Oct 15, 2016

29th Sunday: Persist in Faith

"Will not God secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him?"

Ex 17: 8-13
2 Tm 3: 14 – 4:2
Lk 18: 1-8

If ever Jesus told a parable with a smile our familiar Gospel story this Sunday from Luke would have been it.  Picture the scene he paints.  A judge sits arrogantly at his bench and openly admits his dismissiveness towards God and people: “. . . who neither feared God nor respected any human being.” There isn’t much good or trustworthy about someone like that.

And persistently pounding at his desk and entering his courtroom over and over again is a widow, dressed in dark shabby clothes but undeterred in her demands for justice: “Render a just decision for me against my adversary,” she demands with bold courage.  Now that’s chutzpah!  This judge, proudly in control of his courtroom, except for this strange widow, is unrelentingly annoyed by what he must have imagined was an obnoxious woman who raises her fists and threatens to inflict physical harm on him.  He says: “I shall deliver a just decision for her lest she finally come and strike me.” - Before she punches me in the eye if I don’t give in to her demands.  You can see Jesus smile at thought of the scene he describes and likely his audience as well as they considered the judge and who threatened him.

So, in order to once and for all remove her from his courtroom, in spite of his cold heart, the judge grants the justice the widow demands, which was certainly her right. He acted with really no best interest for her at all, something he admittedly was not even capable of giving, but due to her unrelenting plea, prayer we may say, he granted her constant request. 

As odd as this story seems, it holds a valuable lesson for us.  As Jesus finishes, he adds a twist: “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?” And then ends: “. . . when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

So we are given a lesson on how we should pray and who we should pray for.  We must pray with trust and persistence that God indeed cares for us, unlike the uncaring judge, and will indeed bestow good things, justice, upon us.  Faith means that we must be undeterred in constantly going to the right source; to the one who looks upon us with mercy and love, rather than seek for our true needs elsewhere. 

Secondly, we must pray for our enemies.  The judge was no friend of the woman, that’s for sure, and she knew that.  Yet, she consistently badgered him and finally wore him down with her unfailing desire to receive what is right and good.  Even, through her cries, he suddenly had care for another, albiet for not the purest reasons, but he responded to someone in need.  She appealed, we might say, through his gruffness, to his better nature.  Can we do so much more with God in our prayer who cares about us with never failing love?  This divine Judge wants what is best for us and as we plead, we grow in both faith and trust.

Our first reading from Exodus offers a similar scene of persistence, that of Moses at prayer as he stands watching the battle between Amalek and Israel.  Moses stands at the top of the hill as Joshua engages the enemy in battle.  With hands constantly raised in prayer to God, Israel would win.  The battle lasted all day, Moses’ arms grew tired, so Aaron (his brother) and Hur prop his arms on two rocks so they would remain raised in constant prayer – Israel won the battle and justice was won.  Like the widow, he never gives up, he pleads persistently to God for what was good and right.

So, it provides a clear lesson for us in both our spiritual life and I believe in our day to day journey through this world.  One thing we can never forget both about our lives here and about the way we pray.  We are not God!  We are not in control of our lives ultimately. 

What does the posture of Moses teach us about prayer?  He knew who God was so he raised his hands wide and tall in a kind of reaching out.  Like a child that is asking to be picked up by his/her Mommy or Daddy.  As long as we see God in that light, we can pray effectively.  That’s why the priest offers Mass in the same gesture – with hands raised in prayer not to be noticed by the congregation but to cry out and plead God who is totally above and beyond us. 

What does the posture of the widow tell us about prayer?  That before God we are bent over and pleading, like a poor beggar who knows that she was powerless before the judge but that he held the power that could change her life.  So, she persists with courage and faith knowing that despite his uncaring attitude, she would eventually find relief.

In other words, God is big, wide and open and we are small and always needy.  If we can see ourselves and God in that light when we pray, we have a prayer that is always heard. Even when the odds seem to be starkly against us, even in the face of great injustice and drifting with no clear answers, we can learn to be like the widow in our prayer. 

I think a very obvious and present day example is the present state of our nation and our political process that has disappointed and frustrated all of us in some way. This is a call for sincere and persistent prayer on our part. To think and act beyond politics and consider the common good of all.     

Our society today feels like a ship without a rudder, drifting from port to port, always seeking some place to dock but never settling on a final destination. Our culture is at the very least one of chronic moral confusion.  We don't know what moral pier we're going to drop anchor so we continue to drift aimlessly from port to port with no direction or certainty.  Why are so many people angry these days?  Because we're all on that same ship and don't really know where to go as we have rejected a clear direction in favor of low moral choices. The port we have passed by time and again is that of any anchored moral certitude. People are scared and angry because we're tired of the cruise so it's far time to drop anchor lest we drift aimlessly to whom knows where, far out to sea.  

What is at stake is the common good of human society.  As Christians and Catholics in particular, we continue to preach that God’s desire for us is to look to him and to begin with the human person. The superior right to life is at stake and how we as human beings will protect and defend this right in particular for those who are defenseless and innocent: the unborn human being, the frail elderly, the lost, forgotten, those pushed out from their beloved country against their will, or any human being who is innocent and defenseless in this country and everywhere. The universal right to life is a port we have sailed past. So the lighting rod social issues of abortion, euthanasia and the continuing enforcement of the death penalty all threaten to deny the fundamental right to live of the defenseless and frail and albiet guilty, perhaps, of the incarcerated.  Although we haven't heard a great deal about these issues in this political year we have heard enough to know what the future will likely be depending on the choice we make. 

So, we are not faced with a hopeless or impossible problem but its solution will demand courage, wisdom, compassion, and great faith. We have to defend the right to life of the unborn child because if we don’t, we are saying that human life is expendable; that my right to choose is a greater right than your right to live.  Supporting the right to life is not a one issue only choice.  It touches everything we do and think about one another.   

Still, we are sometimes faced with agonizing decisions about life and we as Christians must walk the way of Jesus with empathy and compassion.  Think of the frightened pregnant teenage girl, a woman with a high-risk pregnancy or a single woman faced with raising a child without the support of family or spouse. God's mercy and forgiveness have no bounds but we must always uphold life and yet show patience and compassion. What would Jesus do?  He would love and share in the pain of another (empathy) while always inviting the other to walk the higher moral road.

Formed by our faith we should persist in doing the right thing according to what we know is God’s law.  The power of our prayer in a posture like Moses knowing who God is and who I am and the lowly widow who persisted in the belief that her life can change and be better, is our greatest reason to be grateful that God has not walked away from us. 

If we only knew the future result of any vote we might either coil back in fear and regret or rejoice that the God given right to live was respected for everyone and human society remained intact for all. We have two choices this November.  Neither one is stellar but we must look beyond politics and think of the bigger human picture.

As we gather for our Eucharist, let’s take note of how we pray.  Am I here begging before God in humility with a grateful heart for all he has given us, primarily his own Son?  Let’s believe that if we are upset by what seems to be a ship drifting with no port to dock, by our prayer and faith we can bring that ship safely in.  

Almighty ever-living God, 
grant that we may always conform our will to yours
and serve your majesty in sincerity of heart.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, 
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, for ever and ever. 

(Collect of Sunday)