Lectio Divina: 29th Sunday of ordinary time (C)
A real prayer:
the widow’s example
1. Opening prayer
Lord Jesus, send your Spirit to help us to read the scriptures with the same mind that You read them to the disciples on the way to Emmaus. In the light of the Word, written in the bible, You helped them to discover the presence of God in the disturbing events of Your sentence and death. Thus, the cross that seemed to be the end of all hope became for them the source of life and of resurrection.
Create silence in us so that we may listen to Your voice in creation and in the scriptures, in events and in people, above all in the poor and suffering. May Your word guide us so that we too, like the two disciples on the way to Emmaus, may experience the force of Your resurrection and witness to others that You are alive in our midst as source of fraternity, justice and peace. We ask this of You, Jesus, son of Mary, who revealed the Father to us and sent us Your Spirit. Amen.
a) A key to the reading:
This Sunday’s liturgy presents us with a text from Luke’s Gospel concerning prayer, a theme dear to the heart of Luke. This is the second time that this Evangelist quotes the words of Jesus to teach us how to pray. The first time (Lk 11:1-13) introduces the text of the Our Father and, by means of comparisons and parables, teaches us that we must pray always and tirelessly. Now, the second time (Lk 18:1-4), Luke has recourse once more to parables taken from everyday life to teach us how to pray: the parable of the widow and the judge (18:1-8) and that of the Pharisee and the publican (Lk 18:9-14). Luke tells the parables in quite a didactic form. Each parable begins with a brief introduction as a key to its reading. There follows the parable, and lastly, Jesus Himself applies the parable to life. This Sunday’s text only narrates the first parable of the widow and the judge (Lk 18:1-8). While reading, it would be good to keep in mind the following: “What is the attitude of each person involved in this parable?”
b) A division of the text to help us in our reading:
Luke 18:1: A key given by Jesus for an understanding of the parable.
Luke 18:2-3: The contrast between the judge and the widow.
Luke 18:4-5: The change in the judge and the reason for this change.
Luke 18:6-8a: Jesus applies the parable.
Luke 18:8b: A final provocative statement.
c) The text:
Jesus told his disciples a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary. He said, "There was a judge in a certain town who neither feared God nor respected any human being. And a widow in that town used to come to him and say, 'Render a just decision for me against my adversary.' For a long time the judge was unwilling, but eventually he thought, 'While it is true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being, because this widow keeps bothering me I shall deliver a just decision for her lest she finally come and strike me.'" The Lord said, "Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says. Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night? Will he be slow to answer them? I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily. But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?"
3. A moment of prayerful silence
so that the Word of God may penetrate and enlighten our life.
4. Some questions
to help us in our personal reflection.
a) What did you like most in this text?
b) What is the attitude of the widow? Or what strikes you most in what she does and says?
c) What strikes you most in the attitude and words of the judge? Why?
d) How does Jesus apply this parable?
e) What does this parable teach us concerning our manner of looking at life and people?
f) What does this parable teach us about our prayer life?
5. A key to the reading
for a deeper understanding of the theme.
a) The historical context:
When analyzing the historical context of Luke’s Gospel, we must always keep in mind this dual dimension: the time of Jesus in the 30’s, and the time of those for whom the Gospel is written in the 80’s. These two times influence, each in its own way, the writing of the text and must be present as we try to discover the meaning Jesus’ parables have for us today.
b) The literary context:
The immediate literary context presents us two parables on prayer: praying insistently and perseveringly (the widow and the judge) (Lk 18:1-8); praying humbly and realistically (the Pharisee and the publican) (Lk 18:9-14). Although they are different, these two parables have something in common. They tell us that Jesus saw the things of life in a different way. Jesus saw God’s revelation where others saw something negative. For instance, He saw something positive in the publican, when all said, “He does not know how to pray!” And in the poor widow of whom it was said, “She is so insistent that she even troubles the judge!” Jesus was so united to the Father that for Him everything was transformed into a source of prayer. Many are the ways we can express ourselves in prayer. There are those who say, “I do not know how to pray”, yet they speak to God all day. Have you come across anyone like this?
c) A commentary on the text:
Luke 18:1: The key to an understanding of the parable.
Luke introduces the parable thus: “Then He told them a parable about the need to pray continually and never lose heart”. The words “to pray and not lose heart” appear frequently in the New Testament (1 Thess 5:17; Rom 12:12; Eph 6:18; etc.). This was a feature of the spirituality of the early Christian communities. It is also a point on which Luke insists both in the Gospel and in Acts. If you are interested in discovering this dimension in Luke’s writings, carry out this exercise: read the Gospel and Acts and write down all the verses where Jesus or others are praying. You will be surprised!
Luke 18:2-3: The contrast between the widow and the judge.
Jesus presents us with two persons from real life: a judge who neither respects God nor persons, and a widow who will not stop fighting for her rights before the judge. The simple fact that Jesus presents these two persons reveals that He knows well the society of His time. Not only does the parable present poor people fighting in court to have their rights recognized, but it also shows us the violent contrast among social groups. On the one hand, an insensitive and irreligious judge, and on the other, the widow who knows which door to knock on to get what is owed to her.
Luke 18:4-5: The change in the judge and the reason for the change.
For a long time, asking the same thing every day, the widow gets nothing from the insensitive judge. Finally, the judge, even though “he had neither fear of God nor respect for man,” decided to pay attention to the widow and give her justice. The reason is: to be free of this constant nuisance, a rather self-interested reason! However, the widow gets what she wants! This is a fact of daily life and Jesus uses it to teach us how to pray.
Luke 18:6-8: An application of the parable.
Jesus applies the parable: “You notice what the unjust judge has to say? Now will not God see justice done to His chosen who cry to Him day and night even when He delays to help them?” Then He adds that God will see justice done speedily. Were it not Jesus speaking, we would not have the courage to compare God to a judge with this moral attitude. What is important in the comparison is the widow, who, thanks to her insistence, finally gets what she wants.
Luke 18:8b: A statement on faith.
At the end, Jesus expresses some doubt: “But when the Son of Man comes, will He find any faith on earth?” Will we have the courage to wait, to be patient, even if God takes time to answer us? We need much faith to go on insisting and acting when we see no result. Anyone who expects immediate results will be disappointed. Many of the psalms speak of this hard and difficult insistence before God until He sees fit to respond (Ps 71:14; 37:7; 69:4; Lam 3:26). When quoting Psalm 80, Saint Peter says that one day for God is like a thousand years (2Pt 3:8; Ps 90:4).
d) A deepening: Prayer in Luke’s writings
i. Jesus prays in the Gospel
The Gospels present us with a Jesus who prays, who lives in continuous contact with the Father. Jesus’ only wish is to do the will of the Father (Jn 5:19). Luke is the one who speaks most of the prayer life of Jesus. He shows us a Jesus who prays always. Jesus prayed much and insistently, so that people and His disciples would do the same. It is when facing God in truth that the person sees him/herself in its reality and humility. Here are some of the moments when Jesus is praying in Luke’s Gospel:
Lk 2:46-50: When He is twelve, He goes to the temple, His Father’s house.
Lk 3:21: He prays at His baptism and when He takes on His mission.
Lk 4:1-2: At the beginning of His mission He spends forty days in the desert.
Lk 4:3-12: When He is tempted, He faces the devil with texts from scripture.
Lk 4:16: On Saturdays, Jesus goes to celebrate in the synagogue.
Lk 5:16; 9:18: He seeks solitude in the desert to pray.
Lk 6:12: He spends the night in prayer before choosing the Apostles.
Lk 9:16; 24:30: He prays before meals.
Lk 9:18: He prays before speaking of His passion.
Lk 9:28: In a crisis, on the mountain to pray, He is transfigured during prayer.
Lk 10:21: When the Gospel is revealed to little ones He says, “Thank You, Father...”.
Lk 11:1: As He prays, He inspires the apostles the desire to pray.
Lk 22:32: He prays for Peter, that he may have faith.
Lk 22:7-14: He celebrates the Paschal meal with His disciples.
Lk 22:41-42: He prays and sweats blood in the Garden of Olives.
Lk 22:40.46: In His agony, He asks His friends to pray with Him.
Lk 23:34: When He was being nailed to the cross, He asked pardon for His torturers.
Lk 23:46; Ps 31:6: At the moment of death He says, “Into Your hands I commend My spirit”.
Lk 23:46: Jesus dies with the cry of the poor on His lips.
This list of quotations shows us that for Jesus prayer was intimately connected with life, with concrete fact, with decisions to be taken. To be faithful to the Father’s plan, He sought to be alone with Him, to listen to Him. In difficult and decisive moments of His life, Jesus prayed the Psalms. Like every other devout Jew, He knew them by heart. Saying the Psalms did not quench His creative spirit. Rather, Jesus invented a psalm, that is, the Our Father. His life was a constant prayer: “At all times I do what the Father asks Me to do!” (Jn 5:19, 30). What the Psalm says applies to Jesus: “... all I had done was pray for them!” (Ps 109:4)
ii. The praying communities in the Acts of the Apostles
As in the Gospel, so also in the Acts, Luke often speaks of prayer. The first Christians are those who continue the prayer of Jesus. Here is a list, which in one way or another, speak of prayer. If you look carefully, you will find other texts again:
Act 1:14: The community perseveres in prayer with Mary, the mother of Jesus.
