Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Reading: Exodus 17:8-13
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 121:1-8
Second Reading: St. Paul’s 2nd Letter to Timothy 3:14-4:2
Gospel: According to St. Luke 18:1-8
As a senior in high school I had the great fortune of having as my English teacher a Jesuit who loved literature and who noticed that love in me. Throughout the year he would give me books to read, books that were not on the syllabus. Among the works that he presented to me was a text that became one of the touchstones of American culture in the late seventies and early eighties – Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
Years later I found out that the author, Robert Pirsig, had submitted this work to one hundred twenty-one publishers before the manuscript was accepted. To date, this modern American classic holds the record for most rejections for a best-selling work.
Stories like that of Pirsig and his persistence are legion in the world of art and literature. Rejection after rejection did not deter the likes of Agatha Christie, Madeleine L’Engle, and C.S. Lewis from continuing to submit a manuscript that they believed was worthy of publication.
When an author receives a rejection letter from a dismissive editor it must feel like the handing-down of an undeserved sentence at the hands of a dishonest judge. In the mind of a spurned author this editor must be the type of person who “neither feared God nor respected any human being.” To have that rejection repeated over and over – up to 121 times – must be like daggers in the heart. A manuscript is to the author like a child and no one wants their child to be rejected once, let alone 121 times.
God understands this feeling, and that is why Jesus tells us the story from Luke’s Gospel about the dishonest judge. The widow is one of God’s manuscripts, as are we all, and He wants a fair reading of her case with a just outcome. In the end the widow is vindicated, but there is an understandable frustration at the protracted nature of the process that leads to the proper verdict.
Would it have been easier if Pirsig, Christie, L’Engle, Lewis and all the rest had been published at the first attempt? Certainly, but what did these authors show about themselves because they did not lose hope in the face of apparent, often overwhelming, evidence against their desired success?
Their love of and belief in their manuscripts taught them never to give up or lose hope. As God’s manuscripts, we need to remember that His love of and belief in us far outstrips that of any author for any text. We must persist in our faith that God will do whatever it takes to make sure that in the end we will be treated as the widow was eventually treated by the dishonest judge.
“Keep the faith” is a common farewell expression, and it is what those authors did when they continued to believe in their works; as did the widow in her continuous pestering of the dishonest judge. And if it is what we do in our relationship with God, then when the Son of Man returns He will not need to wonder, as He does in Luke’s Gospel, whether or not He will find faith on earth. He can read about it in each of His manuscripts.