The Persistent Widow
Ordinary 29 Year C
A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
St. Luke 18: 1 — 8
This reading, and the following one (the Pharisee and the Publican at Prayer) form a single lesson taught by our Lord to encourage humble yet patient prayer; prayer rising to Him from those who have responded to His call, and are strongly focussed on His Return at the end of time. It is prayer which takes our Lord seriously and prepares us for His Second Coming. There is a close connection with the preceding chapter of Luke. It is the mention there of the Second Advent which leads Jesus to speak of the need for prayer now and watchfulness in view of it. St Luke carefully reflects the questioning mood of the infant Church so that it will not faint under trial or give up prayer in despair.
In the unfolding Christian Year (which comes to an end just before Advent begins) the two readings present our last two parables and they are about prayer. Each balances the other, and provides us with plenty over which to ponder.
Some Reflections on the Text
Then he told them a parable about the necessity for them
to pray always without becoming weary.
The word “then” is a deliberate link with the latter part of Chapter 17 (for example, Verses 20 ― 37 as discussed above). What follows is unusual, in that the meaning of the parable is explained first. This tends to emphasise the importance of the teaching contained in it. So, following our Blessed Messiah’s teaching method, let’s pause to reflect on the main ideas He presents. First, St. Luke assumes his readers will bear in mind the strong emphasis our Lord placed on His disciples remaining very focussed on His Return. This is critically important in any Gospel reflection, and especially when our Lord Yeshua makes specific reference to it ― directly or indirectly. The first advent of the Messiah and His second advent are to remain significant centres of our attention.
Of special importance is the Lord′s fundamental teaching from the Hebrew Scriptures that His disciples are to walk always in the presence of God, by a spirit of prayer, love and sorrow for sin. (Haydock).
Our Hebrew Christian spirituality is strongly imbued with awareness and demonstration of the Presence of God — together with the joy of belonging to His Household.
The beautiful expression “pray always” is also echoed frequently in the teaching of
St. Paul. (1 Thessalonians 5: 17; 2 Thessalonians 1: 11; Romans 1:10; and Ephesians 6: 18)
In case a reader is unfamiliar with this admonishment, we hasten to explain that it does not mean we should be incessantly performing acts of prayer. It encourages us to keep up the habit of prayer, and endeavour to be always in a prayerful frame of mind whilst it certainly is not burdening us with guilt of feeling we don′t ever pray enough. ― Nevertheless our Lord Yeshua clearly expects His followers to, as it were, be looking for every opportunity when they could legitimately turn their attention to Him. He did not lay down any detailed rules! Our Lord commissioned His Apostles to attend to this matter and teach the people what was appropriate in their culture and circumstances. We are cautioned, though, to make sure we do not leave prayer to become some haphazard, casual affair, which “happens if it happens”.
He said, “There was a judge in a certain town who neither
feared God nor respected any human being.
It seems here that our Lord has taken an example from a non-Jewish context. Traditional Jewish tribunals consisted of three judges and, despite some exceptions, generally were not of evil reputation. Indeed they were required to have a seven-fold qualification of: prudence, gentleness, piety, hatred of mammon, love of truth, be much beloved, and of good report.
In our parable we have the proverbial description of a thoroughly bad person in high office.
And a widow in that town used to come to him and say,
‘Render a just decision for me against my adversary.’
Her adversary (notice the legal term — she does not call him her enemy) was probably a rich neighbour, who, taking advantage of the death of her husband, had stolen her land. Her request is principally to have restored to her only what is rightfully hers. Her plea is a reflection of her belief in the Scriptures — where God calls Himself, “a father of the fatherless, and the defender of the cause of the widow”. (See for example Isaiah 1. 11). The expression, “used to come”, obviously indicates the woman habitually presented herself before the judge in the hope that he would finally adjudicate in her favour. The issue here is that she saw no other hope but to face the seeming impossible and just keep on pleading for help. This detail is important in the Lord’s story.
Verses 4 and 5
For a long time the judge was unwilling, but eventually
he thought, ‘While it is true that I neither fear God nor
respect any human being,
because this widow keeps bothering me I shall deliver
a just decision for her lest she finally come and strike me’.”
There is a hint in the account that the judge has been holding out for a bribe but eventually it seems he realised it was not worth the trouble.
J. C. Ryle has an interesting if slightly quaint comment to make on the judge’s assessment on the situation (specifically the phrase, “strike me”).
