Persistence pays off
A Reflection for Saturday of the Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time
Find today’s readings here.
For a long time the judge was unwilling, but eventually he thought,
‘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.’”
In the 1996 “Frasier” episode, “A Lilith Thanksgiving,” Frasier and his family find themselves celebrating the holiday not in a rugged mountain retreat, as had been their plan, but instead across the country, back in Boston. Frasier has flown out, along with his father and brother, to celebrate the holiday with his son Freddy, who lives with his mother, Frasier’s ex-wife, Lilith.
The reason for the visit isn’t the result of a parental desire to give Freddy a holiday with his full family, but because the head of a prestigious private school has determined that Thanksgiving morning was the best opportunity for an interview with Freddy’s parents to discuss his son’s possible admission.
So Frasier and Lilith put aside their ongoing cold war in order to unite and advocate on behalf of Freddy.
The initial meeting takes place at the home of the headmaster, tasked with preparing an entire Thanksgiving meal by himself, but who nonetheless thought it would be a good idea to hold an admissions interview just hours before his guests arrive. Frasier and Lilith make their case, learn there is a single open spot, and are told that the school will be in touch.
Back home, Frasier and Lilith wonder if they made clear that admission to this particular school is Freddy’s sole desire. They decide the only reasonable option is to return to the home of the headmaster and make that clear. When they arrive under false pretenses, the headmaster is annoyed—he’s cooking an entire feast by himself, after all—but hears them out. Frasier and Lilith, flustered, offer up a ridiculous excuse about why they have returned. The headmaster, tired of their antics, dismisses them and in the process, casts doubt on their son’s future.
But Frasier and Lilith aren’t through, not yet.
They return again, this time with a donation that they hope will turn the tide on Freddy’s educational options. Correctly intuiting that he is being bribed, and insulted by the size of the check, the headmaster dismisses Frasier and Lilith.
Perhaps one more try will seal the deal?
During their third visit, Frasier and Lilith learned that the headmaster’s turkey will not be ready in time for dinner. So they swing home, grab the turkey that brother Niles has been preparing meticulously, throw some parsley onto it, and return, for a fourth time, to the headmaster’s home. Saving the guests from a pasta dinner on Thanksgiving will surely work?
Misunderstandings and hilarity ensue. Finally fed up with continued interruptions, the headmaster relents, telling Frasier and Lilith that, should they abide by certain conditions regarding their behavior during Freddy’s tenure at the school, the spot is his for the taking.
Persistent prayer and faith are essential in understanding our relationship with God.
The persistence shown by Frasier and Lilith pays off.
What on earth does any of this have to do with today’s Gospel?
For starters, I watched the episode last night, part of an annual tradition of marking the holidays with seasonal Frasiers, so the story was fresh in my mind.
But it also helps illuminate today’s reading, if you’re willing to squint a bit as you read today’s Gospel.
In Luke’s telling, a widow has been pleading with a judge to rule in her favor, but the judge doesn’t care. He doesn’t fear God or respect any other person. So he ignores her requests.
But the widow is persistent. She keeps asking, believing he will eventually see the error of his ways and rule in her favor.
Sick of the continued interruptions, the judge relents.
“Because this widow keeps bothering me,” the judge thinks, “I shall deliver a just decision for her lest she finally come and strike me.’”
We don’t know what the widow wanted or who she considered her adversary. Presumably, hopefully, it was a more noble cause than admittance to a prestigious private school. But like Frasier and Lilith, the widow’s persistence pays off. She kept the faith. And she prevailed.
That’s the message from today’s Gospel.
Persistent prayer and faith are essential in understanding our relationship with God. We may be tempted to give, to become disillusioned, to feel silly returning again and again as challenges remain.
But the widow shows that persistence pays off.
If the Gospel passage is too many lines to remember in those moments when continuing to pray even as seemingly intractable challenges remain, perhaps remember the final words from “A Lilith Thanksgiving,” uttered jubilantly by Frasier and Lilith: “We're in!”