Twenty Ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Luke 18:1-8

I often hope that the Sunday Gospel will be ‘my bread’ for the week ahead. I have my own work to do in this by engaging with the text. I hope to be inspired and challenged.

This week’s text of the Unjust Judge presents me with a huge challenge. Luke has framed the parable for us: ‘Jesus told his disciples a parable about the need to pray continually and never lose heart.‘ So, I read the parable, expecting to learn something about prayer. Luke has also framed the judge for by saying ‘has neither fear of God nor respect for man.’ We know that this figure is not there to inspire us.

The figure of the widow however is a little enigmatic. Classically the widow is someone whom the Torah commands us to protect: ‘Whenever you are reaping the harvest of your field and you leave some grain in the field, don’t go back and get it. Let it go to the immigrants, the orphans, and the widows so that the Lord your God blesses you in all that you do.‘ (Deut 24:19)

But there are also many examples of widows who were fearless in the face of adversity: Tamar, Ruth, Abigail and Judith. Our parable gives us no indication of the status of the widow. New Testament Scholar, Amy J Levine comments:  

‘The widow might well be destitute, oppressed and desperate. She may also be wealthy, powerful and vengeful. Or she may be somewhere in between.’

We are being encouraged to keep an open mind so as to let the parable speak to us. The widow’s persistence is clear and some scholarly opinion highlights the fact that she ‘kept on coming to him’ and this suggests that she had the time and means to do this.

That the Judge eventually gives in is attributed to the widow’s persistence but also to the fact that the judge is worried about being worn down: ‘Maybe I have neither fear of God nor respect for man, but since she keeps pestering me, I must give this widow her just rights, or she will persist in coming and worry me to death.’ There is another possible translation of ‘worry me to death’ that reads ‘give me a black eye’. This detail shifts things for me. Be persistent, yes, but threaten a black eye, I’m not comfortable with this.

Amy J Levine suggests that neither the judge nor the widow are likeable and that the parable doesn’t resolve in the way that most do. There’s no appeal to mercy or compassion. Instead, the legal decision is based not on merit but on threat.

As the dust settles on my wrestling with the text, I am drawn back to the opening line of the parable: ‘pray continually and never lose heart.‘ In the week ahead God invites me to make this a reality in my life.

What is God’s invitation to you in this parable?