October 16, 2022; Luke 18:1-8; 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Today’s Gospel parable does the best it can to set up a hopeless situation. A widow comes looking for justice from an unjust judge. The bible consistently locates widows among the most vulnerable members of society. So, we are right to conclude that this widow is poor and has no influence. The only way she can sway the judge is by the righteousness of her case. But this will not work with this judge, because he is corrupt. As he admits in the parable: he neither fears God nor respects any human being. Seeing this, we quickly conclude that this widow will not receive justice. Her case will be brushed aside by a judge that cares neither for God nor for her.
But then the widow keeps coming, and she wears the judge down. Because she so bothers him, he eventually decides to rule in her favor, just to get rid of her. Contrary to our expectations, the widow does receive justice. But it is a very limited victory. We might call it a “widow victory,” because much of the situation remains the same. The judge has gained no moral insight. He is corrupt as ever. The widow remains poor and will likely have to come before the judge again in the future. In other words, today’s gospel presents to us a single instance in which a corrupt judge makes the right decision for the wrong reason.
Why would Jesus tell us such a parable? It might be an invitation for us to recognize the widow victories in our own lives, the small blessings that come to us especially in those situations where the world seems to be against us. These small victories do not solve our problems. They do not make our lives as they should be. But they give us a moment in which we can recognize that behind our stress and our pain there is a God who loves us and who has promised to save us.
We might have a difficult relationship with a member of our family—a son or daughter, brother or sister, or parent. Each time we encounter that person, the air can be filled with tension. When we try to communicate, the communication fails, producing more misunderstanding than insight. Then one day, as we talk with the person, ten sentences work. For a brief moment both of us understand one another. That is a widow victory. The relationship is not healed, but that moment of connection reminds us of the hope that God has promised to make us whole.
We might have to carry the burden of a painful medical situation or cope with the drastic loss of someone we love. Each day we have to struggle for the strength to move forward. Then one morning we get out of bed, and the pain is less, almost absent. Or a friend calls us, and as we begin to talk, we start to laugh, something we have not done for months. That is a widow victory. Our medical condition has not changed, and for months ahead grief will still hold the upper hand. But we recognize that brief moment as a gift from God’s hand.
Today’s gospel asks us to treasure the widow victories in our lives. Those instances when the burdens of our life back off, and we can catch a glimpse of light again. Widow victories might not be our most numerous moments, but they may well be our most important moments. Because in those small blessings, we remember that there is an abiding promise and a larger love—a God who is committed to stand by us until every victory is won.