does not liken God to the unfeeling, insensitive judge but contrasts God to him:  If such persistence will finally move such an unfeeling and corrupt figure will not the God of mercy and love be moved by the cries of his own beloved people?  The parable of the widow and the unjust judge (found only in Luke’s Gospel) calls us to perseverance in prayer – prayer that seeks not to force God’s hand but prayer that opens our hearts and minds to his always available grace.
The “persistence” of God’s love for us transcends our own doubts, our distractions, our hurts and disappointments.  We are always embraced in the heart of God, an embrace we experience in the love of others; we are always held in God’s memory, remembered in every moment of forgiveness and healing. 
In the parable of the persistent widow, Jesus assures us that when we are persistent for what is right and just, for what is good and healing, our resolve will one day be rewarded.
Sometimes we are the persistent widow of today’s parable, persevering in seeking what is right and just, trusting in God’s grace in response to our prayer – and sometimes we find ourselves in the role of the judge, who can be the answer to another’s prayer if we stop, listen, and realize that God has given us the means to respond.
The great Jewish theologian Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said that “to pray is to bring God back into the world . . . to expand his presence.”  Prayer does not seek to move God’s heart for what we want; prayer is the opening up of our own heart and spirit to what God wants for us. 
Trappist Father Thomas Keating, the renowned spiritual director and retreat master, explains that “prayer is the fundamental way we relate to God.  Like any relationship, it goes through stages, from acquaintance to friendliness, then on to friendship, love and finally union.”  To become men and women of prayer is to realize God's presence in our lives and trusting in that presence and love for us.
We possess a faith that empowers us with hope and discernment, enabling us to persevere despite the injustices and indignities that are so much a part of life.  Jesus assures us that the integrity, commitment to justice and humility we maintain in the face of skepticism, rationalizations and the amoral “conventional wisdom” will one day be exalted by God.

The persistent widow in our midst
It may be a spouse’s Parkinson’s disease, a parent’s Alzheimer’s, a sister’s breast cancer, a child’s leukemia.  The illness of a loved one, a catastrophe striking their family, the suffering of someone dear to them transforms these moms and dads and sons and daughters and friends into dedicated advocates and determined guardians.
They fight hospitals and insurance companies for the critical medical care needed by their loved one.  They take on the most obstinate bureaucracies for the assistance and services their child is entitled to but denied.  They work tirelessly to raise awareness, raise money, and, when necessary, raise Cain, so that their loved one may live as fully a life as possible, so that a cure might be found, so that other families will not have to experience the pain and anguish they have known.
These dedicated men and women are the Gospel widow in our midst.  They face down the “dishonest judges” of arrogance and avarice; they take on the “fearful judges” of insensitivity and unawareness; they go toe-to-toe with the “judges who fear neither God nor respect any human being,” save themselves.
Their love for the sick and suffering enables them to carry on “day and night;” their faith and conviction in the rightness of their cause empowers them to carry on despite the frustration and inaction they face.
The very compassion of God is their hope and assurance that their prayer will be heard.

The persistent widow of today’s Gospel lives among us:  She is the poor, the struggling, the ignored, the forgotten; she is the mother and father, the daughter and son, the family and friend of the suffering and dying who care for them and who work for a cure so that other families may be spared what they have suffered through; she is the victim of injustice whose sense of her own dignity enables her to fight on.  Christ promises that the Father hears the worthy prayer of the Gospel widow in her many guises and that her perseverance in faith will one day be rewarded — and Jesus confronts us with our own culpability for the widow’s plight when we become, in our obliviousness and self-absorption, “judges who neither fear God nor respect any human being.”  May the Gospel Jesus be our hope in our own struggles and an inspiration to us to become the answer to the prayers of the “persistent widows” among us here and now.

Fr. Jude Botelho:

The first reading speaks of the power of prayer and a concrete example of this is seen in the case of Moses praying on the mountain for victory of his people. While Joshua and the army battle the Amalekites, Moses stands interceding with God and keeps on praying till the battle is won. More and more Moses was called to play the role of prophetic intercession for his people. His arms outstretched in prayer have remained a traditional symbol of prayer. Much more than our efforts is the power that is available to us when we call on God and avail of his power in our daily life.

What a friend we have in Jesus
Mary Cushman, who was a mother of five children ran into a series of financial crises, from one misery to another she was tortured in her life. Her husband did not have a decent job, was constantly sick and had repeated attacks of flue. She lost the house they had built with their own hands, and she took to washing and ironing clothes of neighbours to make ends meet. One day her eleven year old son was accused by the baker of stealing a couple of pencils though he was innocent. This was the straw that broke her back. She thought of all the miseries she had endured; and she saw the future and that was too bleak. She temporarily became insane and decided to end her life. She took her five year old daughter inside the bedroom, and plugged up the windows and cracks with paper and rags and turned on the gas heater but did not light it. She went to bed with her daughter and closed her eyes. She could hear the gas escaping from the heater. Suddenly she heard music. She had forgotten to turn the radio off in the kitchen. The music went on and presently she heard someone singing an old hymn. “What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear……. What peace we often forfeit….because we do not carry everything to God in prayer. “ As she listen she realized her mistake, she had tried to fight her battle alone, she had not taken everything to God in prayer. She jumped up, turned off the gas and prayed the rest of the day. The problems did not get solved immediately but gradually she built up her life with God’s help and years later was a happy grandmother of three kids and all her children were well placed.
John Rose in “ John’s Sunday Homilies”

The power of prayer
A Hindu fable illustrates a better kind of prayer, in which we can see a great truth. Once the birds could not fly, but groveled and crept and hopped about, seeing nothing above the hedges, bearing on their backs a heavy and -to them apparently- useless weight of feathers. One day they decided to bear it no longer, and stretched and wriggled to get rid of the burden and behold, their very efforts unfolded their wings which bore them aloft, soaring up to God’s blue vault of heaven.

In today’s Gospel Jesus narrates the parable of the unjust judge and the widow who persistently demands justice from him until he relents and gives her what she asks of him. The parable which Jesus narrated however has a deeper lesson than the need for persevering prayer. In Palestinian tradition a single judge rather than a tribunal indicated that the woman was being denied her rights in some money matter. Widows and orphans in the Old Testament were stock types of persons who were utterly helpless. She is too poor to bribe the judge, the accepted way at that time, to get justice. In other words everything was against her getting justice in her favour, yet by sheer dint of perseverance she got want she demanded. From the Lord’s point of view, it is the unjust judge and not the poor widow who is the central figure in this parable. The point of the parable is not the perseverance of prayer but the absolute assurance of a hearing being granted based on the type of God we believe in, - a God of compassion and power to help. If human frailty can rise to the occasion, how much more will God not arise to aid the needy! We should never doubt the efficacy of our prayer, God might delay in coming to our aid but come He will, in his time. But do we have enough faith to wait on His will?

Prayer with faith
A messenger came to an old ivy-covered castle and knocked with the great iron knocker. No answer. He tried again; only a hollow echo. But he knew the folks were at home; for he had seen them in the window. So with growing anger he grabbed the knocker in both hands and banged away for all he was worth, 20- 30 times. A slow soft shuffle was his answer. Then a tiny wrinkled face popped out of a latch hole and timidly enquired whether the good gentleman wanted to come in. “Do I want to come in?” he raved. “Man, anyone who knocked as I did, must have.” “Well you see, it’s like this,” said the elderly lady. “There are so many little children around here who come up, bang the door a few times and then scamper off, so we’ve learned not to pay attention to them. But when I heard you knock, I really felt you wanted to come in; so that’s why I came to open the door.”
Bruno Hagspiel in ‘1000 Stories you can use’

