Pontiff turns to parable of the widow and the unjust judge at Wednesday audience
VATICAN CITY — Prayer is not a magic wand, but a powerful means to union with God that purifies our desire and shapes it according to his will, Pope Francis said today.
Continuing his catechesis for the Year of Mercy, at the Wednesday general audience in St. Peter’s Square, the pope turned to the parable of the widow and the unjust judge (Lk 18:1-8). Through this parable, Jesus teaches his disciples to pray without losing heart.
“Unlike the unjust judge, God promptly answers his children,” Pope Francis said, “even if this does not mean that he does so according to the time or in the ways we would like.”
“Prayer is not a magic wand!” he said. “It helps us to preserve faith in God, to trust in Him even when we do not understand his will.”
In fact, the pope continued, the object of our prayer is secondary. “What matters above all,” he said, “is one’s relationship with the Father.”
“This is what prayer does: it transforms desire and shapes it according to the will of God, whatever it may be, because he who prays aspires first of all to union with God, who is merciful Love.”
Here below we publish the Holy Father’s catechesis in full.
Dear brothers and sisters,
Good morning. The Gospel parable we just heard (cf. Lk 18:1-8) contains an important teaching: “The need always to pray and not lose heart” (v. 1). Therefore, it is not a matter of praying sometimes, when I feel like it. No, Jesus says that we need “always to pray and not lose heart.” And he offers the example of the widow and the judge.
A judge was a powerful person, called to pass judgment on the basis of the Law of Moses. For this reason, the biblical tradition recommended that judges be God-fearing people, trustworthy, impartial and incorruptible (cf. Ex 18:21). On the contrary, this judge “neither feared God nor regarded man” (vs. 2). He was an unjust judge, without scruples, who did not take the Law into account but did what he wanted, according to his own interests.
A widow turns to him for justice. Widows, together with orphans and foreigners, were the most vulnerable groups in society. The rights accorded them by the Law could easily be trampled on since, being lonely and helpless, they could hardly stand up for themselves: a poor widow, there alone, no one was defending her; they could have ignored her, and also not have given her justice.
So too with the orphan, so with the stranger, the migrant: at the time this was a considerable problem. Before the indifference of the judge, the widow resorts to her only weapon: to continue insistently to bother him, presenting him with her request for justice. And it was through this very persistence that she attained her goal. The judge, in fact, at a certain point grants it not because he is moved by mercy, nor because his conscience required it of him. He admits simply: “Because this widow bothers me, I will vindicate her, or she will wear me out by her continual coming” (v.5).
Jesus draws a twofold conclusion from this parable: if the widow managed to bend the unjust judge by her insistent pleas, how much more God, who is a good and just Father, “will vindicate his elect, who cry to him day and night”; and moreover, “he will not not delay long over them” but will act “speedily” (vv. 7-8).
That is why Jesus exhorts us to pray “without losing heart.” We all experience moments of weariness and discouragement, especially when our prayer seems ineffective. But Jesus assures us: unlike the unjust judge, God promptly answers his children, even if this does not mean that he does so according to the time or in the ways we would like.
Prayer is not a magic wand! It helps us to preserve faith in God, to trust in Him even when we do not understand his will. In this, Jesus himself — who prayed so much! —is an example for us. The Letter to the Hebrews recalls that “in the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his complete surrender to him” (5:7).
At first glance, this statement seems far-fetched, because Jesus died on the Cross. Yet the Letter to the Hebrews is not mistaken: God truly saved Jesus from death by giving him complete victory over it, but the path taken to attain it passed through death itself!
The reference to the supplication that God answered recalls Jesus’s prayer in Gethsemane. Assailed by looming anguish, Jesus prays to the Father to deliver him from the bitter cup of the Passion, but his prayer is imbued by trust in the Father, and he entrusts himself unreservedly to his will: “Nevertheless,” Jesus says, “not as I will, but as You will” (Mt 26:39).
The object of prayer is of secondary importance; what matters above all is one’s relationship with the Father. This is what prayer does: it transforms desire and shapes it according to the will of God, whatever it may be, because he who prays aspires first of all to union with God, who is merciful Love.
The parable ends with a question: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (vs. 8). And with this question, we are all warned: we must not give up on prayer, even if it is not reciprocated. It is prayer that keeps faith alive; without it faith falters! Let us ask the Lord for a faith that becomes unceasing, persevering prayer, like that of the widow in the parable, a faith that is nourished by the desire for his coming. And in the prayer we experience the compassion of God, who as a Father comes to the aid of his children full of merciful love.
Diane Montagnais Rome correspondent for Aleteia’s English edition.