Gospel for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
1 Jesus told His disciples a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary. He said:
2 “There was a judge in a certain town who neither feared God nor respected any human being. 3 And a widow in that town used to come to him and say, ‘Render a just decision for me against my adversary.’ 4 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, 5 because this widow keeps bothering me I shall deliver a just decision for her lest she finally come and strike me.’”
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 Him day and night? Will He be slow to answer them? 8 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?” (Lk 18:1-8).
I – The Gospel of Prayer
Among the four Evangelists, St. Luke stands out for his constant emphasis on the fundamental role of prayer in the life of Our Lord Jesus Christ and in His teachings.
He transmits to us the divine maxim that opens today’s Gospel, according to which we must “pray always without becoming weary” (Lk 18:1). He also underlines the fact that Our Lord was praying after His Baptism in the Jordan, a detail omitted by the other Evangelists: “when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the Heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him” (Lk 3:21-22). He is the only one to mention that, on the eve of choosing the Twelve, Jesus spent the whole night in prayer (cf. Lk 6:12-13), and likewise, in the account of St. Peter’s profession of faith, he alone mentions that the Saviour raised prayers to the Father before questioning the disciples about His own identity (cf. Lk 9:18-20).
Unlike the other Evangelists, St. Luke also highlights the important detail that Jesus prayed just before the Transfiguration (cf. Lk 9:28-29), since He had withdrawn to the mountain with Peter, James and John to implore special graces there.
In this narrative, the Divine Master prays when the disciples return exultant from their mission (cf. Lk 10:17, 21-22) and He does so again before teaching them the Our Father (cf. Lk 11:1a). It is worth pointing out the reason why, according to the Evangelist, Jesus transmits this sublime prayer to His followers. Admiring the Lord’s prayerful attitude with admiration, they asked Him: “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples” (Lk 11:1b).
We read in St. Luke’s account that the Redeemer prayed to sustain St. Peter’s faith before the Crucifixion: “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren” (Lk 22:32). Likewise, during the Passion, the immolated Lamb pleas for His enemies (cf. Lk 23:34), and He prays at the moment of death, exclaiming with a loud voice: “Father, into Thy hands I commit my spirit!” (Lk 23:46).
It is also deeply moving to note that the first and the last words of Jesus recorded in the third Gospel refer to the Eternal Father. In the episode of His loss and finding in the Temple, the Child Jesus replies to His Mother: “Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?” (Lk 2:49) And on the Cross, before dying, the Saviour addresses the Father with touching tenderness, in the words that conclude the previous paragraph.
Finally, it is the saintly physician who teaches us the need to pray insistently, through the parable of the man who asks his neighbour for bread at an inconvenient hour. On this occasion Our Lord says: “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Lk 11:9); “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” (Lk 11:13). The same Evangelist also recounts the episode of Martha and Mary, emphasizing the superiority of contemplation over action (cf. Lk 10:38-42).
St. Luke thus intends to foster the spirit of prayer in his readers, dedicating himself in a special way to immortalizing the statements of Our Lord that touch on this matter of capital importance. Without this spirit, it is impossible to remain vigilant and prepared for the supreme day of meeting the Bridegroom who comes without warning to celebrate the wedding feast.
Prayer is therefore a vital and weighty matter for every baptized person. Without practising it as God desires, no one can be saved, and conversely, for those who pray with faith, everything becomes possible.
II – The Parable of Confident Insistence
The rich content of the parable offered by the Liturgy of this 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time has been fruitfully explored over the centuries by the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, but perhaps it acquires an even more crucial meaning in our own times.
St. John Chrysostom1 teaches us that God wants, out of goodness, to grant us His grace, but He wills that we receive it through prayer. St. Augustine2 explains that the parable of the dishonest judge is an example based not on similarity but on opposition: the wickedness of the magistrate, who does justice only to avoid disturbance, is diametrically opposed to divine benevolence, inclined to attend to and help those who plead with confidence.
