Peter: Look Jesus, this is ridiculous!… We’ve already used twelve pairs of sandals in announcing that things are heading for a change, and that justice and liberation are at hand. But what have we accomplished up to now, huh? Tell me.
Jesus: Be patient, fellas.
Peter: Yeah, be patient… You’ve gotta open your eyes, Moreno! This is getting us nowhere. It’s like moving a mountain.
Jesus: And it will move, Peter. The moment we really have faith in the Lord and in ourselves, we shall indeed move mountains and cast them into the sea. I learned this lesson from my mother…
Jesus: When I was a little boy in Nazareth, my mother, who was already a widow, worked on the farm of the landlord, Ananias…
Susana: What a rascal this Ananias is! How I wish this millstone would crush his kidneys!
Rebecca: For three weeks we have been gathering olives for him, and yet, he doesn’t want to pay us! No, this can’t be! I swear, by the trumpets of Jericho that the whole world will know of his brazenness, and this old man will have to pay us to the last centavo, or else…!
Michal: …Or else, what, Rebecca?… No, woman, save your strength. What can we do if he doesn’t pay us? Nothing! If our husbands were alive, they would defend us… But, what can we do? We’re widows. Take the yoke upon us and work like beasts.
Jesus: My mother Mary and her neighbor, Susana, together with the other widows of Nazareth, had not been paid their wages after harvesting olives from Ananias’ farm. They were furious, for this happened many times: the patrons took advantage of the single women, who were hired to gather olives, or tomatoes or figs… They got paid very little or nothing at all for the work…
Mary: We’ve gotta do something about this, neighbors! We can’t go on like this, doing nothing, while our children go hungry!
Michal: Is there anything we can do “Comadre”?* This is the fate of poor people like us, so let’s just accept it!
Mary: What fate are you talking about? No Michal! I don’t buy that. Do you know what Joseph, my late husband, used to say? May he rest in peace! He said that our destiny is in our own hands.
Susana: That’s right, Mary, but we women are weak, don’t forget that.
Mary: How can you say that, Susanna? Wasn’t it Judith’s hand that cut off the head of that giant whose name I don’t even remember? When the men of Israel lost courage, who led the people against the attacks of the Canaanites? It was Deborah, a woman like you and me, in whose veins flowed blood and not water! And wasn’t Queen Esther a fighter too?
Rebecca: Mary’s right. The trouble is, the woman, for being alone, loses heart and end up hiding in a cave like mice do.
Mary: Well, then, let’s get out of this cave and punish the cat.
Susana: Yes, sir, we’ve gotta do something for our sake, and for our children!
Mary: C’mon, let’s all go to Cana and file a complaint against that old swindler. What are judges for, but to give justice, right? Let’s see the judge right away, so he can take up our case in court.
Jesus: My mother and the other widows left Nazareth and headed north toward Cana where old Jacinth, the bald and fat judge, lived…
Rebecca: Judge Jacinth, Judge Jacinth!… Judge Jacinth!
Jacinth: What’s going on here? Dammit! Who are you?
Susana: We are the poor widows from Nazareth! We’re here to tell you something!…. Please open the door!
Jacinth: Some poor widows… What do you want? Why do you bang my door?
Mary: Because we were deprived of our three-week wages after having worked under the sun!
Jacinth: So what?
Rebecca: You’re a judge, aren’t you? Aren’t judges supposed to give justice?
Jacinth: We put troublemakers like you in jail. I’m very busy now, so please stop bothering me.
Mary: Sir, please wait, don’t go away. You see, this old leech Ananias, whom you know better than we do, hired us to gather olives for him. A week passed, but he didn’t pay us. The second week and the third week came, but nothing. Do you think this is fair?
Jacinth: So what do you want now?
Susana: We want to sue him in court and we’d like you to give us justice.
Jacinth: Well, let’s start from the beginning: If I defend you in court… how much are you going to pay me?
Michal: How’s that again, Judge?… Please speak more clearly… we come from the barrio, you know…
Jacinth: I say, if I take up your case, how much money are you going to pay me, dammit?
Mary: Well, sir, as you can see, we’re all widows… poor widows, at that. Besides, how can we pay you if Ananias doesn’t pay us yet?
Jacinth: I understand… In that case… come back next time… I’m very busy today… That’s right, come back next week… I’ll see what I can do for you…
Jesus: So, from Cana, my mother and her neighbors walked seven miles back to Nazareth… After a week…
Susana: Please give us justice, sir!… Judge Jacinth, please!
Rebecca: We’ll pay you something from what Ananias will have to give us, if you defend our cause!
Jacinth: Something… something… How much?… Tell me, how much are you paying me?
