Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Pray and do not despair

Twenty Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

Whenever someone wants to make the point, that the way to get our prayers answered is to ask and ask and ask again, it is certain that the parable of the Unjust Judge will be used as evidence. It seems to be the obvious: a widow keeps asking a judge for justice, and in spite of the fact that he repeatedly turns her away, she keeps coming back again and again. Eventually, this persistence won and she got what she asked for.  We too, therefore, should do the same with our requests before God; if we do not get what we want, we should just keep going back to Him until we do. However, I’m very sorry to have to burst your bubble. This popular understanding of this parable is hardly what the parable is saying. Sadly, we do sometimes view God as someone who is disinterested in our needs, someone remote from us. Due to this perception, we often feel the need to wear God down with our petitions. This kind of prayer surely sounds like nagging.

If this parable isn’t just about persistent prayer, then, what is it? The clue is actually found in the closing line of today’s gospel passage, “But when the Son of Man comes, will he find any faith on earth?”  It provides half of the context which sandwiches the parable of the Unjust Judge in the middle and the other half is to be found in the preceding Chapter 17 of the Gospel of St Luke. In 17:20 the Pharisees asked Jesus when the kingdom of God was coming. They meant: When will the Messiah come to overthrow our enemies and establish the throne of David and bring peace and righteousness to the world? When will God bring justice to the world and vindicate the innocent?  The answer of Our Lord would prove baffling – if the only way to recognise the Kingdom of God is by miraculous or catastrophic signs that would bring down the oppressors, then you will surely miss it. The truth of the matter is that the Kingdom of God is already in their midst. It began with the First Coming of Christ at Christmas and it will come to its completion with His second coming at the end of time. But during this in-between time, God works silently but definitively. The problem is that most of the world will be engaging in business-as-usual and be blind to the self-evident manifestation of the Messiah.

Given what precedes and what follows, both pointing to the end times, then the Parable of the Unjust Judge also constitutes part of Our Lord’s end-time teachings. Jesus is not talking about just any sort of resilient prayer, but resilient prayer with a specific focus. We are looking for our Lord’s return. Certainly, Jesus would have us to be persistent with all sorts of prayer, when we ask for various good things from God and, He gives us plenty of teachings like that elsewhere. Here, though, the focus seems to be on the prayers of the Church in the midst of her sufferings in this world, as she awaits the return of Christ when everything will be made right.

This serves as a reminder that all our cries for vindication, for justice, and all such prayers can ultimately find their answer only in Christ’s second coming. This is how our situation is similar to the widow in this story. Like her, we have been asking and asking, and yet we have not received!  Day and night, so many have been crying out to God for justice. And, what answer have we always been getting? “Not yet.” The world goes on, and the innocent and righteous seem to suffer injustices every day. We face the same decision that the widow faced: given that the answer is still not a “yes,” shall we give up or shall we keep looking to God to make things right? Jesus is rightly urging us “to keep on praying and not lose heart.” The present difficulties may make it difficult to believe that God will come through, but remember the story of the widow: if the judge came through for her, God will certainly come through for us.

In the midst of insurmountable obstacles it is natural that the disciples would ask, and which we should also ask: How can we endure to the end? It can be wearisome and it can be discouraging to be a disciple of Jesus in a hostile world. A world filled with heartaches, heartbreaks and sufferings, all the afflictions and ailments that come with living in a fallen world, in addition to tribulations and persecutions that come with bearing the name of Christ and bearing our cross. It’s not easy to be a Christian. It calls for super-human stamina and endurance.  It is so much easier to just throw in the towel and give up!

So the Lord tells a parable to give us the answer. The point of the parable is made at the very beginning of the passage: “Jesus told his disciples a parable about the need to pray continually and never lose heart.”  The Lord’s answer to the question on how to endure to the end, how to endure in the midst of what seems to be endless tribulation, how to endure when all the odds are stacked up against us, how to endure when the wicked seem to go un-punished and the just suffer without relief,  is “Pray! Pray! Pray!”  Don't grow weary of praying.  Don't stop praying; don’t peter out; don’t be fickle; but “always pray and don't lose heart.” Prayer is not only necessary for survival, it is necessary for our salvation.

The Christian life, therefore, is lived in the tension between the firm confidence that God will fulfil all His promises and the reality that He has not yet done so. What confidence do we have that our cries to God will eventually be heard, to make things right, since evil and injustice seem to triumph all too often? Such confidence comes in part from contemplating God’s righteousness, seen in the contrast between Him and the unjust judge. The widow got the justice she was asking for, even though the judge she dealt with cared nothing for justice. How much more will God, the merciful and righteous Judge, help his own people when they cry out to him in persistent prayer? He will give us justice. So don’t give up.

So do not despair in the midst of hardships. Continuing in prayer, then, in the sense that Jesus means, is continuing in faith. Keep your faith in God’s mercy, kindness and care, and be confident that our prayers are not in vain. Keep on turning to Him in prayer, even when it looks like he’s not listening and you’d be tempted to despair. The Lord provides us the assurance in this rhetorical question, “Now will not God see justice done to His chosen who cry to Him day and night even when He delays to help them?”

And so, even in the midst of difficulties and heart-rending adversities, we call on God in prayer. We know He hears us and cares for us and will do the right thing for us.  We know, in the end, at Christ’s return, all things will be set right. Creation will be restored;  new, vibrant and perfect. The righteous would be vindicated and the wicked punished. Our bodies will be raised, glorious, transformed and no longer subjected to death. Our sinful nature will no longer war against us; we will be at home in the everlasting reign of righteousness. This is what we have to look forward to.  This is what Jesus would have us pray for, and pray toward, persistently, so that we do not lose hope. All prayer should ultimately long for the day of Christ’s return. “Maranatha! Our Lord, come!” “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.” Amen.

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