Luke 18:1-8

In the parable in today’s gospel reading, the woman kept asking, and eventually the judge gave her what she wanted. It’s so easy to focus on the last bit: the woman got what she wanted. But the fact that she had to wait a long time is also an important aspect of the story.

“Justice delayed is justice denied.” Many of us are familiar with this legal principle. It reflects our natural desire for fairness in our dealings with other people, and even with God! But since every one of us has likely experienced some kind of injustice in our lives, we empathise with the woman in the parable, and perhaps feel disapproval or even disgust towards the judge who, after all, is no paragon of justice.

When Jesus follows this parable with a comparison between God and the unjust judge, it seems at first we are onto a sure thing. Of course God will see justice done! But certainty gives way to puzzlement and frustration when we realise that although we are promised justice from God, it may not be immediate, or even swift.

What kind of justice is this? Why does God make us wait? Does God really care about us, anyway? Such questioning is no academic exercise. Our experience of God’s response to our pleas for help is often one of delay, or even apparent downright abandonment. For example, in the recent Creeslough tragedy, why were the anguished prayers of so many not heard or heeded? And the perennial questions: Why are people still dying of hunger in a world of plenty? Why must so many people continue to endure oppression? What’s the point in praying for things if we don’t get what we want, especially when what we want is good?

What Jesus is really teaching us is the qualitative difference between praying because we want something and praying because we are moved by faith. If I pray simply because I want something, I am trying to control the situation. But if I ask for what I want from a place of genuine faith, I surrender the situation to God’s loving mercy, in God’s good time. And that is very difficult to do.

‘Ask and you shall receive.’ (Mt. 21:22) What have the people of Creeslough received? Only faith and time will deliver the ultimate answer. In Gethsemene, Jesus also asked for something critically important: ‘Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me’; but his total surrender in faith led him to add: ‘yet not what I want but what you want.’ (Mt. 26:39) Jesus didn’t get what he wanted. Instead, his faith and nearness to the Father enabled something utterly amazing to be brought about by God, for us and for our salvation.

When the going gets tough, and we are beset by difficulty, tragedy, and injustice, may we receive the grace to pray continually without losing heart, in faith, remembering the example of Jesus. Because, in the words of St Paul, God will turn everything to our good (Rm 8:28) – somehow, someday, and in ways we can’t even begin to imagine.

Anne Keeley