“We should not conclude from this gospel account that the way to pray God is to be persistent: only pagans imagine that they will be heard for their many words. (Mt 6:7) On the other hand equally, God is not a judge who would be careless about administering justice. He does wish that we continue to put our needs before him. The lack of goodwill in the judge of the parable should make us understand that God will unfailingly give satisfaction to those who ask. And equally, as against the slowness of the judge, he will not delay to do so. The lessons of the parable are clear: the problem for us is that God seems to remain silent and inactive in spite of our petitions. By encouraging his followers to persevere in asking, Jesus suggests the relationship between faith and prayer……… Faith has need of the breathe of prayer if it is to flower in good works and remain alert and not grow weak and fade away. It is the same as our bodies’ need of food, and plants’ need of water. It is because faith is a living reality and cannot continue if it is not lived, that we ‘pray continually and never lose heart.” -Glenstal Bible Missal

Persistence in prayer
The movie Heartland dramatizes the story of the rugged prairie life in the early 1990’s. A widow named Elinmore Randell answers an ad to become a housekeeper for Clyde Stewart, a taciturn cattle homesteader in Burntfork, Wyoming. After a rocky beginning, their relationships smoothes out and they eventually get married, partly out of economic convenience and partly out of deep human needs. Together they heroically endure the hardships of a stubborn soil that yields little food, freezing winter winds that decimate their herd and the death of their newborn little boy. In the climax of the story, Clyde Stewart has given up on the cattle ranch and begins to pack their belongings. But Elinmore won’t let him quit. She pleads and bargains with him not to abandon their dream. Her tenacity triumphs when a calf is born, a sign of a new beginning, new life and new hope. Clyde finally agrees to stay and give the ranch one more try. Elinmore’s persistence and faith are comparable to the widow’s in today’s parable. The widow kept coming to the judge for her rights and eventually wore him out. Jesus uses her as an example of praying always and not losing hope.
Albert Cylwicki in ‘’His Word Resounds’

1.     From Andrew Greeley:

Once upon a time an anthropologist, one of Margaret Mead’s many husbands, noted that the natives on his little South Pacific Island prayed fervently over their yam gardens after they had planted them. Very interesting, he thought. Poor superstitious people. They think that prayer can actually improve the fruitfulness of their gardens. So he chuckled to himself about their naiveté and credulity. Then he remembered that he was a scientist and that in principle he ought to attempt some kind of controlled experiment before he dismissed the natives as ignorant savages.  

 So he decided that he would plant his own yam gardens in two spots that seemed exactly similar in style and sunlight. He also resolved to tend each of the gardens with equal care. Then he would pray over one and not the other. Unfortunately he didn’t know any prayers. But he did have a Hebrew bible with him. He didn’t understand Hebrew, but he could pronounce the words from after-school class of his youth. So he read a couple of passages each day from the bible over one of the gardens.

 He later admitted that he probably cultivated the garden over which he did not pray with more care, because he really did not want the prayer to work. But it did. He had no idea what to make of the outcome of his experiment and repeated it several times. Each time prayer worked. What does one make of the story?

 Maybe that God is a comedian! 

2.     "Things I Really Don't Understand." 

Recently I received an e-mail message that was entitled "Things I Really Don't Understand." It had a list of questions for which there seems to be no clear-cut answer. Here are a few of them:  

· Why do doctors and lawyers call what they do practice?
· Why is abbreviation such a long word?
· Why is it that when you're driving and looking for an address, you turn down the volume on your radio?
· Why is a boxing ring square?
· What was the best thing before sliced bread?
· How do they get the deer to cross the highway at those yellow signs?
· How did a fool and his money get together in the first place?

These questions represent a lighthearted humorous reminder that there are indeed a lot of things in this life that we just really don't understand.

There are so many things in this life that we just don't understand... that we just can't comprehend. For example, we don't really understand disease. Why is a youngster perfectly healthy for 13 years of his life... and then suddenly just happens to be in a place where he suddenly encounters some germ or bacteria that invades his body and destroys it?

And we don't understand accidents. They are so random and indiscriminate. You start out a day that is like any other day... and then something happens in a matter of seconds... and life is forever different. You can never go back beyond that accident.

On and on we could go with our list... of things we don't really understand...

3.     The Moth and the Fly 

We all do it. The door of heaven's House of Bread, the ultimate pastry palace, is standing open. But we keep trying to break in the back door of the local bakery.

