Greetings, SBT Readers!
The concept of "persistence" surfaces in all our readings this Sunday: the Israelites' victory over Amalek depends upon Moses persisting in prayer (Ex 17:8-13); Paul instructs Timothy to persist in proclaiming the Word "whether it is convenient or inconvenient" (2 Tm 3:14-4:2); and the widow in Jesus' parable also represents persistence in prayer (Lk 18:1-8). In many ways, persistence is an essential life skill. It allows us to persevere against all odds, gives us the determination we need to reach the finish line, strengthens our resolve even when setbacks come our way-- and it always builds character! Think of all the effort you invested in learning to ride that first bicycle, and how many times you would pick yourself up and try again, no matter the cuts, scrapes and bruises! That demanded perseverance. I remember learning to roller skate down the long narrow path between the rose bushes in our garden, balancing with the aid of my grandfather's cane to avoid tumbling into the thorns-- and, amazingly, I was able to jettison the cane. Yes, each of us holds 1,000 memories of learning to master the various skills that form the tapestry of our lives and persistence is a constant thread. The challenge is to see its spiritual relevance!
Link to the Sunday Readings
Jesus told his disciples a parable
about the necessity of praying always without becoming weary.
He said, "There was a judge in a certain town
who neither feared God nor respected any human being.
A widow in that town used to come to him and say,
'Deliver a just decision for me against my adversary.'
For a long time the judge was unwilling, but eventually he thought,
'While it is true that I neither fear 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.'"
The Lord said, "Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says. Will not God then secure the rights of the chosen ones
who call out day and night? Will God be slow to answer them?
To pray without becoming weary is not quite the same as praying without getting tired. Who among us has not fallen asleep while praying? And who among us has not done this on a regular basis? At such times, I tell myself that sleeping is prayer and that my soul can contemplate quite adequately in the world of dreams and right intentions. In contrast, "weariness" is not a physical state but a symptom of willfulness, non-engagement and lack of faith. When we are weary of praying it is because we doubt whether it matters one way or the other. Such an attitude usually evolves when we view prayer as a "Give me, give me, give me" experience -- in other words, as a utilitarian exercise to secure what we want and bend God to our wills. We batter heaven with all our intensity, first asking politely, then demanding, then accusing, then giving up. We bargain, we barter, we cajole -- and then withdraw all our promises because God fails to deliver the desired outcome. How often have we heard others complain, "God doesn't answer my prayers"? Or how often have we ourselves thought this even if we were too embarrassed to say it? The usual cliché response is that God always answers our prayers but not necessarily in the way we expected or according to our schedule. This response offers little comfort, especially if we were hoping for a specific outcome "right now."
The persistent widow in Lk 18 is looking for justice and she is tired of waiting. Most likely, property is involved -- land, money, a dwelling... As a widow, she may need a just settlement for her very survival and so the judge's indifference to her pleas could very well have worsened her insecurity. She hounds down the judge to the point that he is afraid she will physically attack him. Afraid for his life, he gives in to her demands.
I have to admit that this is not my favorite lesson on prayer. The persistent widow "prays always" and secures the desired outcome. In many ways, her way of praying (harassing the judge) is "utilitarian" and she storms heaven and earth until she gets her way. What redeems this scenario is that she is seeking for justice. She is one of the "anawim" or "poor and lowly ones" for whom God has a "preferential option," not just because of their humble condition but because they remain faithful despite the challenges they face: “For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint; if it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late” Habakkuk 1:2-4.
Despite all odds, the anawim believe justice will prevail -- that the proud and mighty will be toppled from their thrones, that oppressors will be brought to justice, that those in exile will come home, that light will prevail over darkness, that truth shall have the last say. that the righteous will be vindicated... The persistent widow, then, represents all those who put their trust in God and fight for a just resolution, despite all odds. They dare to take on the establishment precisely because they entrust the outcome to God.
A contemplative lifestyle allows us to "dwell" in God, aligning our wills with God's will, breathing in the Divine Breath, seeing with God's eyes and loving with God's heart. Such prayer can be a way of life, a way of praying without growing weary. It is, however, a prayer of "being" or "union" that focuses on our individual relationship with the Holy One rather than on the needs of the world. Intercessory prayer also has its place. Like the persistent widow, we need to cry out against unjust systems and unscrupulous authority figures. We need to rage against corruption and become the voice of the voiceless, extending our arms despite our weariness because the fate of the world depends upon this. Persistence, after all, is a Divine attribute: God never grows weary of seeking us out, of storming the bastions of our hearts until we finally surrender to the Divine Embrace.