Persevere in your petitions to God
While there are limits, ask for justice and God will her your prayer
October 21, 2007 -- 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Fr. Mike Stubbs
A gazelle can easily out-sprint the fastest human being. Most game can run faster than any human hunter, in the short term. On the other hand, human beings are capable of greater endurance. They can run for hours and hours, until the prey they are pursuing is exhausted and slows down. The humans can then move in for the kill. That is how our ancestors thousands of years ago hunted, before they had horses, much less the advanced technology of our day. The same capability for endurance which enables the modern-day runner to complete a marathon enabled those human hunters of long ago to outlast their prey in the race for life.
The one who perseveres will win the prize. It is not necessarily the fastest, but the one who can endure the most, the one who will not give up. That is perhaps the lesson that we draw from Sunday's Gospel reading, Luke 18:1-8. In it, Jesus tells the parable of the corrupt judge. A widow who is constantly petitioning him to render a favorable decision in her case finally gives in, because of her persistence.
The Gospel reading prefaces the parable by the sentence, "Jesus told his disciples a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary." That sentence might inspire us to think that as long as we pray hard and constantly, we will receive what we ask for. Keep praying and don't give up, and you will obtain that better job, that miraculous cure, that new car, whatever may be the object of your prayers.
On the other hand, if we listen closely to the gospel reading, we will discover that it is not as simple as all that. We never learn exactly what the case of the widow in the parable involved, whether it was a dispute over a property line, over an inheritance, over a debt. The particulars of the case remain unknown. At the same time, the parable makes it very clear that the cause of the widow is just. Even the dishonest judge recognizes that. "I shall deliver a just decision for her."
The comments following the parable and relating it to the situation of the disciples reinforces that emphasis upon a just cause: "Will not God then secure the right of his chosen ones who call out to him night and day? Will he be slow to answer them? I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily."
In other words, the Gospel assures us that God will listen to our prayers as long as we ask for justice. God will vindicate the rights of the weak and powerless in our world, just as the dishonest judge does for the widow in the Gospel parable. According to the Gospel reading, God does not issue a blank check, for us to fill out in any way that we wish. There are limits to what we can ask for, and what God will grant. But given that, we should persevere in our petitions, just like the widow. As long as we ask for justice, we can be confident that God will hear our prayer.
(Fr. Stubbs, a priest of the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kan., has a master's degree in theology from Harvard.)