Reflection on the Gospel-29th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C (Luke 18:1-8) -Veronica Lawson RSM
In today’s gospel, the narrator has the Lukan Jesus introducing the reader to a parable “about the need to pray always”. If the parable that follows were really about prayer, then the unjust judge would image a God who has no respect for anyone and is reluctant to hear the pleas of the exploited! There are clearly problems with this and scholars are divided on how to explain it. The most likely explanation is that, in the editorial process, the gospel writer has added Jesus’ introductory words, his final instruction to pay attention to the judge’s words and the three questions at the end. The original parable was almost certainly told in another context and ended with the words of the judge. It has acquired different meanings as it has shifted from an oral to a written context and the Lukan author adjusts it rather awkwardly to the issues he wants to address with his communities.
The action is located in “a certain city”, suggesting that it is a story for any and every city where the vulnerable persist in seeking justice. There are two main characters, the judge and the widow. There is another non-speaking character in the wings, namely the widow’s opponent. The hearer or reader is invited to fill the gaps. Who is this opponent? What sort of injustice is the widow experiencing? Since the judge clearly recognises the validity of the widow’s claim, why does he refuse to hear her plea? There may be a hint in this that he is accepting bribes from the woman’s adversary. We might well ask what sort of judge, especially a judge in the Jewish tradition, would admit that he has no respect for God or anyone else.
A vital clue to understanding the parable lies in the translation of the final words of the judge. A literal translation reads: “so that she won’t finish up giving me a black eye”. Translators have consistently softened the impact of this with a metaphorical reading. Might Jesus be drawing attention to the plight of those in that society who can only get justice from a corrupt judiciary if they resort to violence? The widow in this story is one feisty woman: without the support of a husband or the benefit of social security payments, she has only her own personal resources to rely upon. The judge operates from the untested assumption that she is prepared to use her fists. In fact, like the God of Israel, she uses only her constant appeal for justice. Jesus tells his hearers to pay attention to what the “unjust judge” has to say. It is not entirely clear what the reader is meant to take from this story. One possibility is that those who seem to have little power can win out in the end if they have the courage to persist in their struggles for justice, an encouraging message in the face of ongoing planetary distress.