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THE REWARD FOR CONSTANCY

Read­ing Time: 10 minutes

(Ref. Texts: Exod 17:8–13; Ps 120119; 2Tim 3:14–4:2; Luke 18:1–8)

Without con­stancy, there is neither love, friend­ship, nor vir­tue in the world.”

Introduction

The teach­ing on grat­it­ude is imme­di­ately accom­pan­ied by the teach­ing on con­stancy and non-aban­don­ment. This Sunday Gos­pel presents a very strong psy­cho­lo­gic­al motiv­a­tion. The example Jesus used to back-up his exhorta­tion to con­stancy is that between oppos­ites; between the power­ful and the power­less; between the prom­in­ent and the hid­den; between the highly placed and the lowly; between he who counts in the soci­ety and the worth­less. The story of the law­yer and the woman is that between the weak and the power­ful; the unjust and the inno­cent; between injustice and right­eous­ness; between he who con­demns and he/she who is con­demned; between the arrog­ant and the humble; between a believ­er and an unbe­liev­er; between one who has noth­ing to lose and one who has all to lose; between hav­ing the power to render justice but reluct­ant to do so, and want­ing to render justice but not hav­ing the power to do so. Such situ­ation was resolved by the insist­ence of the weak (the wid­ow), who later turned to be the stronger part. The story equally forms part of the Lukan mod­us operandi in evid­en­cing soci­et­al evils even in the con­tem­por­ary Nigeria.

Further reflection on Luke 17

After send­ing the Samar­it­an healed of lep­rosy home with the assur­ance that his faith and sense of grat­it­ude have saved him, Jesus took up series of eschat­o­lo­gic­al say­ings. Such say­ings were aroused by the inter­rog­a­tion of the Phar­isees con­cern­ing the advent of the basilea tou theou (the king­dom of God). Jesus con­cludes those say­ings by remind­ing them that the pre­oc­cu­pa­tion for the when and how of the king­dom is unne­ces­sary because it is already among them (cf. Luke 17:20–21). Yes, the king­dom of God is already among us, there is no need search­ing or spec­u­lat­ing about its advent. Hav­ing addressed the Phar­isees, Jesus now turned to the dis­ciples and encour­aged them to make appro­pri­ate use of the present time (kairos). To avoid being deceived about the where­abouts of the Son of Man, they should take advant­age of his pres­ence with them. The examples with light­ning, the days of Noah, eat­ing and drink­ing, mar­ry­ing, buy­ing and selling, plant­ing, build­ing, Lot’s wife, two women grind­ing one taken one left, are all meant to under­line the sud­den­ness of the king­dom of God. They should not allow these things to over­shad­ow them and pre­vent them from get­ting pre­pared for the day of the Son of Man and for the king­dom of God. They should fix their minds on spir­itu­al and heav­enly things because wherever the corpse is found, there the vul­tures will be gathered. Again, who­ever seeks to save his or life will lose it, while who­ever loses his or her life for the sake of the Gos­pel will cer­tainly save it. With such focus on the king­dom of God, the story of the law­yer and the wid­ow makes a good reading.

Agents of injustice

When Jesus was warn­ing the Phar­isees and oth­er Jew­ish author­it­ies for their hypo­crisy, a law­yer inter­vened cau­tion­ing him to mod­er­ate his lan­guage as they them­selves also felt insul­ted (cf. Luke 11:42–44). Main­tain­ing the same tone, Jesus rebuked the law­yers and said to them “woe to you experts in law as well! You load people down with bur­dens dif­fi­cult to bear, yet you yourselves refuse to touch the bur­dens with even one of your fin­gers!” (Luke 11:45–46). Again, in Luke 11:52, Jesus reproached the law­yers again “woe to you law­yers! You have taken away the key to know­ledge! You did not go in yourselves, and you hindered those who were going in.” In every soci­ety, and espe­cially in Niger­ia, and like oth­ers, many law­yers are also accused of cor­rup­tion. Those who sup­posed to enforce justice have always made sure it is sup­pressed while injustice is allowed to thrive. This was the case dur­ing the time of Jesus, and today, the situ­ation has even worsened.

In prin­ciple, the tribunals (law courts) are sup­posed to be places of justice. But in prac­tice, they are factor­ies for injustice and neg­a­tion of truth and suprem­acy of unjust logic. The author­it­ies dur­ing the time of Jesus could not call them to order because, they were their agents and they all shared com­mon interest. Jesus was the only per­son who could con­front them and reminded them of their ser­i­ous offence. Today, the sys­tem has so much deteri­or­ated that the popu­lace now live at the mercy of politi­cians and law enforce­ment agents. The worst is that many reli­gious author­it­ies have lost their power over these people and there­fore, can­not address them in and with the right­ful lan­guage. Through excess­ive and inter­ested famili­ar­ity (greed), many reli­gious author­it­ies have in one way or the oth­er, dir­ectly or indir­ectly, vol­un­tar­ily or invol­un­tar­ily, com­prom­ised their pos­i­tion and there­fore, have become impot­ent in the face of unhid­den injustice, mal­treat­ment, depriva­tion, fraud, prop­erty mis­ap­pro­pri­ation, and neg­a­tion of fun­da­ment­al human rights. They now resemble the bib­lic­al statues that have eyes but can­not see, mouth but can­not speak, ears but do not hear (cf. Ps 115:5). Their func­tion is now reduced and lim­ited to cere­mo­ni­al acts alone. What a pity!

