When I read this morning’s gospel (Luke 18:1-8)…
Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’
“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”
And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”…
…it reminded me of the beatitude, Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (justice), for they will be satisfied. The parable about the widow’s persistence in seeking justice reads like an expansion of the beatitude. The message is that ‘hungering and thirsting’ for justice is more than longing. Prayer takes on an active dimension. And the prayer is rewarded.
A second reflection is that this is a parable about the just nature of God. Praying constantly for thy kingdom come is an act of faith and imbues that kingdom with justice. (Imagine a place where no police or courts or jails would be needed!)
But these are only two reflections. A more difficult part of interpreting this gospel is Jesus’ rhetorical question: will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly.
On one level, we look for evidence that justice prevails and, in some cases at least, find it lacking. Putin’s war against Ukraine, the continuing victimization of women in Iran and Afghanistan, the misery of refugees from South and Central America or African countries, or the ‘smaller’ wrongs inflicted on people who have served time in prison, seem to deny that justice comes quickly.
Elsewhere in the gospel Jesus spoke about justice coming only after death. ‘a rich man was dressed in purple and fine linen and feasted sumptuously. At his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table;…The poor man died …. The rich man also died … he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.” But Abraham said, “Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. (Luke 16:19-25) Jesus’ words, elsewhere in the gospel, make it hard to take ‘quick justice’ as a promise.
Jesus’ own crucifixion was the result of injustice. His resurrection, while a justification of his life and coming quickly following his death, seems to point to ultimate justice rather than justice, here, in our time.
On the face of it, it seems hard to argue the case that we get justice and quickly. It would certainly make the world a better place if justice evidently prevailed and injustices were visibly punished. But arguing that we deserve justice quickly ignores the fact that Jesus said that we have to pursue it in the way we live. We have to demand justice and press the case from those who fear neither God nor care what people think.
Jesus’ intended that we internalize justice as a way of pursuing it: that we act as though justice is the right thing to do, that it is its own reward (and that it will also be rewarded) and that we hold others to the standard of justice, whether we are the victims of the injustice or the witnesses. In the reading from Jeremiah in this morning’s lectionary, we glimpse a sense of how Jesus saw the Father’s wishes and shaped his instruction accordingly: I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.(Jeremiah 31:33) The Law was meant as a way of life, not an external set of rules.
In a world where economic, ethnic, racial, gender, environmental and military injustice appears so evident, there is a lot of work for Christians.
Jesus expands his opening instruction, pray always and not give up, with the detail in the parable that the widow kept coming. Praying persistently is an act of trust that God will respond. Clearly one cannot spend every hour on one’s knees. But it does raise questions about how and how often to pray.
Intending to make one’s life prayer-in-action is one way. Begin the day with the desire to do God’s will in every circumstance that you encounter. Pausing during the day to give thanks, or to ask for grace to accomplish something that helps build up the kingdom is another way. If you anticipate encountering someone difficult to deal with, imagine the most positive outcome for the interaction. At day’s end, recall the moments of grace, the missed opportunities and think of the graces you will need for the day to come.
It is not easy. Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk, wrote the following:
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that
I think I am following Your will does not mean that I am
actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please You
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that, if I do this, You will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore I will trust You always though I may seem to be lost
and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for You are ever with me,
and You will never leave me to face my perils alone.