Twenty Ninth Sunday of the Year
Jesus’ parables are deeply engaging and frustrating, as well as subversive little stories of an alternate universe made up of ordinary things like coins, yeast, wheat, sons, fathers, and widows. These very ordinary things reveal God in surprising, even shocking, or scandalous, ways.
The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in muted conversations around climate change and care of the Earth. The voices muted came from those who suffer disproportionately from climate change despite their wisdom on how to live within limits. These voices are also the voice of the Earth.
Again, a figure from society’s peripheries offers a lesson. This parable fits the classic pattern of turning things upside down. In real life, the widow is the defenseless and the judge powerful, but from a powerless position, she publicly proclaims her human dignity by demanding rights that belong to her and all the lowly. She finds her voice and speaks up for herself because ‘she wanted whether she got it or not, because saying it was how she remembered who she was. It was how she remembered the shape of her heart…’ (Barbara Brown Taylor ‘Bothering God’ in Home by Another Way). At the moment, more than 154 people have been killed in Iran as women (and men) have protested against a monolithic government that through religious leaders imposes restrictions on women’s rights. Indigenous people who have lived in balance with country/land and its beings and spirits, are forced more to defend their cultures and homes that are threatened by mining, oil, forestry, and military corporations. Indigenous voices of women are claiming their dignity ring out: “We must speak for ourselves and declare that we want to live, we want clean air, we want forests, we don’t want our land damaged. We don’t want capitalism that will exterminate all us Indigenous people. We want to live in peace and we want to leave the forest intact for future generations.” The world has left them waiting, as was the widow in the gospel. Despite marches banned, organisations being stigmatised, facing illness and threats to their lives they march and are mobilised whether in the Philippines, Australia and the Amazon region as the legacy and injustice of colonialism continues to live on.
People from the peripheries, like the widow, speak up for themselves and for others. When a young man dies in King Cross from a one-hit punch, a relative with breast cancer, a spouse with Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimers, a child with leukemia, a neglected lonely neighbour, a refugee family facing deportation, or a son or daughter is affected by drugs, we see mothers and fathers and sons and daughters and friends transformed into dedicated voices and advocates as they confront those in power to obtain changes in the law and care for their loved ones. Love for another, whether a family member, neighbour or stranger enables them to persevere because of the conviction of the rightness of their cause.The widow represents people who confront injustice, and sometimes pay the price as they are vilified, arrested, imprisoned, killed, or just disappear. She depicts these dedicated people who confront arrogance, hard-heartedness, greed, insensitivity, and unawareness, patriarchy, militarism, power, and privilege; resist trafficking of people; condemn disappearances of relatives in some countries; those who continue to challenge the male power in the Church.
What has this got to do with the call to “pray always without ceasing” (in Jesus’ words)? It must be seen as the meeting place for God and ourselves where change can happen. The readings interestingly contrast the way men pray and women pray. In Exodus, men pray for God’s intervention to support the slaughter of enemies – if that is possible. These sentiments are at play in the Ukraine-Russia war as if God can take sides. For Jesus the way of peace and prayer is not to change God’s mind but for us to align with God’s refusal to let go of justice concerns for humanity and seek justice for the oppressed. The figure in the gospel confronts the power structure of her day as a way of praying and working persistently to bring her world into harmony with God’s justice. God cannot be depicted like the judge. More likely, it is ourselves when act as if we do not fear God or care for others, when we refuse to hear the cry of the poor and the cry of the Earth (cf. Laudato si’). The gospel figure lives among us in many guises and confronts us with our own culpability for her plight when we become, in our self-absorption and lack of awareness into caricatures of the ‘unjust judge’ in our refusal to look, notice, listen and respond to the cry of vulnerable people who seek justice. The terror, corruption and injustice that oppress people pains God and it pains those who are connected to God, the other and creation. When Jesus asks if the Son of Man will find faith, he is asking if we will stand true in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The call for justice comes as people question ‘When will it (God’s reign) come?’ and things get better for the people in West Papua; for asylum seekers in the world’s detention centres; Indigenous people who try to hold on country, culture and language; for women and LGBTIQ people who face discrimination and violence at home, society and church?
The parable is also about the persistence of God who can wear us down in longing for justice. It is about God’s persistence in loving us and seeking to bring healing to a broken humanity and broken world. For us to persist in prayer is to expose ourselves to God's persistence that longs for a world of justice and beauty where we are all connected and included in our ’common home.’ Our prayer is to connect ourselves to this persistent longing of God. The widow embodies God’s insistence on justice. In this world of chaos, hope comes about by connecting and engaging with others. Our prayer enables us to see our world with different eyes, with God’s eyes. This enables us to see how things are in the world, many of which need not be.
Fredrick Douglass said: “Power concedes nothing without a demand.” The closed universes of powerful institutions such as our places of employment, our churches and local and national governments cannot continue to stand. The call to persist is based on the truth that God is present amongst us, and that it is also God who is crying out for justice where people struggle for change. God is forever trying to break into a closed world, to draw us into relationship and recognise what our relationships with God, neighbour and all creation demand of us. God’s strident voice is reaching out to us that things can be different. God is affected by pain, suffering and injustice. We need to question our prayer if it makes us remote, self-righteous, bigoted or prejudicial, closed off or disengaged from others, or not oriented to God’s world. Who are we listening to then? Prayer expresses our desire to be open to God so that we can hear God speaking to us through the voice of anyone who is silenced, neglected, marginalised or treating unjustly in other ways. So it seems that this parable is less about God as about us, about the state of our hearts and why we need to pray. What is at stake is not who God is and how God is active but who we are and how we are strengthened by prayer to act in our broken world. To pray for each other is to live not unaffected by what is happening in the blessed and broken and beautiful world in which God has placed us. In our world of (western) individualism and alienation, prayer is radically about connection. It is to live not unaffected by what is happening in the lives of others. Prayer connects us to each other, the wonder of creation, and to God. It can be painful but the more we see suffering and injustice around us, and the more we pray the more connected we are to that suffering and more connected to the crucified and risen Jesus. This includes our enemies because he is at work to heal broken humanity.
Bit by bit … she had claimed herself. Freeing yourself was one thing;
claiming ownership of that freed self was another.
Toni Morrison, in Beloved
Showing 1 reaction
Sign in with