We preachers need to be wary of today’s parable of the widow and
the unjust judge, lest we convey a false image of God. (Remember the
command, "Thou shall not have strange gods before me.") Well, if we
are not careful, we are liable to preach a "strange god" and even
seem to make what we say sound legitimate or backed up by this
The trap lies in our modern tendency to be too literal. By that I
mean, we tend to miss the imaginative aspects of these parables and
apply a strict formula to them in our interpretation. It goes
something like this: the judge is God and we are the widows. So,
like the widow we need to pray incessantly if we want to get what we
want from God. Keep at it, God will eventually give in – isn’t that
what the parable seems to imply? This, or similar ways of
interpreting parables, treats them as allegories – not parables.
Look what such an interpretation does to our faith: it paints God as
hard hearted and our constant prayer like water dripping on the
stone heart of a reluctant God, hoping to eventually wear God down
on our behalf. Remember too that the judge in the parable is unjust
– making it even more dangerous to allegorize this parable, lest God
take on the features of this judge in our hearers’ imaginations.
If God gets so misrepresented then we, who are praying earnestly
and even desperately for something, are made to feel doubly alone,
with no one on our side against the Almighty and seeming-reluctant
God. If this is what we convey, no matter how unintentionally, then
we will have preached a "strange god" indeed! Certainly not the God
of Jesus’ words and actions. This false image will only reinforce an
old stereotype of a God so offended by our sin, that God would
punish us severely, were it not for Jesus, God’s beloved child who,
by his faithfulness and sacrifice, stays God’s angry hand. This
makes God sound schizophrenic – partially with us in Jesus, but ill
disposed as our Creator – with the Holy Spirit going back and forth
between us humans and the two trying to tie up the loose ends.
Even if we didn’t have the citation telling us that this is a
parable from Luke’s gospel, we could easily guess its authorship.
The parable has the signs of a Lucan tale, for again, we hear his
often-repeated themes about the poor, women and prayer. Widows were
especially vulnerable in biblical times and in the scriptures we
often hear the reference to "widows and orphans" – two particularly
defenseless and needy groups. A widow would be dependent on her
sons, or a close male relative to take care of her. She was
especially vulnerable if the responsible males were indifferent to
her welfare, or worse, had defrauded her. In such situations a widow
would have recourse to a judge who was supposed to protect the
rights of widows and the poor. But the judge to whom our widow turns
has no regard for her plight and "neither feared God nor respected
any human being." What chance would she have against a judge like
this who disregards the basic commandments about God and neighbor?
The cards are stacked against her and things look pretty grim for
her ever getting her due.
But this is no ordinary widow! She confronts the judge using the
only things she has on her side – her voice and her persistence.
What she wants is justice, but from a judge who is not in the least
bit interested in giving it to her. The only recourse she would
normally have had is not in the least bit interested in her just
cause. But by her persistence she wears down the judge who finally
gives in to her. Don’t you find it amusing to hear the judge’s fear
that a widow is going to come and "strike" him? The original
language suggests that he is afraid she will give him a black eye. I
hear Jesus’ listeners, so often denied their own rights before the
rich and powerful, chuckling as Jesus paints this picture of a
"dangerous" widow who will give a good boxing to a corrupt male
The widow’s plight calls to mind those who are deprived of
justice in our own society. As elections draw near, whose voices are
going to be heard by both politicians and voters? Whose interests
will be at the top of the list? Will the voices of the poor and
powerless be outshouted by individuals and special interest groups
who have more financial or voting power? It would be a rare election
indeed if this didn’t happen. Most often the poor, minorities,
immigrants, homeless, infirmed, aged and very young are not first on
the minds of those running for office, or those casting votes. We
can hear the widow’s voice in another way, for now she is speaking
for those in our society who are not heard despite their just and
desperate need. Will her voice be heard today by city planners
deciding where to put a new power plant, city dump, petro-chemical
plant, refinery? Who will influence municipal and federal
governments when decisions are being made about which homes will be
destroyed to build a super highway? Picture the widow standing among
those disenfranchised at our borders and hear her voice, "Render a
just decision for [us] against [our] adversary."
This is one of those "how-much-more parables." Jesus paints a
picture of a despicable judge who eventually gives in to the
persistent demands of the widow. It is as if he is saying, "If this
kind of a person eventually responds, how much more will God?" Why?
Because God is not turned against us and will "secure the rights" of
God’s chosen. Of course, our struggle lies in the fact that so much
in our world is unjust, especially for the disenfranchised. We pray
for things to be put right and even pray that we can help make them
so. Yet often, conditions don’t improve, sometimes they even get
worse. Doesn’t that make you want to despair of every seeing things
righted? So, we are tempted to cease our works and quite our
prayers. "What’s the use?", we lament. Even when things improve a
bit there still is an enormous mountain of wrongs to address – in
our homes, church, community and world. We feel our efforts are so
puny and so we are tempted to withdraw back into our private world
saying, "What difference can I make?"
Such feelings tempt us to quit our efforts at prayer and works on
behalf of God’s reign. Jesus expresses how serious the issues are,
how powerful the forces against us are and seems to worry about the
effects on his disciples. He asks, "But when the Son of Man comes,
will he find faith on earth?" Not an idle, or speculative question,
but one that is based on the experiences of the church from its
beginnings: disciples have hard work and prayer to do until the Lord
returns and the wait, without immediate signs of "success," can
disillusion us and threaten our faith.
If we are looking for an image of the divine in this parable and
don’t find it in the judge, is there another possibility? Here is
another approach by the New Testament scholar Barbara Reid.