A parable by a well-known rabbi tells the story of a moth and a fly. One day a moth and a fly were together near a window. The moth sat comfortably on the side peering out, watching as the fly relentlessly flew up and around and straight into the window. The stunned fly would fall, then get up and try again. On and on the fly tried to find a way through the window, and each time failed.  

Finally, the moth said, "Fly, why are you doing that? Can't you see by now that it's not working?  Right over there is another window that's open. Why don't you just go over and fly to freedom through the open window?" "No," said the fly. "If I just try hard enough, I'll find the way out here." So on and on the fly persisted, circling the closed window and slamming its body into it. 

The moth became more and more certain the fly was out of its mind when the solution was so simple. Soon nighttime came. The fly lay exhausted on the window sill, while the moth just shook its head. Just then, a light came on near the ceiling of the room, illuminating an open door at the other side of the room. Without thinking, the moth flew up straight toward the light, fizzled in the heat and fell dead to the floor.

Why do we try so hard to do the things that thwart us and harm us, when God opens doors and windows for us if only we had the faith to enter?  

"Persistence in prayer" is not, I repeat, NOT the message of Jesus' parable in this week's missive... 

4.     Until You Beat the Path 

I believe persistent prayer is very important, even when such prayers are not answered in the ways we think best. It is important to be unrelenting in our prayers...not only because of the changes our prayers may elicit in God's mind, but for the changes such prayers can work in our own hearts and minds. As Frederick Buechner said years ago, persistence is a key, "not because you have to beat a path to God's door before [God will] open it, but because until you beat the path, maybe there's no way of getting to your door."

Buechner's comment set me to thinking that maybe there's more to this parable than we have sometimes seen. What if Jesus offered this parable not only as a call to prayerful persistence but also as a reminder to the church of the importance of securing justice for the poor and the oppressed in their midst? Alan Culpepper says, "To those who have it in their power to relieve the distress of the widow, the orphan and the stranger but do not [do so], the call to pray day and night is a command to let the priorities of God's compassion reorder the priorities of their lives."
Robert Dunham, Whose Persistence?

 5.     Prayer Does Not Need Proof 

Prayer does not need proof outside itself because its proofs are within. It is in the nature and function of man, like breathing, eating and drinking, and he practices it as part of his very being. 

Samuel Johnson

6.     We Are God's Answer to Injustice 

Listen to me. If you are being bullied in school, God knows about it and God hates it. If you are being harassed in the workplace, for any reason, God hates it. If you are being taken advantage of--or if you are taking unfair advantage of someone else--there will be a day of reckoning. If there is anyone anywhere praying for God to intervene and put an end to their oppression, eventually that prayer will be heard and that which is wrong will be set right. That's the promise of Scripture. 

Now, where does that leave us? Let me tell you a story. 

A young black man asked his minister why their people had to suffer so much poverty, hardship, and oppression. "Why doesn't God do something?" he wailed.

"He has," said that wise pastor. "He has created you." 

And so Desmond Tutu, now the archbishop of South Africa, became the answer to his own question. 

That's a good lesson for you and me. While we are waiting for God to bring in a perfect and just society, you and I are God's answer to the injustice in our world. That's what it means to take up a cross and follow Jesus. It's not a comfortable position to be in. It's not popular. But it is Christ's way. 

King Duncan, Collected Sermons,

7.     And Then Some 

James Byrnes, who was Secretary of State under FDR, said that the difference between successful people and average people can be summed up in three words. Here are the three words, "and then some." He said, "Average people do what is expected. Successful people do what is expected, and then some." Our widow did what was expected, and then some.

John Wayne Clarke, Sermons for Sundays after Pentecost (Last Third): Father, Forgive Them
8.      God Knows What I Need 

A little boy knelt down to say his bedtime prayers. His parents heard him reciting the alphabet in very reverent tones. When asked what he was doing, he replied, "I'm saying my prayers, but I cannot think of the exact words tonight. So, I'm just saying all the letters. God knows what I need, and he'll put all the words together for me."

