So a frustrated young lawyer, fresh from another irrational court ruling comes into a bar. Angrily he shouts “I think all judges are slimeballs!!” A slurred response from the back of the bar is heard: “I resent that!” The lawyer peers into the back and asks “Why, are you a judge?” “No,” the voice slurs, “I’m a slimeball.”
Lest you get the wrong idea, I actually know more judges than I ever thought I would know, and they are all lovely people, on top of being brilliant and often very funny. My mother used to have breakfast most mornings at the corner store in Monmouth Beach, and more often than not, among the mostly men who congregated there, was old Judge Horner (names have been changed to protect the innocent). One morning the judge came in angry because he had gotten a speeding ticket, and another man noted that he got pulled over all the time but never got ticketed. The judge asked how that was possible. The man’s reply: “I tell the officer I know Judge Horner.”
Not all judges are honest and fair, of course, and it seems that in the ancient Middle East, just the opposite was expected. The court system was a disaster, especially if you were amongst the many disenfranchised groups that could be found.
“That widow in Jesus’ parable who kept badgering the judge to vindicate her cause—think of what she was up against. As a widow in the Ancient Near East she is without resources. Since the court of law (the city gates?) was entirely a male realm, we are to picture her as a lone woman amidst a noisy crowd of men. An oft-quoted description of Near Eastern litigation describes a raucous crowd of clients competing for the attention of a judge, who is surrounded by an array of personal clerks. Some clients gain access to the judge by supplying “fees” (bribes) to a particular clerk. The rest simply clamor. The fact that the woman is alone suggests that there is no male available in her extended family to plead her case. She is very much alone in an intimidating situation.
“What is more, the judge is described as one who neither fears God nor is he capable of shame before men. Presumably, he is moved only by bribery, and this woman is either unwilling or unable to use that means. The only strategy available to her is persistence—which finally gets through to the irreverent and shameless judge. The more recent New American Bible translation (1986) does justice to Luke’s language in describing the frustration of this official: “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 [literally, ‘give me a blow under the eye’].” He knows the woman is not going to give up; so he gives in. There is no question regarding the point of this story. Luke introduces it, after all, by saying, “Jesus told his disciples a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary.””
But, of course, God is the opposite of an unjust judge, so Jesus drives the point home: “And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily.” “In other words, if the unstoppable widow can, by her persistence, win vindication from an unjust and godless judge, how much more will your persistence get a response from a loving God?”
Why the need for persistence in prayer? Do we need to badger God into doing what we want – can we badger God into doing what we want? The answers are no and maybe. Think of time Abraham bargained with God for the lives of those in Sodom and Gomorrah, or St. Monnica praying for years for the healing and conversion of her son, (now Saint) Augustine. Did God give into Abraham or Monnica in their persistence? Yes. Did He give them something that was also good for them? Again, yes.
There are times in all our lives when it seems that God is, for whatever reason, ignoring our prayers; He can, in those times, come off as an unjust judge. But as Peter and Paul and James and so many of the Saints have told us, God is neither deaf nor silent; He doesn’t drag His feet just to make us wait. Rather He waits for our prayers to line up with what is actually best for us and best for those we pray for, and in the right time.
This has been a fairly appalling year in the life our nation; embarrassing, really. I don’t have to enumerate the reasons from here. Our parish family has been touched recently by death and illness. But at the same time, so much good is happening and so much good can come out of the rest, if we stay in touch with our loving and gracious God. I can’t think of a better time for persistent prayer.
 Dennis Hamm, SJ http://liturgy.slu.edu/29OrdC101616/theword_hamm.html