It signifies literally “to strike under the eyes”. Some have thought
it very strange that a man in the judge’s position should use such
language, and express any fear that a poor, weak, defenceless
woman could trouble him so much as to require such a strong
phrase. Yet a moment’s reflection will show us that selfish, worldly,
wicked men are just exactly the persons who employ such violent
expressions, in order to express their sense of annoyance even on
trifling occasions. How often, for instance, people talk of being
“tired to death,” or “worried out of their minds,” when there is
nothing to justify the use of such language.
Verses 6 and 7
The Lord said, “Pay attention to what the dishonest
Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones
who call out to him day and night? Will he be slow to
Our Lord now tells his listeners, “Pay attention to what the unjust judge says.″ (Notice the same use of language as for the unjust steward, Luke 16: 8). Then after that pause He continues, ″Will not God then secure the rights of His chosen ones who call out to Him day and night? Will He be slow to answer them?”
An anonymous source offers a useful comment to us.
The moral difficulty, that in this parable God seems to be compared
to an unjust judge, is best met by saying that in reality God is not so
much compared as contrasted with him. The argument is: if justice
can be obtained by persistence even from an unjust judge, how much
more can it be obtained from the Author of all justice. It is
true that God is said, like the unjust judge, to delay justice.
But His motive is entirely different. His delay is due to love, love of the
saints, whose faith He deigns to purify and strengthen by much
waiting, and love of their adversaries, to whom He gives a space for
repentance before the day of vengeance comes.
We note how our Lord uses one of His favourite techniques in contrasting the godless rogue of a judge with God. If such a cold, uncaring and hardened person will finally grant petitions, will not the God of lovingkindness and mercy want to grant the requests of His faithful people, whose hope and trust in Him never faded?
(See also our Summary Overview later)
I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily.
But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
Our Lord concludes His commentary on the parable with a highlighted emphasis. Talking about His loyal followers making their frequent, even repeated requests to Him, He says:―
• Every single one of them will be heard;
• If the answers seem long in coming it is only because of God′s love
and mercy towards the whole of His Creation.
There are two sentences in this verse. We offer further comments on each from an anonymous source.
Concerning the reference to “quickly” or “speedily”:
Christ’s coming, though it may seem to be long delayed will be as
speedy as the scheme of God’s providence, which takes account of
the needs of the whole world, will permit. It will not be delayed an
instant longer than is necessary.
The sense is, “In spite of the warning and encouragement I am
giving you, the faith of many will have waxed cold at the time of
My return”. Christ does not mean that the elect will have lost their
faith altogether, but that on account of the trials and
disappointments which will precede the Second Advent, and also
on account of its unexpected delay, they will be discouraged.
The scholars are emphatic that our Lord is referring here to faith in His Second Coming. And so He draws attention for the need for His followers to be very conscientious about ongoing, faithful prayer. Thus we must take care not to lose heart or allow anything to hijack our focus on His Presence both in this world and His Promised Return to complete the establishment of His Kingdom.
Our Lord’s closing words do reveal a touch of anxiety. J. C. Ryle in his notes on Luke gives us a sobering view — not so popular in our times. However, when our Lord bares His soul, He is usually in close harmony with this kind of rabbinic resort to the ancient Scriptures. We offer it as a possible aid in sharing the deep concern Jesus has for his flock and the trials he knows they will need to endure.
Our Lord teaches that there will be comparatively few true believers
upon earth when He comes again. True faith will be found as rare as
it was in the days of Noah, when only eight persons entered the ark,
and in the days of Lot, when only four persons left Sodom. He is
speaking, we must remember, in close connection with the account
of the Second Advent, and His own vivid comparison of the days of
Noah and Lot with the day when the Son of man shall be revealed.
The unbelief of people on the subject of both advents of the Lord is strikingly shown in the beginning of Isaiah 53 and of 2 Peter 3. Even in our own times, talk of the Great Return of Yeshua our Messiah is frequently merged with the background so as to keep the focus on the ″here and now″. This can be a dangerous distortion of His teaching.
There is doubtless an implied lesson here, that persevering prayer is the secret of keeping up faith. St Augustine says, “When faith fails, prayer dies. In order to pray, then, we must have faith; and that our faith fail not, we must pray. Faith pours forth prayer; and the pouring forth of the heart in prayer gives steadfastness to faith.”
Focus 1 — The Judge
Jesus pictures the judge in the strongest possible contrast to God.
How are they different?
