Persevere in Prayer

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Exodus 17:8-13

In those days, Amalek came and waged war against Israel. Moses, therefore, said to Joshua, “Pick out certain men, and tomorrow go out and engage Amalek in battle. I will be standing on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.” So Joshua did as Moses told him: he engaged Amalek in battle after Moses had climbed to the top of the hill with Aaron and Hur. As long as Moses kept his hands raised p, Israel had the better of the fight, but when he let his hands rest, Amalek had the better of the fight. Moses’ hands, however, grew tired; so they put a rock in place for him to sit on. Meanwhile Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other, so that his hands remained steady until sunset. And Joshua mowed down Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.

Luke 18:1-8

Jesus told his disciples a parable about the necessity for them to pray always and without becoming weary. He said, “There was a judge in a certain town who neither feared God nor respected any human being. And a widow in that town used to come to him and say, ‘Render a just decision for me against my adversary.’ For a long time the judge was unwilling, but eventually he thought, ‘While it is true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being, because this widow keeps bothering me I shall deliver a just decision for her lest she finally come and strike me.’” The Lord said, “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? Will he be slow to answer them? I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily. But when the Son of Man comes, will he fine faith on earth?”

Today’s Old Testament and Gospel readings teach a lesson about persistence in prayer. Pray always! Never give up! Surely the Lord will answer those who call on Him.

In the first reading, from Exodus, Israel is confronted by their enemy, the Amalekites. The Amalekites stand in the way of Israel’s conquest of the Promised Land and, as such, stand in the way of the fulfillment of God’s promise to Israel to give them a homeland and a kingdom that will last forever. The Amalekites, then, are not merely enemies of Israel, but enemies of God. Moses sends Joshua to do battle with them and destroy them. Yet, in some supernatural way, the fate of Joshua’s battle against the Amalekites rests in Moses’ hands, and quite literally. So long as Moses holds up his hands in a way recognized as giving praise to God, Israel gains ground against Amalek. But when Moses drops his hands, the Amalekites have the advantage. Recognizing this, Aaron and Hur create a plan by which Moses’ hands will remain raised in praise to God. They arrange a seat for him and hold his hands up, one on each side. With this assistance, Moses is able to keep his hands raised, and Joshua defeats the Amalekites. Israel’s hold on the Promised Land is assured. God has heard the prayer of His people.

Let’s be clear. It was God’s desire to secure Israel’s victory all along. But it was also His desire that Israel participate in His plan for their victory. God is not a puppet on a string, where if we pull the right rope, we get what we want. No. God is always the one in charge. Our part in His plan is to listen and act on His word, to embrace His grace given to us, that His will for us might be achieved with us rather than despite us. In this sense, Moses’ act of praise had the effect of shaping Israel’s will more than God’s. Would Israel be faithful to God in light of His promise? Would Israel act boldly according to God’s plan for them? Would they persevere or would they grow weary? Moses grew weary, but with the help of others, he was able to persevere so that God’s will could be accomplished through him. We should all be so quick to accept the aid of our brothers and sisters in the faith when we grow weary. We are stronger together.  

The Gospel is a rather humorous story about a widow and a corrupt judge. The parable is a call to pray without ceasing. Just as the widow persisted in her petitions to the judge, so are we to persist in prayer, knowing that the one we petition is not an unjust, corrupt judge, but the loving, living God. Pray always. Pray without ceasing. How do we do this? By keeping our mind and our heart raised always to God, even in the most mundane moments. St. John Chrysostom counseled, “A man can pray devoutly whether he is standing in the public square or during a quiet walk; seated at his study desk or while he works at other tasks, he can raise his heart and soul to God.” By doing so, we can transform the mundane moments of our day to moments of transcendence.

In this parable, the judge has no regard for God or people, but he is harassed by this widow who demands a just judgment in his court. There’s no reason to think that the widow doesn’t deserve justice. She’s not asking that the judge make an unfair ruling in her favor. She’s asking for what is hers, and the dictates of Torah demand that justice be given to widows.

For his part, the judge isn’t much interested in justice. At the moment, he’s interested in a good night’s sleep. But the widow won’t oblige him. Frustrated by her persistence and concerned that he may suffer the humiliation of a beating at the hands of the energetic woman, he finally surrenders and decides to give her the justice he should have given her all along.

Jesus contrasts God with the unjust judge. God doesn’t possess the lack of character of the judge, who cares not for God or people. But both the judge and God are interested in giving justice to those who deserve justice. Their motives, however, differ. The dishonest, corrupt judge is motivated by fatigue and fear. God is motivated by love. The point is, if even a dishonest, corrupt judge can be persuaded to provide justice, how much more so will God provide justice; God, who is not dishonest or corrupt, but loving and genuinely concerned about the welfare of those He loves.

At the same time, the widow is also a model of God for, like God, she desires justice, and will not rest until it is obtained. God is like that for us. He desires justice for us, though not necessarily justice as the world regards justice. God desires the justice of eternal judgment, the justice given by Him to those who have faith and who live the life of faith. In that sense, this parable calls us to persevere not only in prayer, but in the faith, to persevere in following Jesus to the end, to live our lives according to God’s will, so that at the judgment God will say to each of us, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

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