And he told them a parable, to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor regarded man; and there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, `Vindicate me against my adversary.’ For a while he refused; but afterward he said to himself, `Though I neither fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will vindicate her, or she will wear me out by her continual coming.'” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God vindicate his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will vindicate them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?“
I was a mere kid when Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty, the necessary step to create “the great society” of our days. Since those days, war has been declared on many things: the war on drugs in one of the most resounding victory of … drugs. And poverty is doing quite well, thank you. It would have been better to leave the poor alone and stop taxing the air out of them. After all, Jesus himself said that “the poor you will always have with you.” (Matthew 26:11) So far, Jesus has it right. Poverty, drugs, social inequality etc. are mountains that no human government is able move.
The parable of the widow and the unjust judge is, like all parables of Jesus, fraught with hidden meaning. The objective is to teach us to persevere in prayer. By personal experience, painful personal experience if I may add, I have learned that perseverance in prayer develops the virtue of patience. Perseverance and patience are needed to develop trust. In time those things produce the desired fruit: faith which is more or less like perseverance, patience, and trust all wrapped into one bountiful grace, the kind that can move mountains and throw them into the depths of the sea. Time invested in persevering prayer is time well invested.
He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20 NIV)
Was Jesus disrespectful to his Father by comparing Him to a crooked judge? No. He was using hyperbole, something very dear to the argumentative people of the Orient and also to one Scot, Robert Burns:
“As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I;
And I will love thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry.
Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun:
O I will love thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.”
Burns piles up impossibles to move the heart of his beloved. Jesus presents to us one impossible to give us the key to God’s heart. Because our time is limited, our patience is short, our heart is weak. And God owns all the time there is, and his patience is as abundant as his love, his heart is also a treasure that once conquered will make the impossible possible.
So the idea is to show that even the unjust judge will surrender to the insistence of the importunate widow. There is as much justice in the unjust magistrate as there is power in that widow and yet, perseverance will produce justice even when it is not there. The widow will prevail over her adversary. The power of the judge will be aligned with her needs, and the unjust judge will for once, render true justice in line with God’s will.
And that is what has to be revealed: God’s will. God wants us to have faith in him, to know his heart so well that we trust him blindly, without hesitation. That is the kind of faith that can harness the power to move mountains, unmovable obstacles before us like the dark heart of a crooked judge or the pure heart of a reluctant maiden.
Jesus ends the parable with a surprising eschatological phrase: “When the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Why did he connect perseverance in prayer and steadfastness of heart with the end of the world?
I believe the times we are living provide the answer: all over this old world of ours, wicked men have the upper hand. Power, even in God’s Church is for the most part in the hands of undeserving men. The Church is powerless one more time. The flock of God is scattered all over the world, the shepherds have fled before the wolves and soon we will be asked to bow down before injustice.
This is a time to persevere: “The only arms which will remain for you will be the Rosary and the Sign left by my Son.” (Our Lady of Akita)
Those are our only weapons but what formidable weapons they are! Imagine what will happen when the humble persevering prayers of all Christians meet the end of God’s patience with our adversary, and a just judgment suddenly dawns upon us! Imagine the blessings if He finds a strong faith in our hearts!
Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. (1 Peter 5:8-10 NIV)
On the Vigil of All Saints