by Father Mike Stubbs
When you hang a picture on the wall, usually you place a frame around it. That establishes a boundary between the picture and the wall. It sets the picture off from its background.
Something similar is happening in this Sunday’s Gospel reading, Lk 18:1-18, in which we hear the parable about the widow who constantly asks the unjust judge for justice. The parable that Jesus tells is framed in commentary.
Before Jesus speaks, the Gospel prefaces the parable with the sentence: “Jesus told his disciples a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary.”
This explanation places the emphasis on the widow’s persistence in approaching the judge and holds her up as an example for us to imitate.
Then, after Jesus finishes the parable, he says: “Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says. 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? 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?”
These concluding remarks by Jesus draw our attention to the judge who responds to the widow’s pleas. In comparison, how much more likely is God to answer our prayers for justice! Here, the emphasis shifts to the action of God and to God’s concern that justice be done.
The commentary that frames the parable can shape our interpretation of it. Do we focus our attention on the persistence of the widow, as the editorial comment that precedes the parable suggests? That would lead us to place the emphasis on our own efforts at prayer.
Or, on the other hand, do we instead emphasize God’s dedication to justice? “He will see to it that justice is done for them speedily.” That puts the focus on God’s action, rather than our own.
Both are useful ways to approach the parable. We persist in praying to God, only because of our faith that God will answer our prayer. Without that faith, we would have no motivation to pray.
That explains the poignant remark that Jesus makes at the end of the Gospel reading: “But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
True and real faith will enable us to persist in prayer, even to the end of the world.