“Jesus told His disciples a parable about the need to pray continually and never lose heart” (Luke 18: 1)
For the second time in recent weeks, Jesus is giving us a lesson in prayer. We can understand prayer, in the thought of St. Therese of Lisieux, to be “the lifting up of our minds and hearts to God.” In other words, prayer is a form of communication with God; it means to have a relationship with God. Some weeks ago, Jesus taught us how to pray in the Our Father; and used the Parable of the Friend at Midnight to illustrate persistence in prayer with emphasis on how God, more than a loving earthly father, would answer us when we pray to Him (Luke 11: 1-13). Quite similarly, today Jesus uses the Parable of the Unjust Judge or the Parable of the Persistent Widow to re-empahsise the “need to pray continually and never lose heart”. It is instructive to note that twice so far when Jesus teaches us about prayer, He accompanies it with an emphasis on persistence. Therefore, prayer is not supposed to be a one-off exercise – it is supposed to be a continuous, consistent and persistent action of the followers of Christ, who are called Christians. St. Paul urged his early converts and all of us, more than once, to pray continually, without ceasing (1 Thessaloniand5: 17-18; Philippians 4: 6; Ephesians 6: 18). Prayer is thus expected to be our way of life, and in deed our way to God through Christ, Who teaches us to pray. If, as understood earlier, prayer is a relationship with God, then it follows that we have to maintain that bond through constant communication.
The First Reading of today (Exodus 17: 8-13) demonstrates the theme of our reflection this Sunday in a very dramatic and theological way. Bearing in mind the saying of St. Augustine: “The New Testament is hidden in the Old, and the Old Testament is revealed in the New”, we shall sift out the foreshadowing messages from the battle against the Amalekites that the Church presents to us along with the Gospel. Here we see Moses “on the hill” with his hands raised and stretched out holding the “rod of God” in his hands. As long as Moses’ hands were raised, the Israelites had the advantage in battle. Like the “Old Moses”, Jesus, the “New Moses”, was “on the hill” of Calvary with hands raised and stretched out, nailed to the tree of the Cross. Moses was not at the battlefield but his prayerful posture guaranteed victory to the Israelites. His action had immediate effects on the outcomes of the battle. Our Lord Jesus Christ, ascended to the Father, seated at His right hand, interceding for us. We do not need to see Jesus physically present with us or by our side when we pray. He is always there. We should be able to rekindle our faith to the level of the centurion, who prayed: “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof, but say the word, and Your servant will be healed”. Just as the action of Moses, from a distance, had effects on the results of the battle, so Jesus’ role at His Father’s Right Hand has immediate effects on our prayers, which many times are battles against the “Amalekites” in our lives. By his action, Moses was standing in the gap for the children of Israel against their enemies; Jesus continues to stand in the gap against all our enemies. In the same way, we are invited to stand in gap for each other against our enemies, who are “prowling like a roaring lion, looking for someone to eat” (1 Peter 5: 8).
Moses’ hands grew weary and needed to be supported with stones, but more so by Aaron and Hur. Yes, dear friends sometimes we too can grow weary in prayers. Sometimes we may not find the right words. Sometimes the experience can be dry, tepid and insipid. Then we need to be supported. At such times, we need to pray with others and others to pray for us. This is why we need to intercede for one another and why communal prayers, in family, Church, fellowship, school, office, etc is very important. Jesus assured us: “Wherever two or three are gathered in My Name, there I am with them” (Matthew 18: 20). As baptised Christians, filled with the Spirit of God, we have a duty to intercede for one another in prayer. The Holy Word encourages us to “pray for one another” (Ephesians 6: 18; James 5: 16; 1 Timothy 2: 1)
The need to pray persistently which is the reason Jesus told this parable is lucidly revealed in the fact that Moses’ hands had to remain in that position “till sunset” to guarantee the final onslaught of the Amalekites. Sometimes we are satisfied with little answers or small victories and we refrain from continuing in our prayers for greater results or the ultimate victory. Sometimes the answers come in small doses, and we have to persist to the end in order to experience the fullness of divine providence in answer to our prayers.
The woman in the parable of Jesus presents another slant to consider in our prayers, that is, those moments when our prayers are not or seem not to be answered. What do we do? The woman in Jesus’ parable that was ignored by the unjust judge severally provides a model – she kept going! She was undaunted and determined. Her case was hopeless because the judge was not only unjust, but “he had no fear of God nor respect for man.” Such a man would have been the most difficult to persuade or even compel. Our love for this woman is that even in that situation, she would not give up. Our case is very different, unlike the unjust judge, our God is loving, merciful and forgiving. Even when He judges us, His judgement is soaked in the oil of mercy and compassion. Last week St. Paul assured us: “Though we may be unfaithful, God is always faithful; for He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2: 13). Just as the persistence of the widow paid off to the widow’s advantage: “Maybe I have neither fear of God nor respect for man,” said the unjust judge, “but since she keeps pestering me, I must give this widow her rights, or she will persist in coming and worry me to death.” Jesus draws the great lesson from there and assures us that God will surely see justice done for us, His children who cry to Him day and night, even when He delays. He will do it and do it speedily. Remember what God said to Habakkuk about two Sundays ago: this vision is for its own time, write it down for come, it must: “if it comes slowly, wait, for come it will, without fail” (Habakkuk 2: 3). Patience in prayer is a special grace we should all be asking for because we are dealing with a patient God, Whose timing is very different from ours. For Him, “A thousand years is like yesterday, come and gone” (Psalm 90: 4; 2 Peter 3: 8).
It is very significant that on this Mission Sunday, our Lord Jesus Christ reminds us once again to persist in prayer, for in deed our time requires intensive prayers for the walls of divisions and hatred to be broken down, and the bridges of tolerance and love built so that the missionary commitment of the Church may be carried out “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1: 8) as intended by Christ. We are called to pray for our priests, religious and lay faithful actively involved in missionary services in the church universal into the hands of our Lord, who mandated us through the apostles, to “go out to the whole and preach the Good News” (Mark 16: 15).
We are confident that our Lord Jesus has won us victory over our known and unknown “Amalekites” by the victory He won over death on the Cross. By this victory the mission of the Church will be accomplish and our salvation guaranteed. Our duty is to connect and key into the divine providence through persistent prayer life so that our Good and Loving Father may give to us all that we need.