Franciscan Friar Fr. Paul Gallagher reflects on the Gospel for the Twenty-ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time, October 16 , 2022. The content is edited by Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Anne Marie Lom and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. To read or download the complete pdf with excerpts for your prayer, please click here: Franciscan Gospel Reflection October 16 2022. Excerpts are from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Photo: Братья Белоусовы (Палех), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons; [[File:Parable of the Unjust Judge (Granovitaya palata, 1881-2) 4.jpg|Parable of the Unjust Judge (Granovitaya palata, 1881-2) 4]
He said, “There was a judge in a certain town who neither feared God nor respected any human being. And a widow in that town used to come to him and say, ‘Render a just decision for me against my adversary.’ 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, because this widow keeps bothering me. I shall deliver a just decision for her lest she finally come and strike me.’
The Lord said, “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?”
In the gospel for last week, ten lepers were healed and restored to their place in the community. The Samaritan among the ten also received reassurance from Jesus that he was among the saved. Following this text in Luke’s gospel, a Pharisee asks Jesus when the Kingdom of God will come. Jesus responds that the Kingdom of God is not like the physical world where something exists here but not there. Rather, the Kingdom is everywhere! This leads Jesus into an extended instruction about his presence among them as the Son of Man. Following that teaching Jesus tells two parables that focus on prayer. The first is this Sunday’s gospel; the second is the gospel for next Sunday.
At the time of Jesus, widows were people without status in society. When a husband died, often the widow returned to the house of her father or brother. Women had no independent standing in the community. They were not permitted to enter legal disputes for themselves. Because they could so easily be exploited, they were given special consideration throughout the Jewish tradition. This tradition continued in the Christian community and is reflected in the parable Jesus tells in today’s gospel.
A comment about the legal system may also be helpful. Decisions were not based so much on the “evidence” presented. Rather decisions were based on the number witnesses and their status within the community that would support one side or the other of disagreement. A judge needed to be a man whose decision could be trusted and agreeable to both parties, lest people begin to take matters into their own hands. A judge needed to have a certain personal integrity and be respected throughout the community, and be above being easily influenced for personal gain.
The parable does not include information about the nature of the case. As Jesus unfolds the parable, the woman is presumed to be in a particularly difficult place. We presume that if she had a brother or a married son, that person would take up her cause. Here she has been forced to break with accepted norms of behavior and seek justice from the judge herself. Social norms of the day would require that women and men not speak directly to each other. But there was also a strong religious tradition that one attended to the needs of widows. Jesus describes the judge as not fearing God or respecting any human person. Jesus is telling us that this judge rejects the two pillars on which all religious life is based, love of God and love of neighbor. Nonetheless he gives in to this very vulnerable woman. The woman, by her persistence, has prevailed over a strong, powerful judge, and over the social norms of the day. Goodness and compassion have overcome evil and self-importance. The realm of God breaks through even in the most unlikely circumstances.
The question is: can the disciples of Jesus remain faithful and persevere in the most dark and difficult of situations? “But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8)
1. Who are the people without voice or power in your community? Who advocates for them?
2. Are there also people within your community who have overcome significant obstacles in their lives? Are any of these also part of those you would name as powerless?
3. Can you think of other occasions in the gospels when widows are central to Jesus’ ministry or preaching?
4. Does Jesus’ own experience of persistence in prayer speak to you?
5. This widow is being used by Jesus as an example of one who is persistent in prayer. Does it have meaning for you that Jesus is using a woman, a widow, as an example of how one should pray?
6. Are there things that you have stopped praying for? Why did you stop?
7. Have there been times in your life when you wondered if God was being attentive to you, or your prayer, or your needs?
8. If the Son of Man comes looking to find faith on earth, where would you point him?
9. Can you take some time to talk with God about whatever struck you the most in this gospel?