Saturday, 12 November 2016

Week 32 Saturday (Year 2)

Readings: 3 John 5-8; Psalm 111; Luke 18:1-8

There is an unusual Greek term in today's gospel reading. The judge gives in to the woman because she keeps bothering him and he fears that she will 'finally come and strike me'. It seems unlikely. One imagines a little widow and a big judge, a small and persistent little lady against a strong and stubborn man. Another version has 'she will wear me out by her continual coming' and other translations have her 'attacking' him, 'embarrassing' him, 'worrying him to death', or 'plaguing' him. Whatever it is she is doing to him he finally gives in.

In fact the term comes from the world of boxing. We find it again in St Paul's first letter to the Corinthians where he compares the Christian life to athletics. Just as athletes exercise self-control in order to achieve the goals they have set for themselves so ought the Christian be focused on the imperishable goal that is promised. I do not run aimlessly, Paul says, 'I do not box as one beating the air; but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified' (1 Corinthians 9:25-27). The term translated as 'pommel' is the same term used by the judge about what the widow is doing to him.

Where boxers are of significantly different sizes and weights one of the few strategies the smaller, lighter one can use is to land a series of irritating blows on or around the eyes of his (or her) larger and stronger opponent. This is what it means to pommel, and this is what the widow is doing to the judge. She persists and cannot be shaken off. She is not strong and powerful but she is persistent and annoying. She will 'give me a black eye' is another translation which gets the point exactly.

So another way of taking this parable is to see the contrast between the widow and the judge as pointing to the contrast between the one who prays and God to whom he or she prays. The distance here is infinitely greater, as the small and weak creature turns to the almighty and eternal God. What weapon can the one who prays possibly use to bridge such a distance and to storm such a citadel? It brings to mind some phrases in a poem by George Herbert entitled Prayer: it is probably the most beautiful poem on prayer in the English language. Among the litany of images Herbert uses for prayer are these pugilistic and militaristic ones:

Engine against th'Almightie, sinners towre, / Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear

'Christ-side-piercing spear': this is what the needy widow's prayer succeeds in doing, piercing the side of the Incarnate Lord, not in the end because of the strength of her fists but because of the depth of his compassion. Mystically inclined writers will dare to say that the Lord becomes helpless and powerless in the face of human need, once again because of the depth and tenderness of His love. We may be like the widow in the story but Our Lord is not really like the judge for He is ready to respond, and to respond speedily.

No comments: