29th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2010

17 October 2010

 Exodus 17. 8-13
1 John 4.11-16
Luke 18.1-8

At one stage one of our priests who worked in a certain African country wanted to get a CofO – a Certificate of Occupancy for a piece of land he wanted to buy. The CofO is similar to Title Deeds in Ireland. He went to the local government office to get this but every time he went the official who wanted a bribe first, was either absent or couldn’t find the file! The priest went back every day for 6 months. Finally, he wore down the official with his persistence and got the CofO.

This incident reminded me of today’s gospel about the widow whose persistent prayer and perseverance were eventually rewarded. She refused to give up and be discouraged.

Some background to the parable:

The Judge

Clearly the judge was not a Jewish judge since disputes were taken before the elders and there were 3 appointed to judge the case.  So this judge was one of the judges appointed by the Romans or by Herod.  These people were notorious for being corrupt and taking bribes.  So to gain a favourable judgement a person would have to bribe the judge.

The Widow

is a symbol of all who were poor and defenceless. She would have had little chance of success being totally unable to bribe the judge. But she had one weapon which finally proved very effective – her persistence. She wore down the resistance of the judge. So her perseverance, her refusal to give up paid off.

This seems to be a rather simple parable about how we should keep asking; pounding on God’s door and eventually we will get what we ask for. But prayer, or persistence in asking, is more than saying words or having thoughts. God is not a judge who is manipulated by pretty words or angry suggestions.   Prayer is an intimacy which extends beyond a particular time of praying. We are urged to live as a prayer rather than separating prayer from our daily living. The main purpose of prayer is to foster our relationship with God

In the first reading Moses needed Aaron and Hur to help him. We too find additional grace to persevere through the support of prayers of the Christian community.  It is a gift we can offer others too.

It is important to realise that the parable does not liken God to the unjust judge; rather it contrasts him to such a person.  Jesus was really saying: ‘if the corrupt and unjust judge can be wearied into giving the widow woman justice, how much more will God our loving Father give his children what they need?’

The widow asked the unjust judge for justice against her enemy. Quite often human justice is by no means the best example of fair play and honesty available to us. If God were simply to apply the principles of human justice to each of us, who would stand a chance? It is only in the light of divine mercy that we can hope to be vindicated and forgiven.

Of course, sometimes we don’t seem to get what we pray for. Only God knows what is good for us in the long run. That is why the lesson of the parable is to persevere and never give up. There is, of course, an important condition, that what we ask for must be according to justice and the will of God.  Do we not pray in the Our Father: ‘Thy will be done’? That is why Jesus asks the question at the end of the parable. “When the Son of Man comes, will he find any faith on earth?” Jesus in asking this question was wondering if people’s faith would stand up to the long delay before the Son of Man would come again in his glory. May we persevere in prayer and accept that God’s answer is what is best for us.

‘Will there be any faith on earth?’ We need to recall that faith is not automatic, nor is it given forever if it is not nourished. Faith grows and matures through prayer and the sacraments as well as through the practice of kindness, love, compassion, forgiveness etc.  Faith is a gift but it is also a task.

Sadly, often we forget God when things are going well.  Then there is a crisis and we cry out to God to help us.  The amazing thing is he does, instead of forgetting us as we forget him much of the time.

Prayer and faith are very closely connected.  It’s because we have faith that we pray.  At the same time prayer sustains our faith. We need to pray not just when we are in trouble but at all times.  

Finally, prayer is no substitute for action. God wants us to do all we can in any circumstance and also to pray. Prayer is not an escape from life but a journey into the heart of life.

“Lord Jesus, may our prayer deepen our relationship with you. Help us to persevere in difficult times. Increase our faith and trust in you. Amen.”            

Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA