“Taxation without representation”—a battle cry for justice before the Revolutionary War! But it isn’t the late 1700s! Why would that be a bumper sticker in 2016? The answer depends not on the date, but the place. We were driving in Washington, DC. After seeing that bumper sticker this summer, the discussion that followed brought up many questions. There must be some way that the voice of the people can be heard in the center city of our democratic government. There must be a mayor. There must be a city council. Are these citizens paying taxes to the federal government with no representation? Driving behind this car with its bumper sticker certainly brought our attention to their situation … at least for a few minutes.
The widow of our Gospel is seeking justice. To announce her situation, she may not have attached a bumper sticker on her donkey. She may not have had a donkey! She had no one to represent her. There are no male figures in Jesus’ story, no husband, no son, no brother to fight for her. All she had was her own persistence! And persist she did—strongly! According to Sister Verna Holyhead in With Burning Hearts, instead of the translation “lest she finally come and strike me” it could validly read that “lest she give me a black eye”! Yes, really! That could be an alternate translation! This was some little lady!
Jesus’ story is amazing in his culture. The nameless widow is in the lowest stratum of that society, a woman and a widow. There is no one to push her cause, to plead her case. But God favors her precisely because of her lowliness and powerlessness and God has given her a voice. But her greatest gift is her persistence and her strength! She seeks justice. She gets justice! Jesus holds her up as a model.
Jesus is teaching his disciples about prayer. But within his parable, he gives them a twofold example: persistence in prayer and also persistence in seeking justice. Jesus’ orientation is always twofold, upward and outward, God and others. This is a wonderful example of the mind of his Father, compassion and a bit of favoritism for his creation, especially the little ones.
We are the disciples of 2016. Most of us are “crazy busy”! But there are many ways we can persist in prayer and seeking justice. Yes, bumper stickers are one way, but most of us need something in front of our eyes! It can be so hard to “pray always.” In actuality, we pray more than we realize. Often, our prayers are quick petitions, “God, I need some help here!” There are also the spontaneous, “Thanks, God!” Sometimes, we have simple awe over the beauties of nature, especially as our eyes behold the glorious pallet of fall colors. In times of mistakes, we can also turn to our all-loving God with an “I’m sorry.”
Of course, it goes without saying that our hearts have a deep cavity, a constant yearning, for a deeper relationship with God. That’s how we are built. Nothing will fill that cavity except strong and persistent attention to our personal God, loving conversation with that God. Loving conversation, prayer, has all the aspects of quick spontaneous prayer—gratitude, petition, sorrow, awe, and sometimes even anger. God loves to see us respond with emotional honesty.
Now, to Jesus’ hidden agenda. Seeking justice may require more than a bumper sticker, which can speak loudly, as the one in Washington did. In our searching for justice, we need not join marches and protests, unless that is our special calling. Seeking justice can be as small as a discussion about issues during a shared meal. In our current timeframe, on Tuesday, November 8, we definitely need to vote. But before that, we need to look into the issues our candidates stand for, sometimes a difficult task. We need to vote intelligently. Our voting should be more than once every four years.
Besides political elections, there are many ways of seeking justice. For instance, if we own stock, we need to look at what the companies are doing for or against their workers. Is there any way the company is exploiting the poor, perhaps in another country? After the tedious task of reading proxy statements, then, again, we need to vote intelligently.
Many cities, states, and even churches are involved in moral decisions. How we need to be involved! If Jesus were living today, he would possibly use a different example than the persistent widow, but still link perseverance in prayer and justice. Uniting those two themes, we could suggest persevering in praying for justice. Now, wouldn’t that bring a smile to God’s face? What an excellent way to spend the next few weeks before our national election! And God says, “I think they’re getting it!”
Patricia DeGroot, OblSB
Let us ask God
to grant that violence be overcome by the power of love,
that opposition give way to reconciliation
and that the desire to oppress be transformed
into the desire for forgiveness, justice and peace…
May peace be in our hearts
so that they are open to the action of God’s grace…
May all members of the family community,
especially children, the elderly, the weakest,
feel the warmth of this feast,
and may it extend subsequently to all the days in the year.
—From Prayer for Justice, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, General Audience, Dec. 19, 2007.