Now, that is not far from a proper way to pray! In seeking prayer we are looking for Christ's mind. We are not sure quite how to word our prayer. So we ask God to take our words and fit them into the correct prayer. We ask him to edit our prayers by cutting out the unnecessary, making corrections, and adding the necessities. We ask God to take our minds and make them his. We ask the Holy Spirit to pray through us. And when we seek in prayer like that, Jesus assures us in the text, we shall find.

Stephen M. Crotts, Sermons for Sundays after Pentecost: Music from another Room, CSS Publishing Company

9.     Turn to Him in Prayer
I heard a pastor tell a story one time of something he saw back in the days of World War II. He was somewhere over in France, and he and a buddy of his were in a house. They happened to be cleaning that house. All of a sudden, the bombs started to fall just as they had begun to mop the kitchen floor.

He said he had a friend with him, a G.I., who was helping him to mop the floor. The floor was just covered with soap and water. When the bombs started to fall, this man tried to run. But the floor was so slippery he couldn't run. He kept falling down. Finally, he got his footing, and when he got to take a first real step, he stepped in the pail and got it stuck on his foot. That caused him to fall again. When he stood back up, he stepped on the mop, it flew up and hit him in the face and knocked him under the stairs. All the time the bombs are falling on that house.

He said this man was just struggling just to get out of that house and get to safety. In all of that bombing and chaos, he prayed and said, "O God, if you will just help me get out of this mess, I will get out of the next one all by myself."

Well, that soldier was right to pray in that situation, but he was wrong to say he wouldn't pray in the next one. You see, we are to turn every care into a prayer, every aggravation into a supplication, and every irritation into an invocation.

We are to pray when we are in trouble, but we are to pray when we are not in trouble. As a matter of fact, if we would give ourselves to more prayer we would get ourselves in less trouble.

James Merritt
10.  God's Timetable Not Ours 

I heard a story which illustrates how we often confuse God's timing with ours. A country newspaper had been running a series of articles on the value of church attendance. One day, a letter to the editor was received in the newspaper office. It read, "Print this if you dare. I have been trying an experiment. I have a field of corn which I plowed on Sunday. I planted it on Sunday. I did all the cultivating on Sunday. I gathered the harvest on Sunday and hauled it to my barn on Sunday. I find that my harvest this October is just as great as any of my neighbors' who went to church on Sunday. So where was God all this time?" The editor printed the letter, but added his reply at the bottom. "Your mistake was in thinking that God always settles his accounts in October." 

That's often our mistake as well, isn't it -- thinking that God should act when and how we want him to act, according to our timetable rather than his. The fact that our vision is limited, finite, unable to see the end from the beginning, somehow escapes our mind. So we complain; we get frustrated; we accuse God of being indifferent to us; we do not live by faith.
Larry R. Kalajainen, Extraordinary Faith for Ordinary Time, CSS Publishing Company, Inc.

11.  If You Just Hold Up Your Head 

In a Peanut's cartoon Lucy encourages Charlie Brown: "Look at it this way, Charlie Brown," she consoles. "These are your bitter days. These are the days of your hardship and struggle ..." The next frame goes on: "... but if you just hold your head up high and keep on fighting, you'll triumph!" "Gee, do you really think so, Lucy?" Charlie asks. As she walks away Lucy says: "Frankly, no!" 

Hope is like that. We speak of it more often than we believe in it. Hope is not a strong word for us. It has more to do with "wishing" than "expecting." It has the sound of resignation, an inability to bring about, influence, or even believe that a desired event or goal might ever come to be. 

Theodore F. Schneider, Until the King Comes, CSS Publishing Company

12.  Parable of the Crazy Old Lady 

Frankly, don't we wish that Jesus had told this parable in a little different way. Couldn't he have gotten the same point across if He had told it something like this:

Verily, verily I tell you that once upon a time there was a good lady who lived next door to an atheist. Every day, when the lady prayed, the atheist guy could hear her. He thought to himself, "She sure is crazy, praying all the time like that. Doesn't she know there is no GOD!" Many times while she was praying, he would go to her house and harass her, saying, "Lady, why do you pray all the time? Don't you know there is no GOD!" But she kept on praying.