Michal: Well… we can collect ten dinars… or even fifteen… from all of us…
Jacinth: Dammit, fifteen dinars! I’ll be damned! You’re paying me fifteen dinars! You’ve come to ask me to confront the most powerful man around, who, by the snap of his finger can have me hanged… and in return, you’re paying me fifteen filthy dinars! Puah!
Susana: Please understand, sir, that we’re only poor…
Jacinth: Of course, I understand… and you too, must understand that I’ve got much work to do, and I can’t attend to you… Ehem… That’s it, come back next week and we’ll see, ha, ha, ha…
Jesus: Seven miles of journey back to Nazareth. After a week, they again traveled seven miles to Cana…
Susana: But sir, until when shall we keep on coming back?…
Rebecca: Our children are skin and bones already!
Michal: See these breasts of mine, Judge! They’ve dried up! We’re all desperate! We can’t stand this anymore. Our children are dying of hunger, and they’re getting sick….!
Jacinth: What have I gotta do with that, huh? I didn’t give birth to those kids! So, why bother me? Why don’t you settle this among yourselves? Go away and stop pestering me!
Mary: Fine, don’t do it for our sake, if you don’t want to.
Jacinth: And for whose sake, may I ask?
Mary: Do it for the love of God, Judge!
Jacinth: Ha, ha, ha…! For God? What do I care about God?… He’s up there in heaven, while I’m down here on earth. Didn’t you say that God gives justice to the poor? Why don’t you go get yourselves a long ladder so you can reach him and ask his help? And stop bothering me!
Susana: Pff… What a sour character he is…
Mary: No, Susana, it’s just that the fox in Ananias has gotten to him, do you understand?
Michal: What’ll we do now, Mary? We’re doomed.
Mary: Now, we’ll keep fighting!
Rebecca: But Mary, are you out of your mind? How can we fight without even a stick as a weapon!
Mary: We don’t need sticks or swords for this, Rebecca.
Rebecca: So what do we do, Mary?
Mary: All we need is patience.
Susana: What for?
Mary: To put an end to his patience. Remember what Moses did in Egypt? The Pharaoh had everything, including war chariots! Moses had nothing. Well, the only thing he had was a stubborn head… Moses gathered all the Israelites and tested the Pharaoh’s patience: by turning the water red, infesting the houses with toads and frogs, and turning the city into total darkness…
Susana: But Mary, we’re just a handful… Moses did it because he was a man and many people rallied behind him…
Michal: We’re just like mosquitoes, while they’re like elephants…
Mary: That’s precisely the point, Michal. That was one of the ten plagues of Egypt, that of the mosquitoes. This I can assure you: a band of attacking mosquitoes can render sleepless all of King Solomon’s elephants in the palace. Come with me; we’re all going back to Jacinth’s house!
Jesus: And so, the obstinate peasants, together with Mary, my mother who was their leader, went back to the front door of the fat judge…
Jacinth: You’re here again! Dammit, I told you to go away and leave me in peace!… Are you all deaf?… What are you waiting for?
Mary: We’re waiting for the judges of Israel to give justice to the poor!
Jacinth: Well, you’ve got to do it sitting down, because it will take a long time!
Mary: That’s exactly what we’re going to do. Neighbors, let’s all sit down!
Jesus: When my mother said that, all the widows sat at the front door of the judge…
Jacinth: To hell with all of you! Okay, you may stay there, until your asses get numb! Damn you, peasants; your heads are as hard as stones!
Jesus: The judge slammed the door. After a while….
Jacinth: You’re still seated there? By Jove, have you all lost your mind?
Susana: No, it’s you who’s losing your patience, Judge!
Mary: We won’t move from here until we get some justice…
Jesus: Then the judge shut the door again…
Rebecca: You’ll bring your house down if you keep on banging the door!
Susana: Pff… What do you think, Mary? Will we achieve anything?
Mary: Our ancestors suffered for four hundred years in Egypt, until finally they obtained their freedom. We won’t budge from here.
A Man: Hey, who’re you? Are you begging alms from the judge?
Rebecca: We want justice, not alms.
Susana: We labored for three weeks gathering olives at Ananias’ farm, and now he doesn’t want to pay us.
Man: What a thief!… What about the judge… Has he done anything yet?
Mary: That’s what we’ve been waiting for. But you see, Ananias has stained the judge’s hand, who in turn, has smeared the captain’s, and so on and so forth…
Man: Yeah, you’re right. The powerful protect one another, while we keep on pushing each other… Hey, fellas, come on over here, all of you!
Jesus: That man started to call his friends who were idle in the square and inside the tavern… Soon, a great number of people from Cana joined the widows from Nazareth…
Jacinth: Well I’ll be damned! What do you want? I’m not the governor of Galilee, neither am I here to give you candies or sweets! So all of you: get lost and leave me in peace, you fools!
Jesus: More and more people joined them at the front door. They were like a plague of mosquitoes…
Jacinth: That’s enough! To hell with all of you! Come inside and let’s settle this matter once and for all!
Susana: So the judge finally relented, huh?
Jacinth: I couldn’t stand the scandal anymore. However, I want you to bear this in mind: I’m doing this, not for God’s sake, not for you nor for your “starving children”, but because I want to get rid of you and get you out of my sight.
Jesus: Judge Jacinth took the case to court and the landlord Ananias had to pay the widows’ wages. Yes sir, they won the fight! That’s how all wars are won: you fight until the end. It’s the same thing with the Lord. We pray day and night, without ceasing. If we do, He’ll never let us down. He’ll give us justice!
Rufa: God bless your lips, Jesus, and God bless the woman who brought you into this world!
Peter: Very well said, Grandma Rufa!
Jesus: Yeah, even more, God bless all those who fight to the end, whatever the cost!
In many ways, the women peasants of Israel had more freedom than those in the city. The need to raise a family caused them to work side by side with the men on the farm. The women and men harvested the grapes together; sometimes the women were hired to work alone.
Being a widow in the Bible should never be taken as synonymous to being old. Many girls got married at the ages of twelve or thirteen years, and a lot of women became widowed at a very young age. Considering that when Jesus initiated his activities in Galilee, his father had already passed away, Mary was widowed at thirty or forty. Her social condition made her dependent on her son, whose duty it was to support her. Likewise, she certainly had to work. The parable of the “evil judge” or that of the “persevering widow” in this episode is told by Jesus to his friends as a real experience of his mother and some widows like her.
The administration of justice in Israel traces its origin from the people’s history, with the ancestors designated by Moses. However, in Jesus’ time, there were no exact data as to how justice was meted out, and the manner by which the cases were presented in court. The institutionalization of justice varied according to regions. Mary and her friends went to look for a local judge, who was residing in Cana, since Nazareth was too small a locality to have one. These judges decided less important cases in small localities. Sometimes, the rich would “buy” them off with gifts and so no real justice was delivered in their decisions.
The prophets of Israel always fought for justice for the poor. They identified God’s law with the rights of the poor. Among the poor were the foreigners, the orphans and the widows, who were defenseless and therefore, deserved justice more than anyone else. The prophets denounced the corruption in the courts, the briberies received by the judges and the injustice they committed against these unfortunate souls (Amos 5:7-13).
In the history of Israel, a lot of women became known for their active part in the peoples’ struggle. Deborah, the judge of Israel, won several battles (Judges 4 and 5); Esther, a very popular heroine, and Judith, who defeated the tyrant Holofernes were significant female figures in the history of Israel for their courage and cunning. Mary, Jesus’ mother, likewise left a mark in the history of Israel by helping establish the Kingdom through her work, her constant fidelity and her courage in the face of adversity.
Mary, the mother of the people, a peasant and a laborer, ought to serve as inspiration to women. There is so much in common between her and the women of our society. Mary lived in a male chauvinistic society. She engaged in manual work, and experienced the suffering of the poor: scarcity, insecurity and discrimination. She had a son whose commitment to the cause of justice put her own life in jeopardy. Without fully comprehending Jesus’ mission, she collaborated with him.
It is not enough that Mary is venerated. She is even “adored” – which, in fact, is what has happened. In the Magnificat, a hymn of faith in the Lord and a source of inspiration and hope for the poor, can be found all the elements necessary for a genuine veneration of Mary.
Like any child learning from his parents, Jesus learned the fundamental values in life from Joseph and Mary. He acquired Mary’s tenacity, her constancy, that typical peasant obstinacy that can “move mountains.” If the parable of the “evil judge” has been commonly regarded as an exhortation to the constancy of prayer, Jesus, in this episode, broadens its meaning: in prayer, we must also be as consistent, patient and insistent as Mary. Prayer and action go hand in hand; they are nurtured by the same spirit, and inspired by the same attitudes. Thus, Jesus presents Mary as a model of constancy of action.
There will be no freedom for women until men and women alike take part, hand in hand, in the construction of a world that is different from the present: a world that is free from discrimination of any type. Women’s liberation that focuses only on the sexual aspects (abortion, divorce, free union, etc.) is an importation from developed countries which has little to do with our own realities.
In this account, the widows’ strategy to win the sentiment of the unjust judge was tenacity, in the form of non-violence. They insisted, they journeyed several times, pressured the judge with their words and screams, and staged a sit-down strike… until they overcame the judge’s resistance… Their unity gave them strength and victory.