29th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2019

My Dear People,

Jesus speaks about the necessity that his disciples pray always— “Your Kingdom come”! (11:2) without becoming weary. When Jesus earlier taught them how to pray, he also told them a parable (11:5-8) about perseverance in prayer, involving two people. He does the same thing now.

Jesus first introduces a judge of dubious character. Rather than “fear God and keep the commandments” (Eccl 12:13), he neither feared God nor respected any human being. Second, there is a widow who used to come—in other words, repeatedly—to him asking for a just decision in her case. Since widows were in a valued position in ancient Israel, Scripture contains many exhortations to defend them and warnings not to oppress them.

This situation drags on for a long time since the judge is unwilling. The widow keeps bothering him, like the persistent person at midnight who keeps asking despite his friend’s plea, “Do not bother me” (11:7). The judge, speaking “to himself” like earlier characters in parables, eventually decides to give her a just decision. He is motivated only by self-interest; he wants to avoid her finally coming to strike him.

Further explanation now comes from the Lord. The use of the title for Jesus helps to link the parable to the preceding speech (“Lord,” 12:37). Like the earlier parable (11:5-8), this one uses a “how much more” argument. If even a dishonest or unjust judge grants justice to a widow who repeatedly demands justice, how much more will God grant to his elect or chosen ones?  Like God’s own “chosen” Son, they will ultimately be vindicated, even if the present situation looks hopeless.

The book of Sirach has a similar message: “The prayer of the lowly…does not rest till it reaches its goal; Nor will it withdraw till the Most High responds, judges justly and affirms the right” (Sir 35:21-22). It then continues: “God indeed will not delay” (Sir. 35:22), which seems to be how Jesus continues here:  Will he be slow to answer? No, for God will render justice. . . for them speedily. So, some translate the question about being slow to answer as a statement: “He is patient toward them.” This difficulty in translation reflects the tension present between the promise of prompt justice and the experience of delay in God’s response to prayer. Indeed, many situations of injustice are not set right until the next life. However, at the end of the passage, the focus is less on when or how God responds and more on one’s own ongoing response of faith. In this regard, a good model for those who call out to him day and night is the widow Anna, who prayed “night and day” (2:27) for the greater part of a century before having her prayer answered! Nonetheless, because of her faith, she was ready when the Son of Man came (to the temple). This concluding reference to the “Son of Man” again links the parable to the previous speech (17:22, 24, 26, 30). Jesus will close his second speech about the end of times with a similar call to vigilant prayer and tribulation, in expecting of “the Son of Man” (21:36).      

Yours in Christ,       

 Fr. Vincent Clemente


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