Bible Meditation: Prayer and Faith

Sunday October 16, 2022, four texts will be read.
First reading Book of Exodus (Ex 17, 8-13).
Psalm 120.
Second reading Second Letter to Timothy (2 Tim 3, 14-4, 2).
The Gospel according to Saint Luke (Lk 18, 1-8).

Luke 18, 1-8

During that time,
Jesus told his disciples a parable
on the need for them
to always pray without being discouraged:
“There was a judge in a city who did not fear God
and did not respect men.
In this same city, there was a widow who came to ask him:
“Do me justice against my adversary.”
For a long time he refused; then he said to himself:
“Even though I don’t fear God and don’t respect anyone,
how this widow is beginning to bore me,
I will do him justice
so that she doesn’t keep coming and knocking me out.” »
The Lord added:
“Listen carefully to what this justiceless judge says!
And God would not do justice to his elect,
who cry out to him day and night?
Does he make them wait?
I tell you: very quickly, he will do them justice.
However, the Son of Man,
when he comes,
will he find faith on earth? »

Two caricatural characters: an iniquitous judge, a pleading widow

Influenced by psychology, centered on the individual, haunted by scruples, our era has a complex and somewhat ethereal conception of prayer: it would be an intimate communication with God, all in benevolence, carefully avoiding any request or any requirement, and which is good for the soul.

Obviously, this text of Luke gives a much more rustic image: incessant grievances, bordering on shouting, for God to do justice to his chosen ones. The parabola is constructed as an argument a fortiori : if an unworthy judge ends up giving a judgment favorable to an insistent widow, with all the more reason will God do justice to his faithful who ask him for justice.

To set it up, Jesus opposes two caricatural characters: the city judge, on the one hand, a public magistrate (therefore non-religious) whose only characteristic is to have respect neither for God nor for human beings, which which is the complete opposite of what the Gospel preaches from its beginning; a widow, on the other, who no longer has a husband to protect her, the embodiment of social vulnerability for the patriarchal society in which Jesus lives.

Is his cause just? We’ll never know ; we only learn that it encounters the opposition of an “adversary” (antidikos, in Greek, which usually designates the plaintiff in a lawsuit, which suggests that the widow is accused of something).

The reasons for which the widow ends up having justice have no nobility: boredom and annoyance. The last verb that the translator renders as “knock out” is much more colorful, since it means “to make a black eye”; it would readily be translated as “breaking the feet”.

It’s all a matter of faith

The conclusion is clear, even if it offends us a little, because God is finally compared to this very unsympathetic judge and what is recommended for him to intervene is to embrace an insistent attitude until the excess: you must cry out to God day and night. The reader may well understand the argument a fortiori and knowing that it is a parabola, the parallel is there.

It is the end of the text that gives the key: all this is a question of faith. To adopt this apparently undignified attitude is to recognize that, like the widow dependent on others to ensure her life and who has no other choice to face the mortuary of a hostile judge, one must dare to put oneself in this humiliating posture of demand and being unwelcome.

Do not give in to doubt

It is also necessary not to give in to doubt despite the delay in the response; the translator of the liturgical translation puts a question mark here to build a rhetorical question where the grammar does not allow it, because the text says without any possible hesitation that God makes the elect wait.

This confidence which goes beyond appearances is properly faith. A fidelity so difficult to achieve that Christ cannot help wondering with a little melancholy to know if he will find it on his return.

Regis Burnet is professor of New Testament at the Catholic University of Louvain (Belgium). He notably published Decode a religious painting. New Testament and the Book of Revelation (Stag).

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Bible Meditation: Prayer and Faith

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