September 4, 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from Luke 18:1-8.
Then he told them a parable about the necessity to pray always without becoming weary. He said, “There was a judge in a certain town who neither feared God nor respected any human being. And a widow in that town used to come to him and say, ‘Render 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 his chosen ones who call out to him day and night? Will he be slow to answer them? I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily. But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
On the surface of this parable it’s pretty easy to answer that no God doesn’t secure justice for his chosen ones nor does he answer their prayers quickly. There are so many examples of man’s inhumanity to man that it would be impossible to list them all. They occur one on one; they occur when the majority subjects the minority; they occur when one nation attacks another. Innocents have died by the millions despite their pleas to God for justice and protection. So, this parable isn’t about that.
Jesus had just finished telling his disciples that the kingdom he has been preaching is not the end-time. Though they will long to see the coming of the Son of Man, they will not. He will come suddenly and unexpectedly. In that context his story about unremitting, unwearied prayer makes sense. Jesus warns them not to give up praying, not to give up hope, not to be dissuaded in their expectation of God’s justice and mercy. He exhorts them to be like the widow.
I think my question is probably the same as the early Christians. When, God, are you going to answer my cries? When are you going to deliver justice? I don’t believe God is mercurial or equivocal. I don’t think he’s like the mechanical rabbit on the racetrack that the greyhounds can never catch. I don’t think he wants me to be like that greyhound who will run after that rabbit until its heart bursts. I don’t think my life is a Catch-22, an absurd and grotesque circular play that has no resolution.
I have come to believe that’s the question of an immature faith. I am finally growing beyond my childish beliefs about God and my expectations of His answers to my prayers. I have finally given up the notion that if I just pray hard enough, long enough using the right words that I will find the magical formula. God is not like this judge who can be worn down with such prayer.
Barclay uses the tired, unsatisfying argument I’ve heard so many times about prayer. “Jesus was saying, ‘If, in the end, an unjust and rapacious judge can be wearied into giving a widow woman justice, how much more will God, who is a loving Father, give his children what they need? That is true, but it is no reason why we should expect to get whatever we pray for. Often a father has to refuse the request of a child, because he knows that what the child asks would hurt rather than help. God is like that….Only God sees time whole, and therefore, only God knows what is good for us in the long run.” That’s a Catch-22 and what I think leads to discouragement and even cynicism.
I can’t look to God to right the injustices in the world. I have to look at myself. Do I have the endurance, the patience to persevere? Will I continue to return to God for what I need to do His work, to try to ensure justice in the world? Do I have faith that He will guide me, strengthen me, give me courage and wisdom? I think that’s what Jesus was asking. When he returns will he find that kind of faith? Will he find me and you soldiering on, trying to create the kingdom on earth?
I think this is related. I took an hour to sit in church yesterday afternoon. I’d been telling myself that I needed to do that once in a while or more. A young couple I’d never seen were sitting in the first pew, so I walked several rows back and was just putting down the kneeler when the young man said something to me. I didn’t hear him, so I went up to him to ask him to repeat himself. He wanted to know if the father was in. I didn’t know, but I told him to go to the parish office next door and ask for either Fr. Mike or Fr. Jeff. He looked somber, maybe a little troubled, but not terribly distressed. Then he did something utterly unexpected. He told me that he needed a hug and opened his arms! I gave him a long, firm, full hug and he thanked me. That’s never happened to me before. They left and I kneeled. My first thought was that God had used me in that moment to answer that young man’s prayers, to let him know that God loves him. On second thought, I realized that God had answered my prayers to be used by Him in creating His kingdom. His answer was sudden, unexpected. It was not in immediate response to a prayer of that moment but of a continuing prayer of a year or more. Maybe that’s the kind of perseverance Jesus was talking about. At any rate I think it helped me understand what Jesus is telling me here. Don’t grow weary and don’t ask God to do all the work; ask to be given whatever is needed to do His work on earth.