Act 1:24: The community prays so as to know who will take the place of Judas.
Act 2:25-35: Peter quotes from the Psalms in his homily.
Act 2:42: The first Christians are faithful in prayer.
Act 2:46-47: They go to the temple to praise God.
Act 3:1: Peter and John go to the temple to pray at the ninth hour.
Act 3:8: The healed lame man praises God.
Act 4:23-31: The community prays under persecution.
Act 5:12: The first Christians stay at Solomon’s gate (temple).
Act 6:4: The apostles devote themselves to prayer and the service of the word.
Act 6:6: They pray before imposing hands on the deacons.
Act 7:59: When he is dying, Stephen prays: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit”.
Act 7:60: Then Stephen prays: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them”.
Act 8:15: Peter and John pray that the converts may receive the Holy Spirit.
Act 8:22: The sinner is told, “Repent and pray that you may be forgiven”.
Act 8:24: Simon says, “Pray to the Lord for me yourselves so that none of the things you have spoken about may happen to me”
Act 9:11: Paul is praying.
Act 9:40: Peter prays for the healing of Tabitha.
Act 10:2: Cornelius prayed constantly to God.
Act 10:4: Cornelius’ prayers are heard in heaven.
Act 10:9: At the sixth hour, Peter prays on the roof of the house.
Act 10:30-31: Cornelius prays at the ninth hour, and his prayer is heard.
Act 11:5: Peter tells the people of Jerusalem: “I was praying”!
Act 12:5: The community prays when Peter is in jail.
Act 12:12: Many people are gathered in prayer in Mary’s house.
Act 13:2-3: The community prays and fasts before sending Paul and Barnabas.
Act 13:48: The pagans rejoice and glorify the Word of God.
Act 14:23: The missionaries pray to appoint the coordinators of the communities.
Act 16:13: At Philippi, near the river, there is a place of prayer.
Act 16:16: Paul and Silas were going to prayer.
Act 16:25: At night, Paul and Silas sing and pray in prison.
Act 18:9: Paul has a vision of the Lord at night.
Act 19:18: Many confess their sins.
Act 20:7: They met to break bread (the Eucharist).
Act 20:32: Paul commends to God the coordinators of the communities.
Act 20:36: Paul prays on his knees with the coordinators of the communities.
Act 21:5: They kneel on the shore to pray.
Act 21:14: Before the inevitable, the people say, God’s will be done!
Act 21:20: They glorify God for all that Paul has done.
Act 21:26: Paul goes to the temple to fulfill a promise.
Act 22:17-21: Paul prays in the temple, he has a vision and speaks with God.
Act 23:11: In the prison in Jerusalem, Paul has a vision of Jesus.
Act 27:23ff: Paul has a vision of Jesus during the storm at sea.
Act 27:35: Paul takes the bread, gives thanks to God before arriving in Malta.
Act 28:8: Paul prays over Publius’ father, who had a fever.
Act 28:15: Paul gives thanks to God on seeing the brethren in Pozzuoli.
This list tells us two important things. On the one hand, the early Christians kept the traditional liturgy of the people. Like Jesus, they pray at home among the family, in community and in the synagogue and together with the people of the temple. On the other hand, apart from the traditional liturgy, there appears a new way of praying among them in community and with a new content. The root of this new prayer comes from the new experience of “God in Jesus and from a clear and deep awareness of the presence of God in midst of the community: “In Him we live, move and are!” (Acts 17:28)
6. Prayer: Psalm 63 (62)
A longing for God expressed in prayer
God, You are my God, I pine for You;
my heart thirsts for You, my body longs for You,
as a land parched, dreary and waterless.
Thus I have gazed on You in the sanctuary,
seeing Your power and Your glory.
Better Your faithful love than life itself;
my lips will praise You.
Thus I will bless You all my life,
in Your name lift up my hands.
All my longings fulfilled as with fat and rich foods,
a song of joy on my lips and praise in my mouth.
On my bed when I think of You,
I muse on You in the watches of the night,
for You have always been my help;
in the shadow of Your wings I rejoice;
my heart clings to You,
Your right hand supports me.
May those who are hounding me to death
go down to the depths of the earth,
given over to the blade of the sword,
and left as food for jackals.
Then the king shall rejoice in God,
all who swear by Him shall gain recognition,
for the mouths of liars shall be silenced.
7. Final Prayer
Lord Jesus, we thank You for the word that has enabled us to understand better the will of the Father. May Your Spirit enlighten our actions and grant us the strength to practice what Your Word has revealed to us. May we, like Mary, Your mother, not only listen to but also practice the Word, You who live and reign with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.