The parable we hear in Sunday’s Gospel proclamation is the second in Luke’s Gospel about the necessity of prayer. Previously, in 11:5, Jesus told a parable about a man going to his friend’s home, in the middle of night, persistently knocking on the door, to ask for bread. Even though the friend may not want to get out of bed to answer the door, Jesus says that he will eventually get up and give his neighbor some bread because of his persistence. Next Sunday we will hear another parable on prayer: the Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector, reminding us that prayer is to be offered in humility.
Prayer is very important in Luke’s Gospel; we see Jesus in prayer more often than in any of the other Gospels. It is only Luke who tells us that Jesus prayed for those who put him to death (Luke 23:34), and, with his last breath, committed his spirit into the hands of his Father (Luke 23:46).
Jesus did not live in the desert as a hermit so that he could pray around the clock. Rather, prayer was something he frequently engaged in as he went from town to town, even though it would seem that, of all people who ever lived on this earth, Jesus had the least need to pray! And yet, he prayed often. In Luke’s second volume, the Acts of the Apostles, we see the Church in prayer many times. They are doing what their master did. Luke shows us that prayer was central in the life of Jesus and therefore ought to be central in our lives as well.
In Sunday’s passage a widow persistently appeals to a judge to adjudicate a pressing matter. The judge, “who neither feared God nor respected any human being”, ignores her for a long time but she perseveres in her pursuit for justice and he finally gives in. He acts not because he cares about the woman but because he selfishly understands that this is the only way to get rid of her. Jesus says we must be as persistent in prayer as this widow.
On first read the parable sounds like Jesus is saying, “If you just keep praying, if you get obnoxious enough, and bother God enough, you will wear him out and he will give you what you want.” This is not the message. And neither is Jesus comparing God to an unjust judge. Rather, he is saying that if perseverance obtains justice from an unjust judge, how much more will be received from a good and loving Father?
Jesus is gently reminding us of the need to pray and not lose heart. He knows we need to hear these words for we may ask ourselves whether prayer makes any difference at all.
We can be so impatient sometimes and feel that God has not heard our prayers when they are not answered immediately. We live in a world of instant gratification, instant coffee, instant contact; this and that “on demand”. In this Gospel passage, Jesus, who knows well the weakness of the flesh, and that we are prone to lose heart, is telling us to be patient and, to ‘pray always without becoming weary.’
This teaching flows from the preceding verses, in Chapter 17, where Jesus told his disciples that the days would come when they would “desire to see one of the days of the Son of man” but that they would not see it (17:22). God has promised that the Son of man will return in power and glory. But during the time between Jesus’ ascension and his Second Coming, the world would go on in its disregard of God, much as it had in the days of Noah and of Lot. The Church would be much like this widow, left without her Bridegroom, maligned and persecuted by the ungodly. During the time of waiting and struggle, what are disciples to do? Jesus tells us in this parable: in the interim we are to persevere and engage in regular conversation—prayer— with our Lord. Prayer is the currency of our relationship with him.
Hence, the concluding question: “..when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” The question is not whether or not the Lord will return or whether justice will be done. He will and it will. The question is whether or not we will “give up” before that time comes.
It’s a haunting question. Are we growing weary? Is our passion waning? The only way to combat this is to hear what Jesus is saying about passionately pursuing a faithful relationship with God.
Part of our frustration with prayer may be that we think we know what we “need” and that God should do or give what we ask of him. Then when God doesn’t do what we want or doesn’t do it when we want it, we impugn his character by saying he did not answer our prayer. This may be the real reason for our frustration with “unanswered prayer”. Often God is doing something, we just don’t recognize or accept it.
Jesus uses the parable in Sunday’s Gospel as an argument from the lesser to the greater. If the widow could get justice from this hardened, crusty, uncaring judge, doesn’t it follow that our loving, tender, gracious Heavenly Father will hear the cry of his chosen ones and “see to it that justice is done for them speedily”?
What does Jesus mean when he says that justice will come “speedily”? No, God isn’t catering to the culture of “instant” this and that. We must understand speedily from God’s timetable, not ours; “…with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” (2 Peter 3:8) Sometimes he will give us an inner assurance or an outward manifestation that our prayer has been heard and so we can shift from petitioning to praising him. Sometimes he removes the burden from our hearts and we move on. But often, he wants us, like this nagging widow, to keep calling upon him in prayer—in trusting, faithful relationship.