October 16, 2016
XXIX Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
The first verse of the Gospel which we heard, gives us the context for the entire story. We learn from the evangelist that Jesus tells a parable about prayer, or rather, “about the need to pray always without becoming weary”. (Lk 18,1).
Before we reflect on the parable, let us focus on the elements of this framework, that reveals to us something important about prayer.
The first element is the term “need”, to pray to Jesus as something necessary; a necessity and not an option. This is something that is part of life, not an accessory that can exist or not exist, without which life has changed. Indeed, one could say that prayer is a matter of life or death, revealed in the first reading (Ex 17, 8-13), which tells how prayer supports the struggle of the people against the Amalekites: if Moses prays, the people are victorious, but if Moses stops praying, the people succumb.
Then we must pray “always”, if prayer is life, then pray, always.” Prayer is not an activity that starts and ends, but is like the breath of life, uninterrupted and unceasing.
And finally, we must pray “without getting weary”, yet the possibility of getting tired exists, and this is true in life and our relationship with the Lord. We know moments of weariness and aridity, of doubt and questioning and especially times when the Lord seems to be nowhere, and appears not to listen nor intervene.
After this introduction, begins the story of the parable: a parable that develops the theme only in part but opens up new horizons and shifts the question. Eventually, the focus will no longer be that of prayer but of faith: “But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”(Lk 18,8).
At the heart of the parable, we find the theme of justice. The expression “do justice” appears four times in the story, through which prayer is considered our recourse to God because He intervenes in our lives and “do justice”. We find here a theme that echoes often in the Psalms, in which from the broken heart of the psalmists rises this invocation to God: “Grant me justice, O God…” (Ps 26.1; 43, 1 …)
Whoever asks God that justice cannot be done unless one is a victim of abuse. In our parable it is a widow, a person in this life situation who has no one to protect her, and therefore impossible to ensure that her rights are guaranteed and protected.
In the Old Testament, widows, orphans and foreigners were a social group particularly vulnerable to oppression and injustice, and therefore, more than others were in need of special attention from God. And God himself was their Defender.
The widow becomes the symbol of all the poor, of all those who, in the story, suffer unjustly, and nobody cares. They are so many.
To express how the Father takes care of them, Jesus depicts a dishonest judge, who does not care at all about the concerns of the widow: “who neither feared God nor respected anyone” (Lk 18, 2.4). At some point he decides to take action, not out of compassion, but only out of expediency, that he be left in peace. Well, Jesus says, even if the judge at some point intervenes, how much more will the Father readily do, for he cares and has a heart only for your good.
Jesus says, this is not the problem, because God’s intervention is assured. What is not certain, says the Lord, is that we have the faith to recognize and to give thanks. And here we return to the theme of the past few Sundays, faith: a faith small but steadfast as a mustard seed, which allowed the healed leper to recognize that salvation came into his life. This faith, which today, allows us, to continue believing that God does not abandon us, that at some point he will intervene, and he will “do justice”.
Do justice – cherish and defend the meaning of life and history, or accomplish His plan of love- these belongs to the Father; but it is up to us to confidently believe that this happens always.
And prayer is the space that allows us to continue to believe, to remain in a relationship of trust with Him, even when the mystery of injustice undermines our faith.
At this point it is necessary to take a step, because we expect that divine justice is more or less like the human justice, free from any possible error or ambiguity. Instead, for God, justice is anything else.
Twice the expression of justice appears in the Gospel of Luke refering to Jesus. Both times are found in the Passion narrative. The first, to acknowledge that Jesus is just, as is the “good thief” (Lk 23: 39-43), when the latter says that he and the other criminals are rightly sentenced to death, while Jesus himself has done nothing wrong.
The second time, a few verses later (v.47), we find a pagan centurion who recognizes that Jesus is righteous after seeing how this man faced death, how he suffered injustice; yet without laying blame on anybody or cursing anyone.
We could say that asking God to do justice also means asking Him to know how to live our lives like Jesus on the Cross. This does not mean to passively suffer injustice, but to defeat it in the offering of a greater love, by choosing to be just, taking unto oneself the injustice and turning it into good.
Thus we ask for changes and our prayer also changes. And this transformation is the only way that our prayer can be tireless: prayer endures only if we let ourselves be transformed, if we accept to change and to grow. It does not transform reality but it refines our request, always making it more and more in harmony with the mind of God.
Original version in italian