In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells the disciples a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary. Jesus uses parables to get his disciples (and us) to reflect on our experience in order to relate a real-life situation to our relationship with God. What is striking in the parable is intended to reveal something about God to help us to reevaluate the way we approach our relationship with Him. Prayer is a necessity in our relationship with God, but it is something that we can get tired of doing. Why would we get weary or worn out from praying and possibly quit? Jesus uses the image of the dishonest judge – the judge who neither fears God nor respects any human being – to say that God is not like that type of judge. We get worn out if we think God is like that judge and that we will get what we want if we badger or “bother” God enough with our prayers, i.e., I’m getting rewarded for my persistence. We get worn out and quit if we think the result of our prayers is dependent on our effort, as if prayer is a work or campaign in which we attempt to convince God of the worthiness of our cause. The judge in the parable is not interested in the well-being of the widow. He doesn’t care about her but only decides in her favor out of his own self-interest. God is not like this. He has our best interest in mind. The point of the parable is that if the widow is persistent even with someone as bad as the judge in the parable, how much more should we be persistent in our prayer when the one who we are petitioning is the God who loves us and has chosen us as his own. God desires to answer our prayers. God is just and will give us what is right for us. He has our best interest in mind.
Jesus concludes this passage by asking, “But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” To think God is like a judge I have to win over by the persistence of my prayer – or just stick with until I get what I want – is not an expression of faith. I persist in prayer because I have faith. We become weary if the focus is on us and we are not getting the “return” we expect for our efforts. But faith is something different. Faith is the response of a person who has encountered something unexpected and unforeseen and is moved to stay in that place because he has recognized that he has met God there. I remember going to Mass one Sunday when I was living on my own a few years after college. This was before I was actively discerning the vocation to the priesthood. I don’t remember what I was dealing with at the time in my life, but whatever the priest said in the homily, I felt it was meant for me. It cut to the heart. I had this sense that God was speaking to me. I felt known by God and embraced by God like I had never been before. It wasn’t some interesting fact about the scriptures that answered something I had always wondered about. No. It was like I couldn’t believe my ears. I was wondering if anyone else felt the way I did. I asked the priest for a copy of his homily after Mass, but he just had some notes and an outline. I did not come to that Mass with some burning question worked out in my mind or a petition for something that I really needed like a new job. What I heard made sense of my life in a totally unexpected way. I left that Mass with an eagerness to hear God’s voice again and a profound sense that I was “chosen” by God – that I belonged to him. So I came back to Mass and to prayer with a greater desire for God and a greater certainty about my life. What I received was a gift. I persist in prayer – I stay in prayer – not because I think I’m going to get something as a result of my goodness or fidelity, but because I want to be open to what God wants to give me. I persist in prayer because with Him my life was given a unexpected fullness, and I don’t want to miss out on the life God has for me. It is like Peter who says to Jesus, “to whom would we go, you have the words of eternal life.” Prayer is not a tool or an exercise to get something, but it is a relationship. Like marriage, we are to stay faithful to prayer in good times and in bad, because prayer is a gift for our salvation – a life giving relationship that I didn’t make happen. Any relationship becomes tiresome if it gets reduced to a project or program or obligation that I have to fulfill.
The fact is that without that relationship with God, the certainty that we are loved and belong to something greater than the world, we are not able to face or to engage the battles of life. We will get crushed by whatever obstacles we face. The story from the Book of Exodus that describes the battle between Israel and Amalek reminds us that prayer is not a solitary act. We need a community to support our life of prayer. There are times in life when our prayer is not steady or when we grow tired. It is in those moments that we need a community to pray with to lift us up and to remind us of the life that is given through the gift of God. Who are your friends that support you in prayer? If you don’t have them, seek them out. Consider joining a prayer group or a small group that shares faith and prays together. We are beginning some small faith-sharing groups in the parish. Please see me or contact me if you are interested. If you find prayer wearisome, take a second look at your attitude toward God and ask for the gift of faith. For when Jesus comes, we want to be ready and eager to meet him.