The Scriptural image of prayer

Right from the time of Seth, Scrip­ture informs us that “men began to call on the name of the Lord” (Gen 4:26). Accord­ing to the Scrip­tures, the primev­al image of pray­er is rela­tion­al. Pray­er is a con­ver­sa­tion between the Cre­at­or and the cre­ated. It pre­sup­poses trust and devo­tion. It is a con­ver­sa­tion between friends and it involves speak­ing, wait­ing and listen­ing. For more defin­i­tions of pray­er, cf. pray­er and justice. Pray­er provides com­fort and sup­port in time of chal­lenge. One of the pur­poses of pray­er is ser­vice. Any­one who prays to God should be con­fid­ent that God hears the sen­ti­ment he or she expresses (cf. Ps 34:6; Rom 8:26–28). Abra­ham prayed and was even applied per­suas­ive tone (cf. Gen 18:23–33). Isai­ah under­lines the import­ance of repent­ance on the part of the orantis (cf. Isa 30:21). Who­ever calls on the name of the Lord should know and learn how to wait and patiently too (cf. Pss 37:4; 40:1. Cf. also Isa 40:31). Jesus exposed the intim­ate nature of pray­er. For him, pray­er is an intim­ate con­ver­sa­tion between friends, between fath­er and chil­dren. He made pray­er a con­stant activ­ity dur­ing his earthly mis­sion. He prayed dur­ing his bap­tism (cf. 3:21); before select­ing the twelve dis­ciples (cf. Luke 6:12); dur­ing the trans­fig­ur­a­tion (cf. Luke 9:29); and at Geth­se­mane (cf. Luke 22:39–46). In Luke 11:1–13, Jesus provides a sim­il­ar story to the par­able in Luke 18:1–8. For the ana­lys­is on that story which was the Gos­pel for the 17th Sunday, cf. pray­er and justice. Pray­er is an exchange of con­fid­ence and trust. We pray with faith and obed­i­ence and God looks on our frailty, listens to us, hears, shows us love and answers our pray­er. While we pray with faith and obed­i­ence, God showers us with His love, mercy and grace.

Prayer and action

In a cer­tain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a wid­ow who kept com­ing to him and say­ing, grant me justice against my oppon­ent” (Luke 18:2–3). If pray­er is not trans­lated into action, then it is magic and there­fore, waste of time. The wid­ow of the par­able did not remain in her house, wait­ing for some magic­al act to take place. Instead, to her pray­ing, she also acted by con­tinu­ously going to the judge’s house to remind him of his respons­ib­il­ity towards her. I think it was this con­tinu­ous impor­tun­ity that forced the judge who neither feared God nor had any regard for any­body, to deliv­er justice to the wid­ow. Accord­ing to its Lat­in and French ori­gins, pray­er sig­ni­fies obtained through entreaty. This helps to under­stand such syn­onyms as appeal; plea; peti­tion; request; and sup­plic­a­tion. Entreaty is an earn­est or urgent request. Some Eng­lish trans­la­tions cap­tion the pas­sage of our reflec­tion as “the impor­tunate wid­ow.” Now, impor­tunate means express­ing earn­est and urgent request, hence, such cap­tion­ing is adequate. The wid­ow was not request­ing for favour. She was not even ask­ing to be pit­ied. Rather, she was mak­ing earn­est and urgent request to get back what rightly belongs to her. And she had to go to the per­son whose duty and respons­ib­il­ity it was to see that justice reigns in the com­munity. Nor­mally, magis­trates are par­tic­u­larly charged, not only not to be viol­ent to the wid­ow (cf. Jer 21:3), but to judge the fath­er­less, and plead for the wid­ow (cf. Isa 1:17), and to be their pat­rons and pro­tect­ors. This is the reas­on behind the wid­ow going to the judge. An enemy may have appro­pri­ated the widow’s prop­erty and the judge was the only per­son who could return her prop­erty to her. And until he does that, the wid­ow can­not allow him to rest. Yes, unless you do that which you are sup­posed to do, you can­not have any rest. Even when you pre­tend not to care, your con­science will con­tin­ue to tor­ture you. Car­ry­ing out respons­ib­il­ity should not be con­fused with favour or char­ity. Respons­ib­il­ity is an oblig­a­tion which must be executed.

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