Today’s gospel starts with the words: Jesus told his disciples a parable.
The parable is one of the primary ways Jesus teaches his disciples. Jesus rarely provides a detailed explanation of the exact message of these stories. This means that they are often open to a wide range of interpretation.
Today’s parable goes by several names such as the Parable of the Unwise/Unjust Judge, the Parable of the Persistent Widow and the more thorough scholars call it the Parable of the Unwise/Unjust Judge and the Persistent Widow.
Most commentaries and writing on this story seem to suggest that this is a teaching highlighting the importance of persistence in our prayer life.
Perhaps the way St. Luke starts the story with the words “Jesus told his disciples a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary” might have something to do with that interpretation.
Sister Barbara Reid is a scripture scholar, and she has authored a series of books called Parables for Preachers. She offers a twist to this tale that makes the story, at least for me, come fully to life.
Many preachers see the judge as the God figure and the widow as the person who perseveres in her pleas or prayers for justice. Reid suggests that the widow is the better image of God in this story.
Sister Barbara states that “there is a far simpler way to understand the parable. It is the widow who is cast in the image of God and who is presented to the disciples as the figure to emulate.”
The theological debate over which character in this particular parable is the God figure raises a more fundamental question. What is our image of God?
The Hebrew Scriptures talk about Yahweh. No one can look upon God, and he usually appears as a voice from above or in one case, he is a burning bush on a mountainside where he encounters Moses.
In my limited understanding of Islam, both Allah and the prophet, Mohammad, are never depicted in pictures.
In Christianity, however, the exact opposite is true. Images of God abound.
Many of the greatest art treasures in the world are of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The father is often painted in the clouds. The Holy Spirit is a dove and tongues of fire. And Jesus, well it would be difficult to summarize the many different ways he has been portrayed.
It is not so much what God looks like that seems to be the important question but instead what kind of God do we believe in and follow.
It occurred to me that the fundamental difference between being a Catholic Christian and a Muslim or a Jew is that we believe in the incarnation.
We believe that God so loved the world that he sent his only son to be with us. He did not come as a king or general. Jesus was a carpenter, an itinerant teacher. He had no real power or social status.
Let’s wander back to the parable and ask could God really be the widow in the story?
A widow in our Lord’s time was not a commanding figure. In fact, she was without any real power. A woman whose husband died and was without an adult son would be dependent on the other males in her extended family and if no one took her in, which was often the case, then she would be destitute.
How could this be an appropriate image for God in our lives?
Isn’t God all powerful? Isn’t he one to be worshiped perhaps even feared?
A scholar I once read said that if you want to know what God is really like don’t look for the answer in the paintings on the roof of the Sistine chapel- instead read the parables.
For one thing the portrait of God as the persistent widow offers us a strong female image of God. It is not the only time Jesus uses a persistent woman as an image of God. The parable of the woman and the lost coin is clearly a female portrait of a God who never stops looking for us.
Does seeing God as a woman challenge your image?
In this interpretation of today’s parable we as the followers of Jesus, are the unwise judge in the story. This seems appropriate as we are often so confident in our own abilities and invested in our ego that we refuse or are unable to hear God.
Perhaps our prayers, if we pray, are so noisy and filled with our wants that we can’t hear as God nudges us onto a different path.
Another reason Jesus uses parables is to teach us that we are called to be like God; after all we are told, we are made in God’s image.
When we emulate God as the persistent widow, we find the strength to never give up no matter how difficult the struggle. Jesus wants us to be like the persistent widow and to be willing to stand for what is right.
What does that mean?
Perhaps you are in school. You know of a person who has no friends. Maybe they are the subject of some vicious taunting on the Internet.
As a young follower of Christ, you are to be strong like the widow- to be persistent in doing what is right. You must find the courage, like the widow, to be a friend to the one everyone else considers to be unworthy even if it means you become the outcast.
You are at work and are asked to do something you know is not right. To speak up about this injustice may cost you your job or a promotion. Are you persistent in your belief in a God who calls you to be righteous, especially when others are taking an easier road?
Are you addicted to something in your life? One of the advantages of living in the year 2013 is that there are so many things you can become obsessed about. The addiction may be so loud you might not hear God telling you that you are loved. If you listen, if you put aside being the unwise judge who knows everything, then you will hear that change is possible- not easy but possible.
The persistent widow is a powerful image of our God because our God is, in fact, persistent.
Jesus is here with us at every Catholic mass. He wants you to come forward and to receive him and then return to your pews and be still.
Listen for the voice of the persistent widow- our God. If we are patient and learn to pray always and only rarely using words, we will eventually hear God’s voice.
This is one reason you are encouraged to stay to the end of mass. Listen for the words Jesus uses persistently in his teachings when He tells us- Go in peace.
We will find that peace by glorifying our Lord through our lives which we do by persistently acting in ways that are right and just.
We come to know what is right and just through quiet prayer where we listen for the voice of our loving and persistent God.