Homily for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2022
It happened to me not long after I was ordained a priest. My first appointment as the associate priest of what was then a large and active St. Mary’s Parish. Sitting in the church after one of the many weekend Masses, reflecting, praying and having some quiet time before the next mass began.
At one point I looked up and he was standing in front of me. I had not noticed him before… was he there for one of the masses? Did he wander in off the street as I sat there alone? I don’t know. All I know is that he stood before me… a bit disheveled he began: “Hey Father, can you spare me some money? You see I need to pick up a prescription and don’t have any money?” I was a little suspicious so I began to ask questions… even though my priest collar was new, I wasn’t. Neither was he… I had the feeling that he had done this before. And he wasn’t going to give up!
After a conversation, I reached into my wallet, a gave him some money. As I put my wallet away, I turned to him once more and he was gone! I looked around the church and he was gone as fast as he appeared.
I share that story with you because that experience that I had so many years ago, reminded me of the story Jesus used in today’s Gospel passage. That man who came to me, was very persistent, like the persistent widow. Like her, this man was not going to give up on me. And like the “judge” in today’s story, I gave into him. Jesus is showing his followers (and us) NOT to give up in prayer nor lose heart, but rather to keep going, and to be persistent?
So, what do we know about this parable? Jesus says that this judge is UNJUST. We are told that he had no respect for God, nor for other human beings. He refuses to listen; he fears no human being nor God; he’s fed up with widow and her persistence; so he grants her justice for his own self-interest. In my research, I discovered the statement “She may not wear me out” is used but the Greek translation and reads, “she’s destroying my reputation.” This judge with so much to lose: reputation. Does that sound like our God? No.
And what do we know about the widow? We don’t have much information on her case; only that she has an “opponent,” but as a widow, she’s very vulnerable, obviously she’s struggling and needs help and yet persistent. Oh, and she has nothing to lose. Does this sound like our God? YES!
Has much changed in 2000 years? How many people today actually respect or listen to our fellow human beings? How many of us get tired of the needs of other? When we see the violence on television or other social media? How many of us turn it off? How many of us are involved in “wars” at home…under the same roof? How many of us are exhausted by life’s challenges? Look at the parents whose child does not want to go to church or Religious Education so they don’t, because the parent(s) are too tired to fight with them.
And yet we know that Jesus uses parables to make the disciples and us to stop and think! This parable is more than just about the persistence in our lives. It’s about us and our commitment and relationship with God. It’s about God standing with the weak, the poor, the socially unjust. Truly, for me, God is the “widow” in that parable. God is always the vulnerable person. As I grow in my relationship with God, I have learned…sometimes the hard way…that God takes on the insignificant to move us. Or as St. Therea of Calcutta put it, “God takes the little things we do for the common good, over and over again and lifts them up to make s positive change.” Wow!
What about our parish community? Will we be persistent in gathering for the next phase of the Revitalization Committee on Nov 12 for a day of planning for our parish the next few years? As members of various committees, especially the chairs, will we be persistent like the widow in today’s gospel? Or will we pass on that responsibility to someone else? Will we choose to gather and look at the many gifts that we have that could be shared in so many… in countless ways? Or will we be like the “judge” and say, “I don’t care about any person nor do I care about God. I’ll do what I want, and only that?
What did I know about that man who stood before me in the church 20 years ago? Nothing? he, too, may have lost his wife, his partner, been a widower, lost his job, alone, going from church to church or from place to place with a special ministry… to shake up people like me! And it worked! Twenty years later, I remember it! Although I never saw that same man again, and yet I have witnessed this person many times over since. In you who refuse to give up but chose to keep going, persistent in your prayer and desire to serve God. You not only remind me not be complacent like the judge, but to be persistent like the widow. Hopefully you will continue to recognize them and their persistence… because they are the very face of God. Amen.