October 21, 2019 by
David Jackson in
Reflections on Sunday Gospels
Wisdom from Widow.
Introduction: This Sunday and next the Gospel will present us with twin parables. Both parables are about prayer. Luke often times presents us with a teaching which features a man and a woman. Today’s Gospel features a widow, next Sunday’s features a man. It is important to remember that in the time of Jesus, life expectancy was very short. (Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, p. 41) “Few ordinary people (those of low status) lived out their thirties¼much of Jesus’ audience would have been younger than he, disease-ridden, and looking at a decade or less of life expectancy.” In Jesus’ time with people having a short life span, women married in their early teens. So we should not think of this widow as aged and infirm.
Homily: In this parable two characters are introduced in the early verses. Neither fits the expected stereotype. A judge who neither fears God nor respects human beings is not acting according to what is expected of a good judge. The second book of Chronicles tells what a good judge should do: take care what they do, for they are judging not on behalf of human beings, but on behalf of God, who judges with them. They are admonished to let the fear of God be upon them. They are to act carefully because with God there is no injustice, no partiality, and no bribe taking. It seems that nothing shames this judge. There is no spark of honor left in his soul to which anyone can appeal. As the rich fool was blinded by his wealth, this judge seems to be blinded by his power. (The current political conditions are another example of this kind of blinding.) As the story proceeds, the judge remains utterly unmoved by the widow’s persistent pleas. The final incongruity is that a powerful judge is afraid that a seemingly poor, defenseless widow will come and give him a black eye.
No less startling is the character of the widow. The bible usually describes widows as poor and defenseless. Widows, orphans and aliens are seen as being the most vulnerable and without resources. Many widows were in financially precarious positions. They were without social status and at the mercy of her nearest male relative, who was responsible to take care of her. The widow in this parable, does not fit this portrait at all. Luke uses a parallel word structure to introduce both the judge and the widow. A stark and direct confrontation is set up.
The shock in the parable comes, not in the exploitation of widows, which was common, but in her public and persistent cry for justice. Bribery was a common practice in this time with judges, she refuses to resort to bribery. The woman speaks of an “adversary”. The issue is most likely a money matter: a debt, a pledge, or a portion of an inheritance that is being withheld from her. There is irony in the fact that her complaint may be against the very man who should have been her provider! (These insights are received from Barbara Reid’s, Parables for Preachers, Year C.)
Most commentators emphasize the judge and say that he is a negative example. If an unjust judge would give in to the relentless pleas of a widow, how much more will God, who is upright. This interpretation can give the wrong impression that if one badgers God persistently enough, one can eventually wear God down and get a positive response.
“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 a figure to emulate. When the widow is seen as the God-like figure, then the message of the parable is that when one doggedly resists injustice, faces it, names it, and denounces it until right is achieved, then one is acting as God does. Moreover, it reveals godly power in seeming weakness.
“In a culture that measures power in terms of acquisition of wealth, this parable underscores the paradoxical power of seeming weakness. It shows that the initiative in seeking justice comes from the one who has been wronged, and her power is in doggedly raising her voice day after day after day. The parable portrays not violence, but persistent naming and confronting injustice as the means to accomplish righteousness.”
How can we apply this today? As we experience the Department of Justice and the Attorney General we have parallels to the judge in the parable. As we watch Ruth Bader Ginsburg we have a living resister. The first example is part of the Via Negativa, the second is part of the Via Positiva. This is to lead us to the Via Creativa which in turn will lead to the Via Transformativa. Am I experiencing any creativity in confronting the negatives today? What action of transformation is calling me? The positive and negative is also being lived out in Greta and those criticizing her. Which side are you on? Who would have thought that a young woman with Asperger would be the instrument to mobilize those working to save our planet? God?