29th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C
How do you build a relationship with someone? You talk to them. Or if you’re like my husband and me pre-email, you write lots of letters. Regardless of the form, communication is foundational for a relationship. Without it, connection can’t happen. How many times have you anxiously checked your phone for a return text? When it takes its sweet time coming, you wonder all sorts of things, none of them good. The give and take of communication is vital.
Jesus reminds us of this need in this week’s gospel of the persistent widow. She needed something, and she kept bugged the judge until she got it. It reminds me of my mom when I was younger: “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” I just wanted to slip by unnoticed, but that was not my mom’s way and she wasn’t about to let me go incognito either.
On the first reading, God appears to be the judge and we are the poor widow. If you approach God often enough, He will finally do what you want—supposedly the power of persistent prayer. But, of course that’s not the way God works.
When I was rewriting this gospel for the elementary kids, I thought long and hard about what was actually being said because the last thing I want is for them to ask God for something, not have it delivered wrapped with a bow, and then to have their faith crushed. After I finished my chemo, my then elementary-aged daughter begged me to tell her I would never have cancer again. No matter how much I wanted to hold her and utter those words, I couldn’t do it. If the cancer returned, she’d never trust me again. Her trust in me was paramount, and I couldn’t risk that. But I could promise her I’d always tell her the truth and that the cancer was gone for now, even if we didn’t know about forever.
Jesus doesn’t want unanswered prayers to crush our relationship with Him either. But He does want us to know that our relationship with God is just like our relationship with anyone else. After all God did come to us in human form. We have to communicate with Him—that’s how we get to know Him. And even though He knows us inside and out, and knew us like that even before we were born (Jeremiah 1:5), I like to think He learns a bit about us too through prayer. Relationships are two-way streets.
Maybe, just maybe, we are the judge and God is the poor widow. Even when we push Him away repeatedly, God keeps coming back. He figures He’ll eventually get through to us. He doesn’t give up, ever. God’s always talking to us, always asking for the pleasure of our company, always sees a need we can fill, a job we can do. Eventually, we get broken down and need Him. Eventually we’re at the end of our rope and don’t have anywhere else to turn. Eventually we get tired of the never-ending nudges and agree to Him “just this once.” Just this once becomes another time and another and another until we’re no longer the “crooked judge” (v.6) in the story and instead we’re on the side of righteousness. But that transformation can’t happen without communication. We need it and God wants it. How blessed are we?