Thursday, October 17, 2013

Faithfulness in Prayer

Twenty Ninth Ordinary Sunday Year C

Have you noticed how the existence of God either becomes apparent or is questioned during time of crises? Some people, who are practically atheists for most part of their lives, begin to mutter invocations and offer prayers that they would otherwise not do on an average day. Desperation can drive you to faith, albeit shallow. On the other hand, many good persons of faith may begin questioning the existence of God when bad things happened. “Where is God when bad things or injustice happen to innocent God-fearing people?” The question actually betrays their anger and frustration – they blame God either for being the author of suffering and injustices or failing to take corrective action. The vast majority of prayers, by believers and unbelievers alike, are often requests that injustice would be replaced by justice - that God would make wrong things right. What happens to my faith when the thing I prayed to be made right remains wrong? The so-called good God that we believe in cannot exist and allow such terrible things to happen, unless he wasn’t all that good to start with!

All of these may be boiled down to a single question: Is God just? Why does God, if he is a God of justice and a God who hate sins permit injustice in the world?  Many Christians wind up with these standard pat answers: God is disciplining us, or God is punishing us, or God is teaching us a lesson, or God’s ways are mysterious. Usually, the atheist remains unconvinced. The upshot to simplistic theology, however, is that while we expect to be punished for our misdeeds, we also expect to be rewarded for our good works. Consequently, our expectation can quickly become inflated. When we aren’t immediately showered with blessings we are often quick to complain. When believers face hard times, when their prayers go unanswered, the logic fails. Those who remain fixated on the privilege of being faithful may grow resentful, even accusatory towards their Maker. And so when bad things happen to good people many sometimes shake our fists at God and ask, “Is this how you treat your servants?”

But the parable of the persistent widow and the unjust judge in today’s gospel turns this whole issue on its head. Rather than becoming fixated on why bad things happen to good people and why good things happen to bad people, perhaps we should refocus our thoughts on something far more important. When we are constantly dwelling on how God doesn’t seem to meet up to our expectations, we often fail to pay attention to what is expected of us. God is not the one who is on trial. It is ‘we’ who are being called to account for our response, our attitude and our actions. The million dollar question isn’t ‘Why does God permit bad things to happen to us?’ but, “when the Son of Man comes, will he find any faith on earth?”

The point made by the parable in today’s gospel is that the persistent prayer for justice is chosen by Jesus as the evidence of faith that he will look for when he returns. This seems a far cry from the kinds of things we usually assume Jesus looks for; things like a set of rules, activism, piety or a decision we once made to follow Jesus long ago. In this case, if Jesus wants evidence of faith, the question he will ask is 'did you consistently bring your requests to God in the face of the injustices of this world?'

Jesus has told a parable of persistence, of a widow -- weak in the world's estimation -- who has won a victory because she didn't give up hope, she doesn't give up her plea, and finally wins the day. But what about you and me? We sometimes become so worn down and discouraged by our lives that we stop praying, stop hoping, stop expecting God to intervene. Will we be religious, church-going unbelievers who have given up expecting an answer, whose prayers are just going through the motions? Jesus wonders. "When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?"

One of the hardest things we face as human beings is ongoing injustice. This is especially true when that injustice is directed toward us. Why do you think justice or injustice have such a great impact on us? Why do we get incensed when we see injustice being committed? It’s in our DNA. We are made in the image and likeness of a God of justice. Yet tens of thousands face injustice, hardship, brutality, and persecution each year. When believers face these hard times, it is hard to believe that God is indeed just. It is especially disturbing when wicked people are not brought to justice. However, Jesus reminds us that the issue isn't injustice but faithfulness. God will settle accounts and bring justice. Don’t cry foul or protest God’s seeming inaction as the ‘jury is still out’ and the trial isn’t over. The real question is whether or not we'll stick in there and not give up under fire. Hang in! Pray for the Father to hear you! Don't give up, for God will not only bring justice, but he will also bring salvation and victory. The real issue is when He comes, will he find any faith on earth? Will he find any remaining faithful to their vocation to wait in trust and persevere in prayer?

We are provided profound guidance in today’s gospel as we are invited to ponder the mystery of unanswered prayer. We see in the words and action of Jesus an acknowledgement of injustice - the problems of this world are not a surprise to God. God sees our suffering, he hears our cries and he understands our pain. God is not blind to the troubles of this earth. He has not abandoned us. I see a firm promise from a faithful God in response to that injustice. And I see a call to faith expressed through prayer in response to that promise.

Patience and perseverance is necessary for our prayer life. They are the handmaidens of faith. We must continue praying even when we have become tired of waiting for an answer from God. The reason for this is simple: without prayer, giving up will be easiest option. Prayer sustains our faith and faith brings hope. I guess many of us are often tempted and feel like giving up. Like Moses in the first reading, some of you may be experiencing heaviness and weariness holding your hands up in prayer – persevering in prayer – and you feel that you have no strength to continue. Some of you may be experiencing a string of tribulations for so long that you feel that praying is useless and does not make any difference in your life. But the message of the gospel for you today is: Be patient! Wait for the Lord, for the Lord will come indeed! The battle isn’t over until you’ve exhausted the highest court in the universe (and mind you it isn’t the Federal Court of this land!). You may not be able to see or predict what’s going to happen in the future. Tomorrow may appear to be the same as today. But your patience and perseverance will be rewarded. God will surely answer us, but in his own time and in his own way. Remember, however, the real question before is this: “when the Son of Man comes, will he find any faith on earth?”

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