One day, she ran out of groceries. As usual, she was praying to the Lord explaining her situation and thanking Him for what He was going to do. As usual, the atheist heard her praying and thought to himself, "Humph...I'll fix her." 

He went to the grocery store, bought a whole bunch of groceries, took them to her house, dropped them off on the front porch, rang the doorbell and then hid in the bushes to see what she would do. When she opened the door and saw the groceries, she begin to praise the Lord with all her heart, jumping, singing, and shouting everywhere! The atheist then jumped out of the bushes and told her, "You crazy old lady. God didn’t buy you those groceries, I bought those groceries!’ Well, she broke out and started running down the street, shouting and praising the Lord. When he finally caught her, he asked what her problem was... She said "I knew the Lord would provide me with some groceries, but I didn’t know he was going to make the devil pay for them!"
From Fr. Tony Kadavil's Collection:

1:  Never give up!
Years ago there was a young man in Illinois with only six months of formal school education. His mother home-schooled him and taught him to have a dream and to keep trying to realize that dream, relying on the power of persistent prayer. First he ran for an office in the legislature and was beaten. Next, he entered business but failed at that, too, and spent the next 17 years paying the debts of his worthless partner. He fell in love with a charming lady and became engaged. But she had a premature death which led the young man to a short-term nervous breakdown. Next, he ran for Congress and was defeated. He then tried to obtain an appointment to the U.S. Land Office, but didn’t succeed. With strong belief in the power of prayer, he ran for U. S. Vice-Presidency and lost. Two years later he was defeated again for the office of Senator. He ran for office once more and was elected the 13th president of the United States, thus realizing his dream by the power of persistent prayer. He was Abraham Lincoln. It took Winston Churchill three years to get through the eighth grade, because he couldn’t pass English – of all things! Ironically, he was asked many years later to give the commencement address at Oxford University. His now famous speech consisted of only three words: “Never give up!” And that is the message of today’s Gospel parable of the poor widow and the corrupt judge. (Harold Buetow in God Still Speaks! Listen). 

 2: Gideon’s experiment with prayer:
Many years ago a man named Dalton suggested that the prayer of petition should be put to the test. One-half of England, he said, should pray for rain and then compare the rainfall with the other half who did not pray for rain. He was not, in fact, the first believer with a flair for experimentation. In the Book of Judges, Gideon said to God, "If you really mean to deliver Israel by my hand, as you have declared, see now, I spread out a fleece. If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is left dry, then I shall know." Gideon had the mind of a true experimenter.  The following night he reversed his experiment to test God a second time. He prayed, "Do not be angry with me if I speak once again…. Let the fleece alone be dry, and let there be dew on the ground all around it" (Jgs 6:36-40). Prayer isn't just a way of getting what we want, but some people go to the opposite extreme of never asking God for anything (while having no problem with the prayer of praise, thanks, and so on). If it makes sense to thank God for something, it must make sense to ask God for it and to persevere in that prayer as Jesus proposes in today’s Gospel (Bible Diary 2004).

3: "So where was God all this time?”
There is a story which illustrates how we often confuse God's timing with our own. A rural newspaper had been running a series of articles on the value of church attendance in its Sunday Religion column.  One day, the editor received a letter which read: "Print this if you dare.  I am trying an experiment.  I have a field of corn which I plowed on Sunday.  I planted it on Sunday. I did all the cultivating on Sunday. I gathered the harvest on Sunday and hauled it to my barn on Sunday.  I find that my harvest this October is just as great as any of my neighbors who went to church on Sunday. So where was God all this time?"  The editor printed the letter, but added his reply at the bottom:  "Your mistake lies in thinking that God always settles his   accounts in October." We who believe in the power of prayer often wrongly think that our persevering prayers will force God to act when and how we want Him to act, according to our timetable and according to our desire. (Rev. R. J. Fairchild)