This parable presents an interesting problem. It is the story of an unjust judge, a man who is politically corrupt, a man who is out only for himself with little or no consideration for others except for what they might be able to do for him. He is a man with considerable power and wields it unmercifully.
A poor widow, left alone in society to fend for herself, had some legal problem with an unnamed person. She petitions the judge to give her relief but the judge, because this woman means nothing to her and has no possibility whatsoever of bringing anything of value to him, ignores her in hopes that she would soon disappear. He was wrong!
Time and again, the widow appears before the judge, pleading her case with the same passion and enthusiasm as ever. Time and again, the judge rejects her pleas for help. But the woman does not give up. Her persistence is beyond anything the judge has ever encountered. Finally, after an extended period of time, the judge begins to weary of her constant petitions. He begins to fear for his personal safety.
The judge, in a moment of complete honesty and self-revelation, declares, “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.” (Lk. 18:4-5)
I believe that this parable is easily misunderstood. On the surface, Jesus seems to be saying that if we but persist in our prayer, God will finally relent and grant our wish. But this cannot be true since it is impossible for man to negotiate anything with God. We cannot persuade God to do anything.
Prayer must never be seen as something like requesting time off from our jobs for a vacation. On our jobs we decide when we would like to take time off, place the request before our boss, and wait to see if the time off will be approved. While this may be a fine process for the workplace, it does not work that way with God.
However, our Lord’s parable is less about prayer than it is about the nature of God. Who among us would consider that God is an unjust God? Would any of us ever even utter such a thing even if we did feel this way? Probably not because in man’s heart of hearts, resides the knowledge that God is the ultimate just judge. He is justice in and of itself.
If God is the ultimate just judge, then why do we approach Him in prayer as though we believe Him to be unjust? What do I mean by this? Well, stop and think about it for the moment. Often, when we go to God in prayer, isn't it true that we try to figure out how to best approach Him? Don’t we try to determine how to sound the best for a favorable answer? And isn’t it also true that we do this when we think that the judge can somehow be persuaded by our approach. In other words, when we think the judge is unjust, we try to fashion our petition in such a way to gain a favor from the magistrate.
Because God is the just judge that He is, can we not approach Him with boldness without reservation? Why must we search for just the right words when He already knows what we are coming to Him for? Why should we, His ultimate creation, bother with formalities? He knows us more intimately than we even know ourselves. Why not be bold in our prayer? Why not go to Him with the expectation that our prayer will be answered for all prayers are answered. They may not be answered in the way that we want or envision, but they are answered.
Pope Francis recently spoke about this boldness in prayer. He said, “Prayer that is not courageous is not a real prayer. For the Lord says: ‘Everyone who asks, receives: and the one who seeks, finds: and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (cf Lk. 11:5-13)
How bold are we, really, in our prayer? How do we approach the Just Judge? How often do we just think of praying instead of actually praying? And when we do pray, do we really approach God with a bold humility?
Sometimes, this may be due to a lack of knowing just how to pray. Again, the Pope is helpful in this. “Do we get ourselves involved in prayer? Do we know how to knock at the heart of God?”
Knocking at the heart of God is a bold act, indeed. Yet, God Himself, yearns for this kind of communication! We never approach God in prayer without God first approaching us.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts this beautifully. “The wonder of prayer is revealed beside the well where we come seeking water: there Christ comes to meet every human being. It is he who first seeks us and asks us for a drink. Jesus thirsts.” Yes, Jesus thirsts for communication with us, yet, because He loves us, He will never force us into anything including those things which are best for us.
The Catechism continues. “His asking arises from the depths of God’s desire for us. Whether we realize it or not, prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst with ours. God thirsts that we may thirst for Him.” (CCC 2561)
If we keep in mind that God is the ultimate Just Judge, we can approach Him with the boldness suggested by Pope Francis. It is a boldness founded in the Creator’s desire for deep, intimate communication with us. We thirst for Him and He thirsts for us even more than we could ever yearn for Him.
So, no, God is not an unjust God! We simply need to truly understand that He thirsts for us and beckons us into intimate communication with Him. Be bold, be forward, be certain that the Just Judge will welcome us with open arms and we will find the ultimate joy in that moment.