The gospel of this Sunday speaks about prayer. And Jesus gives a parable that encourages perseverance in prayer. We could pray for grace to persevere in our faith and in our prayer.
Hold tight onto the rope of faith
- Exodus 17 :8–13
- 2 Timothy 3 :14 – 4 : 2
- Luke 18 : 1–8
Parable of perseverance in prayer
In the parable we have a widow and a judge. The widow represents a poor person in a precarious situation, not only economically but also socially. Without a husband she is defenseless –no one to lean on –a situation that makes her an easy prey.
On the other hand there is a judge, a man who does not fear God nor respect persons. He is master of himself. He is himself the law. Doesn’t that sound like a corrupt social system where the rights of the little ones are trampled upon and no one seems to care?
Yet, it’s through such unreliable judicial system that the widow manages to obtain justice thanks to her determination. She never abandons asking. In this woman Jesus discerns a quality that would be helpful in the life of faith. That is, the need to pray without being discouraged. But what does perseverance in prayer mean exactly?
Perseverance in prayer, risky interpretations
For some people, perseverance in prayer would mean adamantly oblige God, by force of prayer, to do what they ask him. In this case, praying always will be simply a series of petitions; means of waking God up to act in my favour.
But Jesus clarifies it, God is not deaf neither is he indifferent like the unjust judge. He is attentive to our needs.
For others still, being persistent in prayer would mean passivity. I do my part, by praying, and I leave God to act as if by miracle. A prayer that slides me into passivity would not be healthy either.
Perseverance in prayer more than just a moment
At the end of the parable Jesus poses a question: “… when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” We could also say, will he find people still holding on firm to their faith? Here we realise that persevering in prayer is far much more than fidelity just to the prayer timetable. Rather, it’s an all season orientation of one’s entire life to God. Life is not compartmentalised, a time of working and time of praying; time of earthly things and time of spiritual activity. A person who prays always is one who leads his life in the awareness of the loving gaze of God. In joy and in pain he remains in this assurance of being ever accompanied by God. It’s the capacity to hold on tight in faith even when the conditions are not favourable.
Pope Francis echoed this recommendation of Jesus to the youth during the World’s Youth Day in Krakow. His joy is that when Jesus touches the heart of young people, they become capable of achieving wonders. But there is also a problem, the Holy Father mentioned: “It pains me to meet young people who seem to have opted for ‘early retirement’. I worry when I see young people who have ‘thrown in the towel’ before the game has even begun, who are defeated even before they begin to play.…” The pope is concerned about lack of perseverance among the youth. Unfortunately, that is a problem not only of the youth.
Weariness yesterday and today
Apparently Luke faced a similar problem in the Christian communities of his time. They might have begun their Christian life with enthusiasm in the hope of the imminent return of Christ but this waiting seemed to be prolonging itself into eternity. As a result they became weary with the temptation of abandoning. That’s why by echoing this parable of Jesus, Luke probably wanted to encourage Christians to remain steadfast in faith.
Such weariness is no stranger to us. There are moments when our faith lacks the warmth of true commitment. Hence it’s to us, and many others in similar situation, that this message of encouragement is addressed –pray tirelessly. Often we have the illusion to think that when we abandon the faith it’s God we abandon. I would say we abandon ourselves into the abyss. The First Reading shows what would that mean in our lives.
Rising and falling victory
In the First Reading Israel is at war with her enemies, the Amalekites. While the army is in the plains fighting, Moses is up on the mountain, turned to God. And a certain pattern begins to manifest itself. When Moses raises his hands Israel gains an upper hand, but when he lets them down it’s the enemies that overtake. However, even when Moses knows that he needs to keep his hands up in order to triumph, the point comes when he just can’t. Fortunately he is not alone. Aaron and Hur are there to support him.
Even though prayer is not mentioned the gesture is however eloquent enough. Raising hands to heaven is a sign of supplication, openness and readiness to receive. It’s the raising of one’s whole being to heaven. It’s no surprise then that when Israel, through Moses, turns to God –victory is certain. She “fights” under the gaze of God. It’s the same for us. When we turn to God in trust and self-surrender victory is certain.
Facing my Amalekites with perseverance
Amalekites were traditional enemies of Israel; in fact, a thorn in Israel’s dream to enter the Promised Land. Hence, the war is decisive. I too may be engaged in a battle quite vital in my life. It could be a fissure in a relationship which is at the verge of disintegration, uncertainty in my job, poor health…. During a certain period I may have managed to raise my hands to God with hope. Perhaps today I’m weary and the hands begin to flop, against my will. Then I realise that to remain oriented to God I need Aaron and Hur to sustain me –the importance of living the faith not isolation but with others.
Eyes turned to the mountain in perseverance
In order to respond to the invitation of Jesus to persevere in prayer, the pilgrims to the Temple of Jerusalem may inspire us. They walk in the hot sand of the desert heat, exposed to attacks by bandits; yet the pilgrims go on confident in the protection of God, as they affirm: “I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; from where shall my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Ps 120). That is the confidence nourished by certitude of faith. It means, I live my trials with the awareness that I’m not alone. God, my guardian, doesn’t doze. I’m always under his watchful eye.
It’s in this faith that Jesus asks us not to weary in raising our hands to God. Indeed, God will not leave me empty handed; in his own time and in his own way, he will pour onto my lap a handful of graces in store for me. All I need to do, like Paul exhorts Timothy, is to “be persistent whether the time is favourable or unfavourable … continue keeping the faith.
Yes Lord, help me so that you may find me watching in faith when you return.