October 16, 2022
Revised Common Lectionary
Jeremiah 31:27-34 or Genesis 32:22-31
Psalm 119:97-104 or Psalm 121
2 Timothy 3:14—4:5
Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Psalm 121:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8 (see 2)
2 Timothy 3:14—4:2
Prayer has gotten a bad rap of late.
All too often in the wake of preventable tragedies (I’m looking at you, mass shootings), political leaders avoid taking action and instead pledge only their “thoughts and prayers.” Understandably, this response has sometimes been met with skepticism, sarcasm, or outrage—as though prayer could replace action.
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus demonstrates that prayer is no substitute, but is an integral and indispensable element in promoting the values of God’s reign. Not only did he take part in the regular worship life of the Jewish community, but he also took time to pray at crucial moments in his ministry, often going apart for long periods. Prayer was not a separate compartment in the life of Jesus but was intimately tied to his mission of announcing God’s reign—bringing good news to the poor, freedom to those who are oppressed, healing to those who are sick, and compassion to those who live on the margins of society.
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus tells a parable about prayer that is both outlandish and funny. Both characters in the story are straight out of Central Casting, types that were well known in Jewish society at the time of Jesus. Neither would be expected to act in the way that they do in this story.
Can you picture this widow—a person with no standing, no income source of her own, totally reliant on the support of family and others in the community—showing up day after day to press a corrupt political appointee for justice? She totally steps out of her place in the social order and persists in her quest. The judge, “who neither feared God nor had respect for people” (Lk 18:2), eventually becomes so exasperated that he gives in to her demands just to get her off his back—hardly the outcome that Jesus’ hearers would expect in a heavily patriarchal society where officials like this one held power. So, says Jesus, if even this seemingly insignificant widow could sway a powerful judge to gain justice, how do you think a loving God will respond to your persistent cries and your resistance to injustice?
Important keys to understanding this parable are found in the first and last verses of the passage. After speaking to his disciples about the final coming of God’s reign, he “told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart” (18:1). It may seem as though the time is long and that violence and wrong continue to hold sway. As we continue to experience the power of injustice in the world, however, Jesus is calling us neither to abandon our resistance nor to give up on the ultimate triumph of God’s reign. Our persistent prayer is one way in which we continue to express our dependence on God and our commitment to God’s ways.
At the conclusion of the story, Jesus refers back to his earlier teaching on preparing for his coming again, asking “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (18:8) In other words, will believers practice the kind of persistence demonstrated by the widow, continuing to fight against injustice and persisting in prayer to the God who is on their side?
A Hymn for Today: “내가 산을 향하여 / To the Hills I Lift My Eyes”
Korean poet Song-suk Im created a simple and compelling paraphrase of Psalm 121:1-2 in 1990. It is presented here in an English translation by former Hymn Society President Emily R. Brink, FHS.
Psalm 121, which both Lectionaries include today along with Luke 18:1-8, is a psalm of pilgrimage. The pilgrim approaching Jerusalem looks “to the hills” in the midst of difficulties, knowing that their prayer is heard by “the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” To hear this text and the lovely tune that was created for it by Korean composer Song-ch’on Lee, click here. The name of the tune, NA-UI DO-UM, means “my help.”
To the hills I lift my eyes longing to know
where, O where will my help come from?
Where, O where?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
God the Creator will keep my life.
God is my help.
Text: Song-suk Im, (Korean), © 1990; English trans. Emiily R. Brink (b. 1940) © 2011, Christian Conference of Asia, admin. GIA Publications. Used by permission under OneLicense #A-729857.
Tune: NA-UI DO-UM, Song-ch’on Lee.
Image Credit: Unjust Judge and the Importunate Widow, John Everett Millais, 1864
“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.
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