(PARABLES FOR PREACHERS: THE GOSPEL OF LUKE, YEAR C. Collegeville:
Liturgical Press, 2000.) She suggests finding the God-like figure in
the widow who persistently pursues injustice, denouncing it until
justice is achieved. This interpretation is consistent with the New
Testament message that power is found in weakness. A conclusion we
would draw for ourselves then is that if this is the God in whose
image we are made, then we too should tirelessly pursue justice even
if it is against more powerful forces than we can muster.
I like the first reading’s image for prayer. As powerful and
exemplary a model of faith Moses was during hard times,
nevertheless, as the battle against Amalek wears on, Moses’ raised
hands "grew tired." We can identify with that fatigue, we who find
it hard to keep our hands raised in prayer as life tries to wear us
down. Even Moses needed help. So, Aaron and Hur support his hands,
"one on one side and one on the other, so his hands remained steady
till sunset." We all need help in our struggles against evil forces
and in our desire to stay faithful in hard times.
Look around at those who worship with us at this Eucharist. We
see the elderly, even infirmed, here – still praying. We know of
those who can’t get out of bed to come to church, but we also know
they are praying and staying faithful. They give strength and
determination to our faltering prayer, they help keep our hands
"raised." Perhaps someone notices us here at worship. We don’t think
of ourselves as great models of faith, but who knows what straggling
soul at prayer is helped by seeing us here? We may be helping them
keep their faltering and tired hands "raised" in hope and prayer.
for a link to this Sunday’s readings:
The Liturgy of the Word is to be celebrated in such a way as to
promote meditation, and so any sort of haste that hinders
recollection must clearly be avoided. During the Liturgy of the
Word, it is also appropriate to include brief periods of silence,
accommodated to the gathered assembly, in which, at the prompting of
the Holy Spirit, the word of God may be grasped by the heart and a
response through prayer may be prepared. It may be appropriate to
observe such periods of silence, for example, before the Liturgy of
the Word itself begins, after the first and second reading, and
lastly at the conclusion of the homily.60
----#56, from the GENERAL INSTRUCTION OF THE ROMAN MISSAL, United
States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2003.
the word: be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient;
convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching.
This passage today reminds me of the memorable quote made by St.
Francis: "Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use
words." How do you preach the Gospel without using words? You preach
it by the actions of your life to live the Gospel. Today is World
Mission Sunday. It is a day for the laity to consider how we live
the Gospel to the people we are called to champion and support in
our world. Often, we are given examples of missionaries who go out
to difficult areas of the world but we can also be missionary by
going into areas in need of attention right here in our own neck of
The Vatican II document on the laity makes it quite clear that
for all able-bodied lay Catholics: "Preeminent . .is that of
Christian social action which the sacred synod desires to see
extended to the whole temporal sphere, including culture." As the
Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities, Archbishop
Joseph F. Naumann, writes: "It is the vocation of the laity to go
out to be as leaven in the world, a light in the darkness." Pope
Francis affirms, "With solidarity, nobody is devoid of the
necessary, each community can meet the needs of the poorest."
Furthermore, he states, "Human ecology and environmental ecology go
hand in hand" (6/5/13, U.N. World Environment Day). Taking care of
others extends to taking care of our natural world. This is the
preeminent task for lay followers of Jesus—to go out and be the
loving, merciful, and just Christ to both our environment and other
living beings, to heal brokenness, to bind up wounds, and to end
divisions. We, the laity, are called and gifted to do this.
We need missioners for several of our parish outreach
ministries--more people willing to feed and care for the poor for
Family Promise, Helen Wright Shelter, and Oak City Cares Center and
leadership and help at Catholic Parish Outreach Food Pantry (our
fall collection of food is happening this weekend). We need
parishioners willing to walk in the CROP Hunger Walk next Sunday.
The Door Fund/ Ministry is looking for new interviewers to help
people with past due rents and eviction notices. Our Habitat for
Humanity 10th house is being built right now. And, we
need people to advocate for Creation Care. To preach the Gospel with
your life, check out the Cathedral website:
Director of Social
Holy Name of Jesus
Cathedral, Raleigh, NC
Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for
persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted
in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.
From today’s Gospel reading:
Lord said, "Will not God then
secure the rights of God’s chosen ones
call out to God day and night?"
The judge in today’s parable cannot be taken as representing God,
for he "neither feared God nor respected any human being." But, can
we see in the widow an image of our God?
She is a persistent voice for justice for the poor and those
without voice in our society. Like our God, she will not stop her
cry for justice until it is given.
So we ask ourselves:
- What voice speaks a persistent message for justice in our
parish? In our church? In our world?
- How do those voices affect your choices and actions?
POSTCARDS TO DEATH
"Can you imagine what it’s like to have your boy on death row?
Can you imagine what it’s like to visit him there every Saturday and
tell him, ‘I love you. I’ll see you next week,’ when you never know
if they’re going to call and say, ‘He’s up next—it’s time for his
----Jeanetter Johnson, Mother of Alan Gell, who was
retried and found innocent because prosecutors withheld evidence
that might have cleared him of first-degree murder.
[The News and Observer, February 15, 2004, Raleigh, NC]
Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison
system. Each week I post in this space several inmates’ names and
addresses. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them
to let them know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them
you heard about them through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith
Against the Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might
consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
- Eddie Larmar Taylor #0762634 (On death row since 8/24/05)
- William Raines #0526698 (9/9/05)
- Jeremy D. Murrell #0940436 (2/17/06)
----Central Prison, 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC
For more information on the Catholic position on the death
penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network:
On this page you can sign "The National Catholic Pledge to End
the Death Penalty." Also, check the interfaith page for People of
Faith Against the Death Penalty:
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