A Surge of the Heart
St Luke especially records Jesus telling us stories, parables, involving some disreputable characters. On recent Sundays, we have heard about the manager who was commended because he continued cheating his boss big-time even as he was being disciplined and sacked. We have also heard about the foolish shepherd who abandoned the 99 sheep to the wolves and thieves and went off to look for the wayward lost sheep. We have heard about the rich gluttons who would not spare even the leftovers for poor Lazarus lying outside, his body oozing with sores. Today we have the unjust judge who respects, we are told, neither God nor his fellow citizens.
Jesus tells us today’s story to encourage us to pray continually and never lose heart. So let us think about the story. The widow in the story keeps coming along to the judge, demanding that he deals with her case. For whatever reason, he just can’t be bothered. But the widow turns up again and again. She is going to drive him down with her persistence. So he relents and deals with her case; he does justice, presumably, in her favour.
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The listeners to Jesus would have known the prophets and the law, at least vaguely and, within both, justice for orphans and widows in particular was a consistent theme. So a good judge would have been a judge who dealt rapidly with cases brought by widows, whatever the merits of any individual case… Justice done late can lack integrity and for people of low social standing, delayed justice can involve great hardship. The prophets were right on this long ago. Even today we only have to open the newspapers or listen to the news to learn of long delayed cases of justice where the little people have suffered deprivation and pain for years, where the rich have enjoyed their often ill-gotten gains.
Jesus points out the words of the unjust judge, as he is finally stirred into action: “I must give this widow her just rights.” Yes, he is a judge and must do so, though this perhaps begs the question of who, if anyone, is monitoring the competence of the judicial administration.
God is indeed our judge, as well as our Creator. He judges well, and with mercy. This is our faith and on the Sundays to come as the year draws to its end, we will be confronted again and again by the certainty of judgement and with the certainty of God’s mercy to those whose sins he forgives. So the simple moral of today’s story is to be persistent in prayer. But how do we persist in prayer? And what is prayer anyway?
Saint Therese of Lisieux wrote “For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned towards heaven; it is a cry of recognition and love, embracing both trial and joy.” She picks up the whole Christian tradition, that prayer is a response in faith of love. The Holy Spirit is the living water given to us by Jesus, who dwells in the heart that prays. So prayer is our being caught up in the divine life of God. It is a manifestation of our mystic union with God. So, petitionary prayer, like asking “Please heal my daughter who is sick” is an important part of our life of prayer, but should not be the whole of our prayer. Prayer as contemplation, as praise and thanksgiving, as blessing and adoration, as requesting forgiveness, should all be part of our rich prayer life, as well as the prayer of petition. Christian prayer is multi-layered and has varied aspects. If we consistently ignore many of these aspects, our prayer will lack depth.