In a reflection on the gospel parable of the persistent widow (Lk. 18:1-8), Bishop Vincenzo Paglia writes that the widow, “was certainly a victim, but not one resigned to her condition. Insistently, she went before the judge demanding justice.” Yes, she was a victim – an injustice had been committed against her – she knew it, the judge knew it and the people of the town knew it. But what is striking here is that she is not resigned to her condition. The widow was persistent in her demand for justice. This persistence is all the more striking in considering the context of the time when women had little to no room for any appeal to justice, especially widows. The question is worthy of being asked; what enabled this woman to not resign herself, to not be merely a victim?
I believe an answer to this question may be found in Jesus’ own further reflection on the parable. The Lord says, “Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night?” In fact the answer found here is threefold: 1) God, 2) his chosen ones, 3) calling out to God “day and night”.
God. Known or unknown, acknowledged or not acknowledged – there is a God and because of this fact (to paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.) there is an arc of justice to the universe, it may move slowly but it does move surely. And it will not be denied. The judge may not have feared or believed in God but the widow did and she knew that God’s justice surpasses any injustice.
His chosen ones. Not only is there a God to this universe but God chooses to enter into relationship with His people. God the great clock maker who builds and sets the machine running but then steps away is not the God of our Bible. The Scriptures – contrary to the clock maker image – demonstrate that God does not step away from His creation but, in fact, steps further and further into His creation – even to the point of the incarnation, even to the point of death. God is present here. God is a friend to call upon. The widow knew this. She knew when she stood before the judge that she was not standing alone. God stood with her.
God hears those who call out to Him “day and night”. The widow was a person of prayer. By her very need, by the very fact of literally having no further recourse, the widow embodies the weak strength of prayer. This embodiment is not the resignation and imprisonment of victimhood that is one of the deadening tumors of a worldview that allows no space for God. No, this embodiment is the very essence of strength – a strength that acknowledges that there is a God, that God chooses to enter into relationship with us and that, therefore and by God’s choice, we are never merely a victim. Through her prayer, the widow knew herself to be a child of God.
This is the widow’s faith, the faith that Jesus holds up to us as a model. And Jesus asks us, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”