16 Oct 22, 29th of the Year
I don`t usually begin with a text but it seems to me that today`s Communion sentence from Psalm 32 verses 18 & 19 sets the scene: “Behold, the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, who hope in his merciful love, to rescue their souls from death, to keep them alive in famine.”
The theme for today, from our scripture readings, certainly points to perseverance in both faith and prayer and this is hardly surprising when we reflect upon the readings of previous weeks and, indeed, the pastoral epistles of St. Paul to Timothy and Titus which the Tuesday Study Groups are considering at some depth. Indeed, in today`s second reading from St. Paul`s second letter to Timothy where he writes these words of encouragement: “…ever since you were a child, you have known the holy scriptures – from these you can learn the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” we can witness the warmth and encouragement that Paul offers to his friend and disciple.
The Old Testament lesson from Exodus, the book concerning Moses leading the Children of Israel out of Egypt and towards the Promised Land (I say, “towards” because Moses did NOT enter the promised land, he viewed from the far side of the Jordan before being taken up to God, for he had no place of burial, as Joshua led them to their destination.) Throughout the Forty years in the Wilderness the People of Israel had been wayward, self-willed, disobedient, ungrateful and constantly moaning against God and against Moses. At Rephidim, following the miracle of the water from the rock at Horeb where the people were able to drink at the place Moses called Massah and Meribah the people still quarelled with each other and tested God and Moses. They were attacked by the Amalekites but Moses did not lose faith. Instead he commanded Joshua to choose warriors to fight against Amalek. Meanwhile Moses with Aaron his brother and Hur went to the top of the hill, Moses with the staff of God in his hand beseeching the Lord in prayer, We read that when he held the staff aloft then Israel prevailed, when he was fatigued and lowered his hand the Amalekites prevailed. Moses was weary but his companions sat him on a stone and held up his hands, one on each side of him, so that he could hold his hands and rod steady until sunset. Whereupon Joshua defeated Amalek and his hordes with the sword. An altar of adoration and thanksgiving was built on the spot which Moses called, ”The Lord is my banner.”.
The lesson, of course, is that God always answers prayer as long as that prayer is accompanied by faith. The answer may not be exactly what is asked for but rather what is needful for the person or persons petitioning God in the prayer.
In our Christian tradition this episode from the Old Testament, and we need to remember that the People of Israel were God`s First-Chosen People, has been taken as a symbol of perseverance in prayer for when people, not least ourselves, pray we open ourselves up to God`s grace. When through weariness or discouragement or laziness our prayer begins to wilt, we move ourselves away from that source of God`s strength.
The Gospel passage from Luke 18, 1 to 8 is sometimes called “The Parable of the Unjust Judge” or “The story of the lazy judge”. Well, yes, there is more than a hint of truth in both titles but surely the point of Jesus telling the tale was to point to the steadfastness of the widow who needed the situation to be sorted. The judge is portrayed as a rather pompous lazy character, one of the fat cats of the legal profession who cannot be bothered to make the just decision that she requires. It seems that this went on for a long time resulting in the widow being doubly frustrated and, presumably, more than a touch angry or resentful. Our Blessed Lord`s humour comes into the situation when he records “...but eventually, he thought,” the judge that is, “While it is true that I fear not 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,”
Had the judge not decided the case for her you can imagine the widow going for him in a big way.
Jesus then goes on to explain how God will secure the rights of his chosen one who call out to him day and night.
It is, of course, true that we Christians can often be puzzled and of the opinion that God is sometimes indifferent to our pleas for spiritual favours which may appear to us to be essential for our pilgrim journey heavenwards. The failure to grant temporal and worldly favours is understandable – such might not be for our eternal good. Such questionings and many others arise in our minds not least because our human and limited intellects see only a small section of the immense tapestry which God is weaving for the human race.
In this parable of the Unjust Judge our Lord is showing us the need for perseverance in prayer. I remember a wise and venerable spiritual director saying over some important situation that required prayer and answer to prayer: “Remember, there are times when we need to storm Heaven with our prayers.” That does not mean vain repetition and words upon words but a reality of trust, faith and perseverance.
To quote Fr. Kevin O`Sullivan, an Irish Franciscan Friar, “Ask and you shall receive,” not perhaps what you wanted but what God knew you needed. “Seek and you shall find,” not the easy way which you thought you deserved, but the harder way which would make you more deserving of heaven. “Knock and it shall be opened unto you,” not the door you were standing at, which would have delayed or endangered your progress, but the door further down the street where refreshment and new courage to continue on your upward climb were awaiting you.
Anther gift that comes with faith and trust in our prayer life is discernment.