The Parable of the Persistent Widow - Persevere in Prayer

Homily for the Twenty-Ninth Sunday of Year C

by Fr. Tommy Lane

We pray every day and the importance of prayer is emphasized in the Scriptures today. In the first reading (Ex 17:8-13) Moses holding up his arms is an Old Testament gesture for prayer. As long as Moses holds up his arms in prayer everything goes well. When Moses no longer holds up his arms in prayer there are problems. I think we can also see Moses holding up his arms in prayer as anticipating Christ holding up his arms in prayer on the Cross winning the battle over evil and sin for us.

In the Gospel today (Luke 18:1-8) Jesus teaches a parable about the importance of constant prayer. The widow in the parable receives her request because she was persistent and we ought to be equally constant in prayer. There is some humor in the Greek that is not evident in the English translation; the judge gives in to the widow because if he doesn’t he fears she may give him a black eye (ὑπωπιάζῃ Luke 18:5). Jesus uses a metaphor from boxing to make his point about the need to continue in prayer. Be as persistent as a boxer in the ring when it comes to prayer. Jesus gives a second teaching in the parable. If an unjust judge answers the pleas of a widow how much more will God answer our prayers. “Very well” you might say, “but what about unanswered prayer?” This is always a mystery that we leave ultimately in the hands of God because we believe that prayer is always answered although perhaps not in the way we have hoped. However God sees the overall plan and knows what is best and we may sometimes have to wait until the next life to see that overall plan and understand that God knew better. Luke demonstrates this when he writes that the Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask (Luke 11:13) whereas in Matthew’s Gospel (7:11) we read that the Father will give good things to those who ask. The important thing is to persevere in prayer. Today’s parable is the second one Jesus teaches in Luke’s Gospel on the necessity of prayer. Earlier Jesus told a parable about a man going to his friend in the middle of night to ask for bread and even though at first the friend may not want to get up if he persists his friend will get up and give him the bread (Luke 11:5-8). Next Sunday we will hear another parable on prayer, the Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14), reminding us that our prayer is to be humble.

Prayer is very important in Luke’s Gospel. In Luke’s Gospel we see Jesus in prayer more often than in the other Gospels. Obviously prayer was important in Luke’s life but we can say that Luke is teaching us that prayer was central in the life of Jesus and ought to be central in our lives too. The following instances of Jesus in prayer are only in Luke. Jesus was praying after his baptism when the heavens opened (Luke 3:21). After the cure of the leper Jesus withdrew to the wilderness and prayed (Luke 5:16). Jesus spent all night on the hills in prayer before he chose the Twelve (Luke 6:12-16). Jesus was praying alone when he asked the disciples “Who do the people say I am?” (Luke 9:18-22). Eight days later he took Peter, James and John and went up on the mountain to pray (Luke 9:28) and while praying he was transfigured (Luke 9:29). Jesus was praying when his disciples asked him to teach them to pray so he taught them the “our Father”, the Lord’s Prayer (Luke 11:1-4). Therefore in Luke the Lord’s Prayer has a special context; it arises out of Jesus’ own prayer. Jesus prayed for Simon that his faith might not fail (Luke 22:32). Only Luke tells us that Jesus prayed for his crucifiers (Luke 23:34) and as he died committed his spirit into the hands of Father (Luke 23:46). In Luke’s second volume, the Acts of the Apostles, we see the Church at prayer many times. So the disciples in Acts are doing what Jesus the master did in the Gospel. Once again I think we can see this as Luke teaching us. Prayer was central in Jesus’ life and ought to be central in our lives also.

How do we pray? For our meditations and Holy Hours we make good use of Sacred Scripture to aid us in our prayer. Therefore our second reading today reminds us of the importance of Sacred Scripture:

All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim 3:16-17)

The importance of Sacred Scripture was emphasized by St. Jerome the patron saint of Scripture study who wrote, “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” Dei Verbum 21 of Vatican II, and the Catechism (§103) state, “In the sacred books the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet his children, and talks with them.” So when we use Sacred Scripture to aid our prayer, our Father comes to meet us and talks with us.

Prayer was central in the life of Jesus as we see especially in the Gospel of Luke. That centrality of prayer continues in the life of the disciples in Acts. Luke is teaching us that prayer is to be central in our lives because it was central in the life of Jesus. Jesus teaches the Parable of the Persistent Widow about the importance of constant prayer. We are to be as constant in prayer as that widow, even to the point of persistence like a boxer in the ring, and if the unjust judge answered that widow’s request how much more will our heavenly Father answer us.

Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2013

This homily was delivered in Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.

More material for the Twenty-Ninth Sunday Year C

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Martha, you worry and fret about so many things - Mary has chosen better

Jesus prayed the Psalms daily and prayer satisfies our longings

see Homilies on Prayer

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