It is interesting to note what the Eagle of Hippo comments on the prayer to be formulated, that is, the supplication that justice be done: “God’s chosen ones ask Him to avenge them, and the same is stated of the martyrs in St. John’s Book of Revelation (cf. Rv 6:10), although we are clearly advised to pray for our enemies and persecutors (cf. Mt 5:44). It must be understood, therefore, that the vengeance exacted by the just is the ruin of all the wicked, which comes about in two ways: either by returning to justice, or by losing, through torment, the power which now enables them to act, at least temporarily, against the good.”3
St. Cyril, for his part, asserts that it is highly virtuous to forget wrongs committed against us. Indeed, to overlook offences is a glory for the Christian. But, teaches the same Saint, it is necessary “to have recourse to God for help, and to cry out against those who reject His glory,”4 when we are faced with evildoers who attack the divine majesty and make war on the ministers of sacred dogma.
In this Gospel, then, we find a teaching that is sometimes forgotten: the obligation to cry out to God, beseeching Him to do justice against the wicked and to favour the good. In the ineffable canticle of the Magnificat, the Blessed Virgin Mary exults in the Lord because He has heard her ardent prayers, which implored, as can easily be deduced, that justice be done. For Her, the coming of the Messiah, virginally conceived in her most pure womb, constituted a holy reprisal of God, setting all things in order: “He has shown strength with His arm, He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree; He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent empty away” (Lk 1:51-53).
It is within this context that we must examine the treasures hidden in the parable contemplated in today’s Liturgy.
Tenacious, assiduous and holy insistence
1 Jesus told His disciples a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary. He said:
The Divine Master wishes to equip His disciples with the most effective weapon for the apostolate they are to undertake throughout the earth: “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation” (Mk 16:15). What is this weapon? Insistent, assiduous and tenacious prayer.
That is why St. Paul, a man of fervent prayer, overflowing with faith asserts: “For though we live in the world we are not carrying on a worldly war, for the weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle to the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor 10:3-5).
Yes, prayer turns frail man into a divine combatant, capable, like the Apostle of the Gentiles, of the most daring epic feats. There is only one condition for this: that he bends the knee and prays always, without becoming weary.
Two antipodal figures
2 “There was a judge in a certain town who neither feared God nor respected any human being. 3 And a widow in that town used to come to him and say, ‘Render a just decision for me against my adversary.’”
The judge and the widow are antipodes. The first possesses the power to decide the fate of others, and uses it in a corrupt and abusive way; he is a proud and merciless tyrant dressed in a toga. The second is the prototype of vulnerability, indicated, in those times, by the fact of being a woman left alone in the world, without the protection of her husband.
But the judge’s brute power is countered by the prayer of weakness: “Render a just decision for me against my adversary.” And at the end of the parable, weakness proves victorious, thanks to the weapon used: supplication.
What does the widow ask? That justice be meted out to her adversary. Here we are faced with an apparent contradiction. Shouldn’t Christians forgive their enemies? Why does Our Lord encourage us here to ask for justice against our adversaries? How can these two attitudes be harmonized? Divine wisdom understands and explains everything, as we shall see.
The power of insistence
4 “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, 5 because this widow keeps bothering me I shall deliver a just decision for her lest she finally come and strike me.’”
Any good teacher knows how to explain doctrine by means of images and examples; the Divine Master is an unsurpassable pedagogue, with an absolutely unique gift for devising parables. Here He shows that the judge’s refusal endures for some time. The text does not state this explicitly, but implies the role of the widow’s persevering insistence so that the magistrate finally gives in to her request. This is the attitude God expects of His children in prayer: holy tenacity, which manifests the authenticity of the desire.
The widow, however, persisted in her request – and so forcefully that the judge feared being struck by her. Should one then do violence in prayer directed to God? Our Lord teaches us that “the Kingdom of Heaven has suffered violence, and men of violence take it by force” (Mt 11:12). And St. Paul tells us in the Letter to the Hebrews that Jesus obtained His own Resurrection by ardent prayer: “In the days of His flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to Him who was able to save Him from death, and He was heard for His godly fear” (5:7).