No reverence for God
Models what He commands
No compassion for man
Greatest caring / sympathy
Doesn’t know the woman
Knows each person
Finds her troublesome
Welcomes our petitions
Uninterested in her needs / fate
Concerned for all our needs and fate
Focus 2 — The Woman
What does the woman teach us? If this poor woman can have enough
faith that eventually, despite all delay and discouragement and seeming
hopelessness, something will be done to help her should not we
persevere in making our requests known to God and believing they
Focus 3 — The Church
What is Jesus asking the Church to demonstrate?
• The Church will always have her adversaries and will need to be
on guard against worldly influences infiltrating God’s Domain.
• The Church must continue to long for and pray for all the
blessings promised and expected at Jesus’ return.
The Jerome Commentary closes off the section in a compact statement: “The final parousia (the Lord’s return) may be long in coming, but it will come surely, speedily, and in a completely unexpected way“.
We close our walk through this significant parable with a thought from St. Augustine (per Leo Haydock), and another from Joseph Dillersberger:
“The Almighty does not always hear us as soon as we could wish, nor
in a manner that seems best to us; but if we are not always heard
according to our desires, we always are as far as is conducive to our
salvation. He sometimes delays, in order to exercise our patience, and
increase our ardour: sometimes He grants, in His anger, what, in His
mercy, He would refuse. Let us then pray always, desire always, love
always. This is the continual voice of prayer, which the Almighty
demands of you. You are silent when you cease to love. The cooling of
charity, is the silence of the heart.” (St. Augustine)
There is a great deal contained in this parable. It is a most remarkable
thing that Our Lord picks out such a hard man, an unjust judge, as He
Himself calls him, in order to bring the truth in picture form before us
— the truth regarding the delay and postponement of everything.
Thereby it is admitted that the followers of Christ will have to put up
with a great deal of unjust treatment in this world at the hands of those
opposed to God, just as that widow had to. It will often appear as though
God cared neither for His own righteousness nor for men at all. In such
circumstances only one course remains for the Christian; he must
continue to ask for help day and night and not grow faint. He can build
his hope upon Our Lord’s words that God, in spite of all appearances to
the contrary, is in fact so different from the unjust judge simply because
He is magnanimous, merciful and gracious to His Elect. It is not
superfluous when Our Lord refers here to God’s characteristics — the
Greek word here is more fully and better translated by some such word
as “magnanimity” than by the more usual “patience” or “long-suffering”.
For the testing to which the Elect are exposed in this world is so severe
and hard that they often have need once again to reflect upon this fact,
self-evident as it may be, that God is just and magnanimous.
We too cannot escape the demands of our status as members of God’s Household:
• we must honour God’s justice and righteousness;
• we must reflect His unique, loving humility and magnanimity.
Blessed be HaShem — blessed be the Holy Name of God.
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(Mark 16: 15)
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Let us remember God’s Teaching, contained in His Word and in doing so,
The Persistent Widow
Ordinary Sunday 29 Year C St. Luke 18: 1 — 8
1 Despite the regular calls by our Lord for His followers to remain faithful in
2 One of the great paradoxes of our Faith is that whilst we must remain
3 St. Luke said our Lord told this parable because it is necessary to pray
Our Blessed Messiah calls each of His disciples down through the ages,
Let us pray for one another and help one another meet the Lord’s
Luke 18: 1 — 8
Ordinary 29 Year C
1 1 Then he told them a parable about the necessity for them to pray
2 “There was a judge in a certain town who neither feared God nor
3 And a widow in that town used to come to him and say, ‘Render a just
4 For a long time the judge was unwilling, but eventually he thought,
5 2 because this widow keeps bothering me I shall deliver a just decision
6 The Lord said, “Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says.
7 Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to
8 I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily. But
1 [1-14] The particularly Lucan material in the travel narrative concludes with two parables on prayer. The first (⇒ Luke 18:1-8) teaches the disciples the need of persistent prayer so that they not fall victims to apostasy (⇒ Luke 18:8). The second (⇒ Luke 18:9-14) condemns the self-righteous, critical attitude of the Pharisee and teaches that the fundamental attitude of the Christian disciple must be the recognition of sinfulness and complete dependence on God’s graciousness. The second parable recalls the story of the pardoning of the sinful woman (⇒ Luke 7:36-50) where a similar contrast is presented between the critical attitude of the Pharisee Simon and the love shown by the pardoned sinner.
2  Strike me: the Greek verb translated as strike means “to strike under the eye” and suggests the extreme situation to which the persistence of the widow might lead. It may, however, be used here in the much weaker sense of “to wear one out.”
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition