Sunday, October 20, 2013

Perseverance In Prayer

The parable of the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8) suggests some qualities that can enliven our prayer: things such as perseverance, loyalty, love, and hope. The widow pleads for justice against an adversary. Although we don't know the details about what was done to her, a quick look at the world today really doesn’t even reveal how many people are crying out for justice. You have to admire the persistent widow’s moxie as she deals with an unprincipled judge.

What we can bring to prayer which often feels like an exercise in boredom? It’s love which is the key to our problem. Prayer shouldn’t involve a lot of words, but rather a large dose of love, hope, faith and patience. God doesn’t at all operate like the unjust judge, as one who responds to our cry by trying to get rid of us. God doesn’t even need us to ask for help. Rather, you and I need to really hear our own prayerful desire for justice in our situation.

Perseverance in following Christ is impossible without perseverance in prayer. It’s said that prayer works miracles, and perhaps the first miracle one experiences in prayer, often without even realizing it, is one’s own perseverance.

One of the Gospel’s clear messages today is to persevere in prayer. Matthew, in his account, says that everyone who asks receives, because the persistence in prayer, born of deep faith, cannot but produce fruit. St. Luke, mindful of the poor and the oppressed who cry out to God for justice, reminds them that their effort isn’t wasted, because God is never deaf to the cries of God’s own. The Hebrew Scriptures remember that, as Israel was forming itself as a people, God heard their painful laments over the oppression which they were suffering in Egypt. The first Christians were in a similar situation. Christians who had suffered the first onslaughts of the Roman Empire longed for the Lord’s Second Coming which promised to bring them the fullness of freedom. Luke’s message was geared to give his readers the hope and strength to endure, to persist and persevere, in the midst of their situation. At times God seems to be late in addressing to our needs, but, in the end, God never fails to come to deliver.

In a way all this is similar to our experience as children. A child learns quickly that persistently seeking something from her/his parents often produces positive results, although sometimes it can also result in being punished. The judge in the parable could have punished the woman for what he considered her untimely insistence. He could’ve even forbidden her from approaching the court, given his unfair disposition. God judges with far greater sensitivity and compassion because God is righteous and acts not against, but in behalf of, the oppressed. If we humans can put up with persistently obnoxious and annoying people at times, how much more will God listen to persevering prayer.

The parable’s two figures, the judge and the widow, are traditional biblical types: one, powerful and controlling, with almost divine authority to judge; the other, a disadvantaged victim of circumstances. God has always proved to be on the side of the poor, as Luke hints in his recording of Mary's canticle, the Magnificat. Knowing this, Christians should be persistent, even aggressive, in asking God to hear their prayers, as well as to support any effort to make God’s justice a reality in the world. Always remember: sometimes "God arrives late, but God never lets us down."

No comments: