Gospel: Luke 18:1-8
Have you ever had a prayer answered after a long period of waiting? Have you ever prayed for something, only to give up when the prayer wasn't answered? What happened in each case? How does patience affect your prayer life?
"Hurry up and wait!" Famous words for the traveler. And words to be pondered in a prayer life.
Sometimes events that affect our spirit occur at breakneck speed. Others seem to take an eternity. God seems to answer some prayers now. Other prayers he answers "in the future." Many times, the prayers we need answered immediately involve eternal pressure, prejudice, or persecution. "Save us from this crisis!"
In Luke, Jesus taught God answers even these prayers. But in his own way. And in his own time. If we object to his means or his timing, can we really speak of a request in faith? Or are we really just complaining?
1 Using a parable, Jesus told his followers they needed to always pray and to never give up:
2 Once, in a city, there was a judge who didn't care about God or people. 3 A widow in that city kept coming to the judge with a complaint. "Protect me from my enemy!" the woman said over and over.
4 For a while, he refused her. But, in the end, he thought, "I don't care about God or people. 5 But, this widow keeps bothering me. So, I will protect her, or she will come again and again until she wears me out!"
6 Listen to what the judge said! 7 Won't God protect his followers who keep praying to him day and night? Will he delay? 8 No! I tell you he will protect them quickly. But when the Son of Man comes, will he find any faithful followers left in the world?
In a monologue to his followers about the end times, Jesus added a parable about prayer in such an atmosphere. Like a persistent widow who wears down a corrupt judge, Christians are to "pester" God with their complaints and requests. They are to trust God in the outcome, even to the very end.
1 HE told (his followers) a parable to (show) the need (for) them to always pray and not to give up, saying 2 "A judge, neither fearing God nor respecting men, was in a certain city. 3 But, a widow was in that city and (she kept) coming to him, saying 'Get justice for me from my enemy!' 4 He was not willing for a time. After this, he said to himself, 'Even if I neither fear God nor respect man, 5 but because of (the fact that) the widow gives me trouble, I will give her justice, lest, coming until the (very) end, she will keep wearing me out.'" 6 The Lord said, "Listen to what the immoral judge says. 7 Will God not do right by his chosen, the ones crying out to him day and night? Will he be long in helping them? 8 I say to you that he will do the right for them quickly. Even so, will the Son of Man, having come, then find faith on earth?"
18:1 "not to give up" is literally "not to grow tired."
18:4-6 This is a long and complex sentence, but the construction can be easily broken down. The judge's lack of faith and respect [4b] acted as a preface. The main part of the sentence has a sandwich construction: the judge's intent ("I will give her justice" [5b]) was surrounded on either side with the widow's action ("the widow gives me trouble" [5a] and "she will keep wearing me out" [5c]). Both clauses of the widow's action are the same in meaning. The use of this construction merely meant to give the judge an escape. He tried to save face by stating the widow's persistence twice.
18:5 "the widow gives me trouble" is literally "the widow holds work to me." Implicitly, the widow holds the judge's duty to him and expects a judgement in her favor.
"I will give her justice" means that the judge will rule in her favor.
What is the value in patient waiting?
Jesus told a parable about persistence in prayer. A widow relentlessly badgered a corrupt judge until he gave up from exhaustion. [18:1-5]
Like many other parables in Luke, the parable had symbolic overtones. The unjust judge represented the world which has no sense of place before God or sense of justice. As the old saying goes, "Life isn't far"; it is the world that insures life's unfairness.
In many respects, the widow represented Christianity. In the gospel of Luke, Jesus aligned himself with the poor, the outcast, those with disease. The image of the widow included all three, for widows were many times homeless. Homeless widows were poor beggars who were weakened by the elements, attacked by thieves, and ignored by a disdainful public. Ejected from the Jewish synagogues as heretics and hated by the pagan populace as Jews disloyal to the Roman Empire, Christians in the time of Luke truly stood alone as poor, weakened outcasts. The image of the widow fit Christianity well.
But, the symbolism broke down with the person to whom the relentless request was made. Christianity (the widow) could have demanded justice from the Roman world (the judge), but to no avail. Roman power was temporal, but God's power was (and is) eternal. Prayer appealed to the source of all power; relentless prayer constantly reminded the petitioner that God was truly in charge. [18:6-8a]
Constant prayer required unwavering faith. The content of the prayer petition reflected the quality of the faith. If the content was self-serving, the petitioner would place him/herself above God and treat the divine as a servant gift-giver. If God answered "Wait," would the selfish petitioner have the strength of faith to persist in prayer? This was Jesus' concern. [18:8b]
Take as a whole, the gospel portrayed Christians crying out for justice from God. [18:7-8] Deliverance would come speedily, but in God's time and in God's way. But, would Christians wait for God?
Catechism Theme: Prayer and the First Commandment
2098 The acts of faith, hope, charity enjoined by the first commandment are accomplished in prayer. Lifting up the mind toward God is an expression of our adoration of God: prayer of praise and thanksgiving, intercession and petition. Prayer is an indispensable condition for being able to obey God's commandments. "[We] ought always to pray and not lose heart."
Constantly praying for God's will builds up not only faith (trust in God), but hope (in his will) and charity (concern for all his creatures). Praising and thanking a benevolent God strengthens trust, which, in turn, gives hope. Interceding on others' behalf deepens bonds of friendship and love. Prayer petitions based upon these other prayer types will naturally increase faith, hope, and love. They will empower us to obey God's commands.
Why do we pray? Does our prayer flow from petition to praise, thanks, and intercession? Or is our petition a response to the praise and thanks due to a loving God and to the intercession of those in need? Let us seek God first in prayers of praise and thanks, and place others' needs on an equal footing with our own. In this way, we can always grow in our prayer life.
How has your prayer life grown in the face of adversity? How persistent are you in prayer?
The gospel presents us with many challenges. First, is our prayer petition centered on ourselves or upon God's will? In other words, are we willing to seek God's will in our lives? Only then, we will be able to sustain faith.
Second, if our prayer petition is centered on God's will, do we have the persistence to pray constantly for his will? Is our faith strong enough to trust God with an unknown future?
And, finally, are we willing to patiently wait for God to act? Will we remember that God sometimes acts at the last minute, but always the right time?
Reflect on those last questions this week. Take one area in your life and place it in God's hands. Make the same petition every day. At the end of the week, look back on your petition, not for an outcome, but for the way the petition affected you. Are you willing to continue with the petition, or do you feel like giving up? (Be honest with yourself!) If you feel like giving up, don't despair. Instead, thank God for the opportunity to pray and move onto the next area in your life.