Last week, we focused on gratitude, as we looked at the story of the ten lepers who were healed and the one who returned to give thanks.
Today we will explore a parable that teaches the importance of persistence in prayer.
In today’s Gospel reading we encounter a passage commonly known as “the parable of the unjust judge.” This isn’t a parable about justice or judges. Rather it is another teaching about persistence and prayer. In this story, the widow keeps coming back to the judge. Finally, because of her persistence, the judge grants her justice. Jesus isn’t telling us that we must nag God before he will answer. Rather he is saying that we must be willing to keep asking, even when it seems like the answer is delayed. He is giving us a lesson in the importance of persistence.
True, heartfelt prayer isn’t easy…We are created for prayer—communication with God—but because of our fallen human nature, we would often rather do other, easier things. As we look to the Gospels, especially the Gospel of Luke, which shows our Lord at prayer more than any other, we can learn how to pray. One simple acronym that may be of use is “MATA”: Mercy, Asking, Thanksgiving, Adoration. First, we need to confess our sins; ask for God’s mercy. Then we make our requests; ask God for what we need. The parable in the Gospel reading addresses this, telling us that we are not to ask just once or twice, but to be persistent, humbly turning to God with all our needs. After asking, we must not forget to say thank you. Finally comes the most important part—adoration, praising God.
The Gospel passage tells us that we need to be both persistent and consistent in our prayer—not because God won’t hear us unless we are, but because through our persistence and consistency we are better able to be faithful to the promptings of the Spirit and enter into communion with the one who loves us.
Unpack the First Reading
Time and again in history, Israel falls into idol worship of the gods of the Canaanites. Amalek’s grandparents (Esau and his Canaanite wife) would’ve symbolized unfaithfulness to God, and he himself was the fruit of an illicit union between his father and biological mother. It’d be fair to say that Amalek and his descendants represented all that was corrupting Israel. If Israel failed to be true to God, it couldn’t be a light to the other nations as God intended. There was a lot at stake on the battlefield in this Exodus reading.
The scene portrayed to us shows that the only way to drive out this corrupting influence from the Promised Land was by divine intervention, symbolized by the raising of the staff of God in the hands of Moses. Later, the raising of a staff with a bronze serpent on it will drive away the poison of those snakes for those who looked upon it and, still later, the raising of Christ on the cross will drive out the sin and death for those who look upon him. If we find the treatment of the Amalekites troubling, we’d do well to remember that in Christ we see that God will stop at nothing to work for our salvation.
Unpack the Second Reading
The commission which St. Paul gives to Timothy as a member of that second generation of Church leaders is a serious one. Paul exhorts Timothy to do the work of the Gospel in the hope that Timothy will be as tireless as a bishop as Paul the apostle. With a solemn oath he says, “In the presence of God and Christ Jesus…proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching.”
The tools necessary for this arduous task are mentioned by Paul: faithfulness to the teaching received from the apostles of Christ and the sacred Scriptures. We see here mentioned the two fountainheads of the one fount of divine revelation, Tradition and Scripture. St. Paul suggests that the whole energy for Timothy’s mission of evangelization depends on faithfulness to tradition and faith in Christ revealed in Scripture. He says specifically that the study of Scripture will leave the disciple “competent, equipped for every good work.” In order for the work of God to be fruitful it must be fueled by the Word of God.
Unpack the Gospel
The need to pray is always linked to Jesus’ description of the events leading up to “when the Son of Man comes,” or end of time when Christ will come again. Understanding the context of this passage helps us to see that constancy in prayer isn’t simply a requirement so that the petitioner will get what he or she wants. Rather, constant prayer ensures that we’ll be on the side of God’s justice when he comes because our prayer is a demonstration of faith. It takes faith to pray, and faith is the means to our justification, holiness, and righteousness in the sight of God. In order for Jesus to find justice, righteousness, or holiness when he comes again as judge of the living and the dead, believers must be steadfast in prayer.
So Jesus isn’t so much suggesting that we nag God until we get what we want, as is sometimes thought, but that we pray often, indeed constantly, so that we’ll be the holy, faith-filled people he longs to find upon his return. Otherwise, his justice can only work to our disadvantage. What’s just for the sinner and just for the righteous are two very different things, and it’s prayer in faith that makes the difference.
Reflect & Discuss
Please view the short Opening the Word video on FORMED.org about today’s Gospel reading which focuses on the topic of prayer. Then, with a friend, reflect and discuss these questions:
What is the most important part of prayer, and why?
Consider the ways in which prayer is difficult for you. How can you use the acronym MATA to overcome some of these difficulties?
Is there a time in your life when you have felt like the widow in today’s Gospel reading, persistently making your request over and over again? How did the persistence pay off?
Digging Deeper: Persevering in Prayer
“ ‘Pray constantly . . . always and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father.’ St. Paul adds, ‘Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance making supplication for all the saints.’ For ‘we have not been commanded to work, to keep watch and to fast constantly, but it has been laid down that we are to pray without ceasing.’ This tireless fervor can come only from love. Against our dullness and laziness, the battle of prayer is that of humble, trusting, and persevering love.”
Reprinted with permission from Augustine Institute from the Opening the Word Leader Guide available on FORMED.org