Parable of the Unjust Judge, Nicola Sarić.
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[Jesus said] “Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night?” Luke 18:7.
In Scripture there is a significant challenge when it comes to time. There seems to be a regular time, familiar to us all, and then there is a special, or God’s, time. In Greek there are, in fact, two different words for them, χρόνος (chronos), from which we get chronological, etc., meaning regular time with which we are all familiar. That is the word used in verse 8 of the gospel: “..for a long time the judge was unwilling…” The other word for time in ancient Greek is καιρός (kairos), meaning the opportune moment, originally taken from such practical situations such as the moment when an arrow can be released with correct force so that it will enter the target successfully, or the moment in weaving when the shuttle can be passed through the threads of the loom. I think that is a valuable distinction which helps us understand a challenging parable such as we have today. In English I think this sense of the word should be used, with the idea of picking the right, exact moment, kairos, to do something, to understand Jesus’ words.
So in today’s gospel we have a tough judge being henpecked by a widow for a judgment in her case, whatever it was. Eventually, over time, he is sick of it, saying that he had better settle it, as it says in today’s gospel, “lest she finally come and strike me.” Interestingly, this is apparently taken from boxing terminology, and could also be translated as “lest she give me a black eye!” So this widow is not the shy, retiring supplicant we might suppose. And she gets her way. But Jesus says quite definitely that with God you can expect a “speedy” answer. But for those of us who have not, in our opinion, received such an answer, what can be said? Well the only thing I can think of is the distinction between those two understandings of time, God’s and ours. If we have been begging for something for a long time, how does that fit with today’s gospel? Scripture says of God’s time that “with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day” (2nd Peter 3:8) and “A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night” (Psalm 90:4). That would seem to be a definition of God’s time, God’s kairos. Definitely not our idea! But I’m sure many of us have experiences of God’s intervention as requested. Now miraculous interventions for very grave situations are extremely rare, but there are more regular requests which when granted might have the finger of God there. For example asking St. Anthony of Padua for help in finding something lost. I’ve experienced that and have been baffled how finding it happened (…but I looked there a 1000 times and it wasn’t there – but there it is!). And also remember St. Anthony has to ask God to intervene and being such a close friend, it has happened! Have you had such an experience? Take a look at this. In my opinion, that is the Communion of Saints at work: God’s kairos is present and we have friends above! And if we are really serious, asking a group of contemplatives, such as the Carmelites, to pray for our intention cannot hurt. And ultimately, if our request is not granted, somewhere there will be a reason even if locked away in heaven.
So perhaps today’s gospel invites us to take a theological look at our situations when we ask God (or the saints) for something. Yes our requests are heard; yes sometimes they are answered, even immediately, and sometimes in ways we do not expect, and sometimes they are not answered. The point is that we always have someone on high who listens to us, who knows us and who knows best. We might have to resign ourselves to acceptance of a bad situation and work our way through it, also with God’s help. In all cases, then, we are never alone, wherever we may be. Ultimately that should be a comfort, trusting that God has done the right thing. Jesus must have trusted that when he breathed his last. And he was right.
Shrine of St. Anthony, Padua, Italy.
Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.