Like most of Jesus’ parables, today’s is open-ended, leaving the hearer to puzzle over its meaning. With its unusual characters and startling ending, it jolts Jesus’ hearers into a new way of seeing. It asks them to leave behind stereotypes and wrestle with unfamiliar notions about what God is like, and what justice in the reign of God is like, and how it is achieved. Above all, it challenges them and us to emulate the widow’s pursuit of justice in efforts to embody the reign of God here and now, while courageously awaiting the time of future fulfillment. When the widow is seen as the God-like figure, then the message of the parable is that when we doggedly resist injustice, face it, name it, and denounce it until right is achieved, we are acting as God does.
I recently read about a young ex-Marine who acted very much like the widow in today’s Gospel when he exposed details about the dehumanizing and violent hazing carried out by drill instructors at Parris Island. In boot camp there, he learned to endure extreme physical abuse: when one instructor repeatedly bashed his head against a doorway, he kept quiet. But what he eventually could not take was the lying that covered up the widespread abuse. Despite his personal vulnerability and the threat of ruinous retribution, he cried out for justice after one drill instructor tumbled a Muslim recruit in a hot clothes dryer and hazed another Muslim repeatedly, shortly before the recruit lept to his death from the barracks. To my mind, the ex-Marine is a modern day version of the parable’s widow- he doggedly resisted injustice, faced it, named it, and denounced it until it was eventually addressed by higher Marine commanders. For his role in exposing this abuse and injustice, he got no kudos or promotion: even though he graduated from boot camp at the top of his class and was awarded an exceptional promotion, soon after reporting the abuse he was given a punitive discharge from the Marine Corps. He says this has become a “badge of shame” on his record and makes it hard to find work. He feels that his future was taken from him. Still, he is committed to bringing the culture of secrecy, criminal abuse and injustice at Parris Island to light, and something is now being done about it.
The widow (and this young ex-Marine) reveal something of God’s power in seeming weakness, when their persistence achieves the victory for right. The ludicrous image of a powerful judge fearing a seemingly helpless widow may be Jesus’ wry comment on the futility of resorting to violence in working for justice. In any case, the message of this parable achieves its fullest force in the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus’ own seeming helplessness in the face of his executioners is transformed into the very defeat of the powers of sin and death. That is the Good News for us this morning. We, as followers of Jesus, are invited to take up this same stance: to draw on the power of apparent weakness to overcome the injustice that is so evident in the human suffering that goes on all around us, as well as globally. This is where the Kingdom of God credibly “breaks in” to our world – a much needed witness that “might doesn’t make right,” but in Christ there is strength in weakness, and hope where there apparently is none.
Photograph of the Abbey's Lac Marie by Charles O'Connor. Excerpt from this morning's homily by Father Dominic.