So we continue in this section of Luke caught between Peter acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah / the Transfiguration and Jesus arriving in Jerusalem and the recounting of his passion, death and resurrection. In this portion, we have a long list of stories Jesus taught on the road, in the different places where he met with people: Everyday people, but also pharisees, scribes, lawyers…Sometimes, like today, we also find Jesus teaching more specifically to his disciples, those who wanted to follow him more closely, enter into a deeper relationships with God.
And we go back to the topic of prayer – One of the major themes in Luke. We talked this summer about the Lord’s prayer and, if you remember, there was this little story of the man banging on the door of a friend in the middle of the night, begging for bread, and how the friend would finally open, if not because he really wanted to help, b/c of the bother it was, b/c of the other man’s insistence. As a conclusion, Jesus pointed out the fact that if even us, who are evil, are able to give good things to those who ask, how much more God, who is good, would answer our prayers.
Well, it seems today that we have a variation on the same theme. A teaching about prayer using another story about boldness and persistence in asking – and about how people end up granting some requests, not necessarily b/c they’re good, but b/c they’re tired. And then Jesus compares those people who finally grant requests to God.
We’ve just heard the story of a widow seeking justice against her opponent, and having to go again and again to an unjust judge who refuses to help her b/c he has no respect for people and does not fear God. We know that widows were vulnerable at Jesus’s time, having no man to provide for their needs and to protect them. They were ignored. Unexpectedly though, in the story, this powerless woman wins over the judge b/c she carries on, she is persistent when the man is probably just lazy and self centered. He finally grants her request b/c he is tired. And so, Jesus asks, if the unjust judge finally helps the widow, why would not God, who is just, answer those who ask for justice?
Well, first of all we can notice that this is a good story b/c it sounds very real, even in the world we live in. I think a lot of us, like this widow, have to fight from time to time and get up early in the morning to obtain justice. And you know how hard it can be, if you’ve ever had to fight with the DMV, the immigration, social security or health insurance…A few years ago, I had to see a specialist, and although my treatment should have been covered, I had to make countless phone calls and send forms again and again to my health insurance b/c obviously there was always something missing that would prevent them from sending me my check. And speaking about administrative errands, I can’t even begging to tell you what it took to obtain a green card b/c I don’t have an hour to preach!
The idea is that in life, we find ourselves needing to be perseverent if we want to obtain what we need. We have to stand for ourselves, to trust that our cause is worth it, that we’re worth it, to trust that we’re right, even when we feel crushed, or just ignored, by the system. Sometimes, to obtain that we need, it feels like going to war. Even if there are no weapons, it can be a psychological war to not give up against those who deny our rights, to wear them out with our insistence. These are times when we need to be to be tough like the widow of the story.
And so, using this example taken from daily life, Jesus goes on to prayer life. Making a parallel between the widow’s interaction with the judge / and prayer – when we also try to obtain what we need from God. And it seems that Jesus says that indeed, we also need to be perseverent with God in order to be answered.
Well, actually there are a lot of expressions around prayer that use terms that incite us to think that prayer is a spiritual combat, that we have to fight, to become prayer warriors. Maybe you have seen this movie about prayer life called: “The war room” as a reference to this place inside her house where this woman goes to ask God to save her marriage and engage in a prayer crusade.
I think we can all relate to that when we have crisis in our lives. A serious illness, loss of a job, a divorce, a child in troubles…Those times all we can do is to cling to God, and to beg God to help us. It can really feel like going war when we really, really need to obtain something from God. And I guess it’s natural for us to go on this “fighting mode”, arguing and supplicating, trying to wear God out. Because that’s what we have to do in our world in order to obtain something, correct?
And yet. And yet the more I read this story Jesus tells us today, the more I wonder if Jesus is really asking us to do in prayer what we do for everything else in life. Yes, the widow has to fight very hard to gain her cause, as we sometimes do as well. But Jesus tells us also that God is not unjust. God is not like the judge in the story. The judge has no fear of God, no respect for others, when God – the holy one – hears day and night the cry of his chosen ones. God is not indifferent or inflexible. God does not ignore us. God listens to us. God sees us.
Which means: if God is not like the judge, maybe we don’t necessarily have to be like the widow with God. If God is not unfair, maybe we don’t have to fight with God. If God loves us, maybe prayer should feel better than going to the mattresses. Maybe when Jesus asks us if there will still be faith on earth when he returns, maybe he is not asking if people will still be willing to fight, rather maybe he is asking if there will still be people willing to trust, to trust that God sees and hears and responds, to trust that God is not our enemy. God is not our enemy. We don’t have to win God over. On the other way around, God will help us when we meet adversity. If there is a fight, we can be sure God fights with us.
And so if you pay attention, Jesus does not exactly ask his disciples to be “perseverent”, more specifically, what Jesus asks is to “not lose heart”. And it can be very discouraging when we try to “wear God out” by our prayers. I know that when I tried to “wear God out”, that’s the times in my life where I started to lose heart, b/c the more I begged, the more I wondered if God was listening. But I “found my heart” again, when I just decided to trust that God was with me.
To me, that’s what the Gospel is about today. Jesus tells us that God is not like unfair or indifferent people. We have to trust that our prayers are in God’s hands, that we are in God’s hands. And that God will act, and “grant us justice” – and doing that, I think, would enable us to feel a little more happy when we pray, a little more grateful, a little more loved.
Of course, prayer is about asking. Jesus reminds us many times to ask God for what we need. But at some point, prayer is also about how we have to trust that God has heard us, and we need to stop “talking at” God to be able to see how God is answering our prayers, not always giving us all we asked for but, as Jesus puts it, granting us justice, granting us justice by offering us forgiveness, healing of the heart, peace – a sense of self worth, a sense of belonging, a sense of belovedness.
But at some point, prayer is finding a way to let go and let God.
I read recently the story of a woman with stage IV cancer. After 5 years of battling the disease, she was exhausted. And she says she was also exhausted to hear people telling her to keep fighting on. She was wondering if it’d be okay for her to stop the treatment, to enjoy the rest of her life with her close ones, trusting God to give her a new life when she reaches the other side.
Well, maybe that’s where Jesus was when he told this parable today.
As I said, Jesus was heading to Jerusalem. At this point, he did all he had to do. He fought a lot in his life. He was like the persistent widow! He healed, he taught, he argued. But he had many opponents. He was hated by a lot of people. They wanted him dead. And at some point, he could not avoid them anymore. But Jesus trusted that God knew, that God saw him, and that God would grant him justice, even if Judas’s betrayal was the shattering of all his dreams, even if the cross was the loss of all his hopes. Jesus needed to continue to trust that God was good.
And this is the same for us when life is hard – even if our circumstances aren’t that dramatic! We carry our crosses with persistence but at some point, we just have to trust that God is good. That’s the ground of our prayer. That’s also the aim of it: To realize that God is good.
So maybe this week we could do that as we pray. Remember that indeed God is good, that we have to trust even more than we have to fight and argue, we have to believe that God has seen our difficulties, heard our supplications, and we have to trust that God will answer, grant us justice, and is already doing so in many ways, looking around and see how our lives are already being transformed – because we do not lose heart. We do not lose our hearts in the process. On the other way around, we may find them anew. Amen.