The Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
2016 – Cycle C
Exodus 17:8-13; Psalm 121; 2 Timothy 3: 14-4:2; Luke 18:1-8
As my mother, brother and I sat around my father’s bed and he took his last breath and died, I realized in that quiet moment mom went from being a wife to being a widow. The change in status and relationship occurred imperceptibly. Mom has now been a widow for over 12 years. Our lives, our families, our parish, our neighborhoods are peopled by men and women whose spouses have died. Consider how many widowed people you know.
What is your mind’s image of a widow?
As you reflect, be careful of stereotypes and the presumptions that our culture has handed down to us about widows. Be wary, parables are designed to question our conventions and beliefs. They are meant to disturb us.
There are three characters in today’s parable: a judge, a widow and the widow’s adversary. What do we really know about them? What have we already presumed about the three characters? If I might take some liberties, I expect most of us are rooting for the widow. We have assumed because she is a widow she is old and her cause is just. We don’t want her to be taken advantage of because her adversary is in the wrong. We want her to win against a judge who is disrespectful of people, fearless of God and known to be unjust as is probably the legal system that exploits the weak. We want justice for her. A fair reading?
But is the widow what we presume her to be?
Regretfully this widow has been domesticated by translators and our presumptions about widows.
Her, “Render a just decision for me…” is not a plea but rather a declaration of vengeance. The Greek term is equivalent to the revenge and execution of the firstborn of Egypt at the time of the Exodus, the beheading of Holofernes by Judith or the death of the Philistines by Samson when he caused the temple of Dagon to collapse and kill all of them. This widow is seeking an exacting punishment and is not interested in coming to terms with her adversary. And her violence does not stop there. Our unjust judge may not fear God but he does fear this woman because the Greek that describes her possible actions is a boxing term. “I shall deliver a just decision for her lest she strike and give me a black eye.”
Picture a World Boxing Federation match. The announcer begins, Welcome, ladies and gentlemen. In this corner of the ring we have the unjust and dishonest judge, and in this corner we have the vengeful and violent widow. Whose side are you rooting for now?
Parables are meant to disturb us. Consider…
- Because of her threatened or perceived threat of violence to the judge, the judge when he grants the widow’s request becomes complicit in and the instrument of her desire for vengeance. Did you assume that the adversary’s case is unjust? Might the widow’s adversary be in the right?
- A darker underside is the reality that women, not just men, can be violent, can kill, can rape, and can seek vengeance.
- In this parable, vengeance rules. How much is vengeance at the root of the death penalty in our country; the refusal to grant pardons and paroles to people who will no longer be a threat to society; to engaging in war from the Amalekites to our own country; to the continued existence of the Guantanamo concentration camp?
- What part does vengeance play in our personal prayer?
- How often do we allow vengeance to masquerade as justice?
- How many innocent and just people suffer at the hands of the unscrupulous?
- And what about this notion that prayer is to be a battering ram to hammer against the doors of heaven to get God’s attention?
What does this story, peopled by such two unlikable characters, have to teach us about prayer?