By Kathryn Aubry-McAvoy
The parable of the persistent widow and the unjust judge is one of a set of lessons Jesus uses to teach his disciples about prayer. Jesus has many things to say about prayer in various places in the Bible.
In Matthew 6 He says that we should pray without the desire to be seen, “go in secret to your room”. “ In Matthew 5 he says that we should reconcile with others before we pray. He says that we should pray without empty phrases or too many words (you’ve heard this suggestion: “Pray unceasingly, if necessary, use words”).
In the Parable of the unjust judge we are instructed to pray with faith that God will answer, and to not give up.
The judge in this story is unjust, arrogant, and irritated. Perhaps he is waiting for payoffs from wealthy citizens in trouble with the law. He can’t be bothered listening to the poor widow cry out for justice. (The Greek word translated here as widow, means “powerless one”; you can make a long list of others who are powerless: people living in poverty, those suffering from chronic pain or addiction, immigrants, people living in the shadow of violence and fear, for example).
I think most every human has suffered from a feeling of powerlessness; when a mountain of grief, pain and fear seems insurmountable.
The widow in the story is persistent. She knows what she deserves and she comes back to the judge day after day. She does not lose heart. To me she is a heroic figure. There is danger in speaking up about injustice, but she is brave and carries the candle of her cause, having faith that right will prevail. She has faith that the law is on her side and that this hard-hearted judge will eventually hear her case and grant her petition, and he does.
Unlike the unjust judge, our God is a just and fair God. This is one of those lessons which go from less to more: As in Matthew 7: “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”
If an unjust judge will answer the widow’s pleas, how much more readily will our just and loving God respond to us?
The question I asked in prayer this week was: If God is, as I believe, all knowing, all merciful and well, all-everything, why do we need to pray persistently. Are we nagging God, needling for attention from God who knows what we need before we do? And why the waiting? I suppose we wait because we are living beings and all of life takes time: growth, decay, understanding and discernment, they all take time.
I think perhaps God gave us prayer, not because God needs it, but because we need it. “Pray always and don’t lose heart”. Jesus said. Without prayer we can lose heart. We humans need prayer, in the way that the body needs breath. There is a prayer practice that goes back to the desert fathers and mothers called “breath prayer”. When we are heavy-hearted in this smartphone-obsessed, stressed out, frantic, sometimes scary world, breath prayer offers us a way to respond, a way to benefit from mindfulness and deepen our relationship with God at the same time.
For a moment, if you’re comfortable, close your eyes and pay attention to the rise and fall of your breath
In and out, in and out, in and out.
In through your nose, and out thru your lips.
Now, combine that rhythm with a simple prayer:
Lord, have mercy, hear my prayer.
Lord have mercy, hear my prayer.
Lord have mercy, hear my prayer.
Breathing, this very basic bodily function, one that opens the lungs and feeds the heart, can unite our hearts to God, and in this way we will not lose heart. Breath prayer can quiet our hearts and open us up to the peace of God’s presence. God knows that we are too busy, too tired, too hurting and too hungry to hear Him, so we are given prayer as a great and useful gift. Chanting the psalms, praying the rosary, repeating the beloved words our savior gave us….these are all ways to breath and pray and hear the quiet loving voice of God.
So like the persistent widow, let us breathe and pray and never lose heart. Amen
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