But how are we to understand violence in prayer? Obviously it is not a reaction to some injustice, as in the case of the widow. God is a most merciful Father and His children owe Him an unshakeable trust. The violence to be used comes from the virtue of zeal, which is a result of fervent charity. Consumed by the fire of love and interested only in God’s glory, the faithful are moved to pray with vehemence, as the Saints teach us. The intensity of prayer in no way diminishes reverential awe and filial trust; rather, it is the result of a virtuous audacity, altogether respectful and devout.
Relevant, in this connection, is a passage from a prayer composed by St. Anthony Mary Claret, beseeching Our Lady for the salvation of souls exposed to tremendous risks of damnation:
“Ah, [on seeing souls plunging into perdition] it is not possible to be silent, my Mother. […] I will clamour, I will shout, I will cry to Heaven and to earth, that so great an evil may be remedied. I will not be silent! And if I become hoarse or voiceless from shouting, I will raise my hands to Heaven, my hair will stand on end and I will stamp my feet on the ground to make up for the loss of speech.
“And so, my Mother, starting right now, I begin to speak and to shout and I have recourse to Thee. Yes, to Thee, the Mother of mercy: deign to help me in this great need; do not deny me, for I know that in the order of grace Thou art all powerful. Deign, I beseech Thee, to give the grace of conversion to all, for without it we could do nothing, and then send me and Thou wilt see how they are converted.”5
God is a just Father
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 Him day and night? Will He be slow to answer them? 8 I tell you, He will see to it that justice is done for them speedily.”
Our Lord leads His listeners towards the conclusion of the parable, pointing out the attitude of the unrighteous magistrate, resolved to heed the widow’s pleas: “Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says.” As if to say: see how this unscrupulous, dishonest, brutal and overbearing man gives in to the pleas of a destitute woman.
And the Divine Master continues, asking His listeners: “Will not God,” who is the good Judge par excellence, “secure the rights of His chosen ones?” But who are these? The answer may surprise, but it is easily gathered from the divine words: they are those who call out to Him day and night!
The contrast is highly expressive. If even the wicked judge hears the insistent entreaties, how can He who is not only just, but Justice itself, not do so? God will act in favour of His elect and will do it “speedily”!
In St. John’s Book of Revelation, this evangelical doctrine is expressed magnificently:
“When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne; they cried out with a loud voice, ‘O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before Thou wilt judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell upon the earth?’ Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.
“When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale; the sky vanished like a scroll that is rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the generals and the rich and the strong, and every one, slave and free, hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand before it?’” (6:9-17).
Mysterious relationship between faith and justice
8b “But when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?”
This verse is cloaked in a certain mystery. It seems to establish a direct relation between faith and the sense of justice, lively in the spirit of the widow of the parable, but on the wane nowadays. St. Paul teaches, with perfect clarity, how Christians must be immune to the spirit of the world, perverted as it is by the influence of the prince of darkness:
“For what partnership have righteousness and iniquity? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, ‘I will live in them and move among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people’ (Lv 26:11-12). Therefore come out from them, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch nothing unclean; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty” (2 Cor 6:14-18).
Just as the Jewish people were freed from the chains of Egyptian slavery by the glorious exodus, so Christians must abandon today’s neo-paganism, not necessarily by retiring to solitary places, but by seeking to remain faithful to truth, goodness and beauty – in short, immune to the contagion of the current relativism, libertinism and prosaicism.
For those who live fighting to preserve their innocence in a tainted environment, moral degradation causes deep pain and righteous indignation, for it is an offense and an aggression against the order established by the Creator. Thus, these soldiers of Christ must turn to the God of vengeance and, with reverent violence, raise prayers in supplication that justice be done.
