In Luke’s gospel, Jesus preaches several parables about persistence in prayer.The one we hear today, the parable of the unjust judge, is definitely the strangest. With images that border on the irreverent, he compares our prayers to a widow’s tireless petitioning of a corrupt judge. Some scholars say that Luke’s gospel records vestiges of Jesus’ sense of humor. They think he sometimes used lighthearted images to reveal deep truths or address burning anxieties. This is one of the passages scholars often cite as an example of Jesus’ humor.

In it, Jesus strikes at the heart of a deep anxiety. Why does it take God so long to answer prayer? Why do the innocent suffer, the just encounter misfortune, and the meek endure continuous humiliation? Why does it take God so long to set things right?

Jesus offers no comforting answer. Instead, he gives a plan of action: pray. Pray like a poor widow who has nothing left to lose. Pray like a woman whose sense of justice compels her to fight on. Pray like a person who believes that God is operating in unseen ways to undo the damage sin has done to the world.

Like athletes who grow stronger by pushing themselves harder every day persistent prayer pushes us to deeper faith, especially when God’s answer is delayed. Today Jesus challenges us to ask ourselves: How can we strengthen our faith through persistent prayer? Is there an abandoned dream or a forsaken relationship that we can take up anew, and with persistence like today’s widow, storm heaven with our prayers for its fulfillment?

—Fr. Michael Simone, S.J. is beginning his ministry as instructor in Old Testament Studies at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry