Sunday, October 13, 2013

PERSISTENT PRAYER AMIDST THE ROUGH & TUMBLE OF REAL LIFE. A Homily for 10.20.13 from Luke 18:1-8 for the 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for 10.20.13
LUKE 18:1-8
(see below)
28th Sunday in 
Ordinary Time
Year C
(revised on 10-10-13 
from a homily first posted 
on 10-12-10)








The Lectionary Gospel reading for this Sunday tells us that:
 Jesus told his disciples a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary...
a worthy endeavor for we post-moderns to learn as well.

According to the parable 
there was a judge in a certain town who neither feared God nor respected any human being. And, there was also a widow in that town [who] used to come to him and say, 'Render a just decision for me against my adversary.’
But, because of his wickedness this judge was unwilling to help the widow. However, eventually he began to argue with himself, thinking: 
'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.'"
N.T. Wright reminds us that the point of the parable is this: If a wicked judge, who acts only and always out of self-interest, is finally affected by the widow’s persistent petition, how much more will the GOD of the universe -- who is good, who is just, and who cares for all His creation -- how much more will GOD do what is right?

In fact, Jesus says as much -- 
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.
It seems this TEXT, at least in part, is offered to remind us that GOD is good and continues to always work on our behalf, even though we cannot always see this work. OK, but, what then does the parable have to do with persistent prayer, which was the theme St. Luke tells us was the reason Jesus told the parable in the first place.

Several thoughts:


First:
If Jesus desires his disciples to pray always without becoming weary, then we might begin by asking the natural question: What makes us weary in prayer? What circumstance causes us to give out and leave off our petitioning? We become weary in prayer either because we see no immediate results or because we fear GOD will not answer or will not answer in the way we desire.

Contrary to what some media ministers present, I would offer this important axiom: If immediate results are what we are after in prayer, we are in trouble. In my experience, anyway, immediate prayer results are rare indeed. And, while it may be true that I do not have the eye of faith needed for such evidence, after nearly forty years of pastoral ministry I confess I can count on one hand immediate prayer answers (this is only a slight exaggeration). What I have found is that the Almighty intervenes far less than I wish, and eventual interventions are overwhelmingly subtle, soft-spoken, and rarely immediate.

Perhaps this is your experience as well: 
You pray, asking GOD to act or do something, but it does not happen as you want or as you plan.  
Sometimes (often) nothing happens.  
You wait; you pray. Silence.  
Then, amazingly, sometime later (often, a long time later) there is actually an answer to the prayer, but not in the way you imagined, and you are so far removed from the point of asking (way back when) that when you finally come to the answer point you have actually forgotten your prayers!  
Amazingly, the answer goes unnoticed. “How fortunate I am!” you say, “how lucky!” “things just had a way of working themselves out.” 
Really? Is that what happened?

Said another way, we can easily miss GOD’S movement in the world as a response to our prayer, never realizing that GOD was at work the entire time after our prayer (and no doubt even before we asked), only incognito, subtly quiet, but still powerfully providential.

Said still another way, one reason we are to steadily pray is so we will be able to connect the prayer to the answer when it comes! That is, we are dullards, all of us, and we easily forget those vital, but invisible connections between GOD and the world.

Second:
We can also become weary in prayer because we doubt that GOD will do what we desire, or because we doubt that GOD would do good for us. This speaks of our own feelings of unworthiness or our lack of conviction over GOD’S worthiness (read: ultimate goodness). 

Here’s the question:
Do we believe that GOD really loves us? I mean, we reason, how could GOD love one such as me, knowing my fallenness and brokenness as I do? Compounding this is the fact that many of us have been so deeply hurt and so cut-down by life that we silently feel we are abandoned by GOD, which means we have little expectation in prayer. “Why pray,” we think, “What good would it do? We’re not of much use to GOD!” 

These common thoughts betray a hidden question as to GOD’S open-ended benevolence.

What we fail to remember on the one hand is the depth of GOD’s grace -- the power of divine forgiveness flowing toward us "anyhow" because its basis is in GOD and not our success or failure. 

And, on the other hand, we fail to see that there is a goodness at the very heart of GOD -- a goodness which compels GOD’S constant movement toward us in acceptance in the Christ.

Finally:
All of which opens the second question: What, then, makes us pray always? What factors keep us within the protracted prayer struggle?

We keep faithful prayer either because the need in our life is so great or the burden we carry from the LORD demands constant vigilance. That is, the internal need is so great because we are in a sheer, bloody mess, or the calling from the LORD we carry is so serious that we cannot but carry-on in prayer. Said differently, we most often persist in prayer because we cannot help ourselves.

I have been in both places -- desperate and burdened, and I can tell you that the movement to prayer comes easy, in the sense that you do not have to be reminded to pray, but it also comes hard because the circumstances are often thick with pain and sorrow and a heaviness of spirit.

At this point, it might be helpful to remember Jesus’ prayer prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane:
“I am suffering with sorrow untodeath, can you not watch with me?”“Father, if it is possible let this cuppass from me; nevertheless not mywill but Yours be done.”
Which, finally, leads to the last question:  What makes one prayer not enough for GOD? Why do I need to ask for the same thing over and over? Must I talk GOD into what I want?

Simply put, the primary reason we pray is for us, not for GOD. Prayer is GOD’s greatest teaching tool for disciples because it causes us to actually, mystically, partner with the Almighty, at his invitation! Prayer brings us close to the Father of Lights, where we commune with the one in whom there is no shadow of turning, and where we, in time, are caused to walk close to the Holy.

Said another way, prayer mediates the presence of GOD to us in subtle and quiet ways, shaping our hearts and causing us, amazingly, and more often than not, to become the answer to our own prayers!

_______________________________

Luke 18:1-8

Jesus told his disciples a parable
about the necessity for them to pray always 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 find faith on earth?"