Gospel of Luke 16:1-13
Jesus told his disciples a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary. 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?”
A hermit was meditating by a river when a young man interrupted him. “Master, I wish to become your disciple,” said the man. “Why?” replied the hermit. The young man thought for a moment. “Because I want to find God.”
The master jumped up, grabbed him by the scruff of his neck, dragged him into the river, and plunged his head under water. After holding him there for a minute, with him kicking and struggling to free himself, the master finally pulled him up out of the river. The young man coughed up water and gasped to get his breath.
When he eventually quieted down, the master spoke. “Tell me, what did you want most of all when you were under water.” “Air!” answered the man. “Very well,” said the master. “Go home and come back to me when you want God as much as you just wanted air.”
Our lives are one long instant in which we feel that something important is missing. We constantly feel that we are lacking something, something that we desire. Sometimes it is not very clear; we are not sure what it is that we are looking for. Still, the desire impels us to keep looking.
Sometimes this instant can be terrible. We almost feel like we are dying, like something essential to life is missing. Some tire and die. They die on the inside while on the outside they continue to live. Others continue to gasp for air. They want to breathe; they still hope and trust that they can find what they are looking for.
Like the widow in today’s Gospel, we too feel like something fundamental is missing. The widow had lost her sustenance, her base. She has lost the person that gave her life, that sustained her. In this image of the widow, Luke certainly identifies the experience of the community who has lost her spouse. It is the community who has lost Christ. It is a time of darkness and dismay. But it is also a time for combat.
With the conflict between the widow and the judge, Luke draws up a picture of the skirmish between man and God. In the dark moments of confusion, God often seems like an unsettling judge that refuses to listen to us. It is the battle between Jacob and the angel where we are left wondering over who won and who lost. The only way to endure in this battle is to keep desiring.
In his commentary on Psalm 37, Saint Augustine wrote: “Your continuous desire is your continuous prayer.” To pray without tiring means to never stop desiring, even when we feel that life has abandoned us or stopped listening to us.
Or perhaps it would be better to say to pray without becoming embittered. In fact, that risk of the widow – and of each one of us – is that of becoming bitter or nasty. It’s easy to do so when we do not feel listened to by others or by God when we feel frustrated. This frustration can easily turn into anger and violence.
Just like desire, prayer is wasted time, gratuitous time, time that we offer so that someone else can freely fill it. Prayer is that space in which desire dominates time. To pray means to pause without allowing time to dominate us. This is the meaning behind the monastic prayer of the liturgy of the hours. Time is not allowed to sweep us away, rather it is prayer that gives time its order and rhythm. In and through prayer, Christ returns time to its order. In prayer, we reaffirm the primacy of God over time.
On the contrary, waiting without prayer, without desire, cannot help but embitter us! Why do we cease to desire? Maybe because of belief that there is no time left to desire, or because we are convinced that the time of desire has passed. Like Kronos who devoured his own children, when time dominates our lives it too devours our own desires. Our lives then become empty and unbearable.
We cease to desire because we are surprised by fear. Desire is open to irrationality; it’s not always controllable in its outcome. It pushes us, but it doesn’t assure us of where we will land. Still, our relationship with God is made of desire. If we pretend to have it completely under control we will never be able to allow God to enter into our lives. We will never desire Him completely. We will never take that great leap.
We do not know when, but sooner or later the judge will do justice. God will return. “For a long time the Judge was unwilling…” the Greek expression (ep chronic) reveals the uncertainty of desire. But we must never cease to desire, because God will do justice in our own lives! Even when we are convinced that God is an unjust judge, the only thing we can do is to never stop desiring.
In the end, the fear that the community experiences when it feels like an abandoned widow becomes the fear of Christ himself. Even He fears not finding His spouse. Like the spouse of the Song of Songs, Christ comes to knock at our door, enduring the darkness of night and the cold of the storm. He wishes only to transform that night of pain and doubt into a night of encounter and consolation. But when He knocks at our door, will we be ready to open or, like the spouse in the Song of Songs, will we ask Him to come back another time? Will we keep our desire for this encounter alive or we will allow it to die
Questions for Personal Reflection
- If someone today asked me what I desired the most, how would I respond?
- How do I live the times of waiting and disappointment, those times when I feel abandoned?