The “persistent widows” in our midst

We feel for her. Her child was killed in one of the many mass shootings that plague our schools. She’s driven by both anger and grief — she refuses to let another family go through the horror she and her family endured. She speaks to parents’ groups. She helps organize rallies and demonstrations. She meets with legislators. Despite well-financed opposition, she continues to seek justice for the child she lost and for the children whose lives are in front of them.

We avoid her. She survived a serious illness that changed her life and lifestyle. She’s lost weight; she’s stopped smoking; she avoids alcohol; she exercises and radically changed her diet.  Good for her; we’re happy for her. But if you eat a brownie or a slice of pizza in her presence, you’re in for a ten-minute lecture on healthy eating. If she comes by while you’re waiting for the elevator, she’ll push you up the stairs. She floods her friends’ phones and laptops with an endless stream of articles on health and diet. She means well. She wants others to avoid the mistakes she made. We admire her. We love her. We want her to go away.

We often hear stories about families like hers. A loved one’s illness has drained the family’s savings. Her life is a constant battle with doctors and insurance companies and human service agencies. Door after door is shut to her as her spouse or child or parent’s condition deteriorates — they don’t qualify for help for some technical reason, the funds are not budgeted, they live in the wrong city or state. Our hearts ache for her — but families like hers are quickly reduced to statistics when public policies are debated and budgets are made up.

They are the widow of today’s Gospel who live among us in our own time and place — and more often than we realize, we can be the “judge” who can “deliver” justice for them.

Today’s Gospel challenges us to recognize the “persistent widows” in our midst: to realize the wisdom they have gained in their struggles that we overlook or diminish. The widow of Jesus’ parable lives among us: she is the poor, the struggling, the ignored, the forgotten, the victimized and the vulnerable whose sense of her own dignity and worth enables her to fight on. Christ promises that the Father hears the worthy prayer of the Gospel widow in her many guises and that her perseverance in faith will one day be rewarded — and Jesus challenges us to put aside our obliviousness and self-absorption and see her. In her many guises, she is Christ in our midst.