Twenty Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
I believe it is safe to say that most Catholics and many other people of faith, at least those whom I have known throughout my life, consider themselves “persistent prayers.” Of course, they do not pray around the clock or twenty four seven, but they do have a consistent habit of praying: morning and evening prayer, prayer before and after meals, prayer at certain critical moments of life, acts of faith, hope charity and contrition, the Angelus, novenas to our Blessed Mother, First Friday devotions and countless others. This does not mean either that they are stuck on numbers, imagining that more is always better. More correctly, it is about establishing a manner of being prayerful rather than giving an occasional nod and a wink toward the One who guides every moment of our life. In short, prayer is a way of life for Catholics and other spiritually dedicated people. Given those assumptions, let us think a little about this way of being prayerful that we have learned and nurtured from our childhood.
We have a ready example for this in Luke’s gospel for the Twenty Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time. Luke introduces the topic by writing that Jesus once told a story about a persistent widow who kept hammering away at a certain recalcitrant judge, demanding that he decide a certain case for her. Immediately, therefore, we know that this going to be a story about a widow who feels aggrieved. She will not give up until she receives due justice. Finally, the judge decides that she is wearing out his patience and decides in her favor. (Not a great motive for justice perhaps, but at least he did move slowly in her regard!)
So, having read only this far, you might imagine that this story is all about a certain Jewish court issue. Not so! If you read farther, you will find that Jesus only uses the story to speak about the importance of persistence in being and persistence in prayer. We already know Jesus’ attitude about multiplying prayers when in Matthew’s gospel we read: “When you pray, do not babble on like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words” (Matthew 6:7) Jesus, obviously, is not talking about multiplication but about persistence, determination or doggedness. “Do not become weary,” Jesus, says, “do not succumb to discouragement.”
That, of course, brings up a very human problem we all face when we pray, particularly in what we call the prayer of intercession, sometimes humorously referred to as the “gimme prayers.” “Lord, I want this or that and the sooner the better. I want it and I want it now, not later. I want a raise in salary now, I want to be admitted to an Ivy League school now, I want to be cured of this illness now, I want justice now.
Of course, it is not unlikely that we should choose to pray like this: first of all, because, for us earthlings, time is an important element in life. We just do not have the time or the patience to wait for something that is of ultimate importance to us to happen.
The problem with this attitude, however, is the problem of time: our time and God’s time. Secondly, given our limited sense of time, we have so little patience. We want the horror of war to cease now, justice be done for the under-privileged now, discrimination to be silenced now, tolerance be shown to all now! Unfortunately, of course, we have little control over the time element of our plea. Should that prevent us from making our plea? Hardly! The prayer of intercession is not about being heard now; it more about voicing our persistent feelings about the inequalities, the inequities in this world where we live, work and pray
So, admittedly, the word wait is not a term we very much like to hear. “Justice delayed is justice denied,” said Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Nonetheless, Dr. King’s continuing and persistent cry for justice over the years has slowly continued to make it happen.
So too therefore regarding the rest of us as we plead each day for so many things in this broken world: We may not receive all that we demand or hope for in life, but the fact that we persistently let God know that we are still concerned is at least a step in the right direction.
Exodus 17: 8-13
2 Timothy 3: 14-4-5
Luke 18: 1-8