We thus grasp how terrible is the leprosy of mental confusion that today assails the hosts of good. The loss of the sense of sin and the miasma spread by a distorted notion of mercy, understood as a kind of aberrant tolerance on the part of God towards evil, have as a direct consequence the dangerous and dramatic diminution of the virtue of faith. The end of time, which will precede the coming of Christ, could well be characterized by the muteness of the good, their passivity before the torrent of sins, and their serious lack of righteous wrath before the horrors produced by human pride.
III – Let us Ask for Justice with Ardent Faith!
In this splendid Gospel passage, the Divine Master teaches us to pray as pleases the Father. Yes, God wants children intent on His glory, unwilling to see Him despised, offended and trampled underfoot by the insolence of perverse men. Just as the widow besought justice against her adversary, so the Holy Church, the Virginal Mother of all those who possess the life of grace, cries out to Heaven for vengeance against the enemies of the Most High.
St. Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort, a Marian apostle of untiring zeal and powerful speech, was a fiery and éclatante example of this way of praying, so highly praised by Our Lord. In prefacing the Constitutions of the Congregation which he intended to found, he addressed God in sublime, devout and intrepid terms, consumed as he always was for the glory of Jesus and of His Blessed Mother. Here are some extracts from the renowned Fiery Prayer:
“Be mindful, Lord, of Thy Congregation, when Thou come to dispense Thy justice. Tempus faciendi, Domine, dissipaverunt legem tuam: it is time to act, O Lord, they have rejected Thy law. It is indeed time to fulfil Thy promise. Thy divine commandments are broken, Thy Gospel is thrown aside, torrents of iniquity flood the whole earth, carrying away even Thy servants. The whole land is desolate, ungodliness reigns supreme, Thy sanctuary is desecrated and the abomination of desolation has even contaminated the holy place.
“God of Justice, God of Vengeance, will Thou let everything, then, go the same way? Will everything come to the same end as Sodom and Gomorrah? Will Thou never break Thy silence? Will Thou tolerate all this for ever? Is it not true that Thy will must be done on earth as it is in Heaven? Is it not true that Thy Kingdom must come? Did Thou not give to some souls, dear to Thee, a vision of the future renewal of the Church? Are not the Jews to be converted to the truth and is this not what the Church is waiting for? All the blessed in Heaven cry out for justice to be done: vindica, and the faithful on earth join in with them and cry out: amen, veni, Domine, amen, come, Lord. All creatures, even the most insensitive, lie groaning under the burden of Babylon’s countless sins and plead with Thee to come and renew all things.”6
Further on, St. Louis de Montfort goes on to manifest the purity of his intention and the power of his prayer:
“It is no personal favour that I ask, but something which concerns Thy glory alone, something Thou canst and, I make bold to say, Thou must grant since not only art Thou true God having all power in Heaven and on earth, but Thou art also the most dutiful of sons with an infinite love for Thy Mother.”7
Let us learn from this eminent theologian and ardent missionary how to put into practice today that spirit of prayer taught by Jesus Christ in the parable of the widow and the wicked judge. If we do this, we will keep the torch of faith burning brightly in this world of darkness, so that history will not take the road leading directly to the end of the world, but the radiant and heroic road leading to the oft-promised triumph of Jesus and Mary. This will be the era of victory that will culminate the course of events on earth. ◊
1 Cf. ST. JOHN CHRYSOSTOM, apud ST. THOMAS AQUINAS. Catena Aurea. In Lucam, c.XVIII, v.1-8.
2 Cf. ST. AUGUSTINE. Quæstionum Evangeliorum. L.II, n.45: PL 35, 1358.
3 Idem, 1358-1359.
4 ST. CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA. Commentarius in Lucam, c.XVIII, v.1: PG 72, 850.
5 ST. ANTHONY MARY CLARET. Autobiografía. In: Escritos autobiográficos y espirituales. Madrid: BAC, 1959, p.237.
6 ST. LOUIS-MARIE GRIGNION DE MONTFORT. Prayer for Missionaries, n.5. In: God Alone. Bayshore, NY: Montfort Publications, 1987, p 402.
7 Idem, n.6, p.403.