29th Sunday Year C – Lectio divina on Lk 18,1-8
We have to admit, we do not find prayer easy. In our Christian formation most of us learned a series of prayers by heart, we repeat them frequently, but they do not seem to put us in authentic communication with God. We know many prayers, but we find it hard to pray. We lack not only the words but also the sentiments which enable us to turn to God. We often seem to be unable to find a good reason to pray, but any excuse seems reason enough to stop praying. We think that God seldom listens to our needs and so we do not feel obliged to bring them to him. If our prayer is ineffective, and it seems a useless waste of time, then we need to ask ourselves if there is any well founded reason to hope that we will be heard. This objection is reasonable and it is common among the disciples of Jesus. Today the Gospel reminds us that Jesus had to encourage his disciples to pray more and to pray always. Can we genuinely say that the disciples of Jesus, either then or now, are outstanding for their enthusiasm for prayer?
At that time: 1 Jesus told his disciples a parable, to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor regarded man; 3 and there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, `Vindicate me against my adversary.’ 4 For a while he refused; but afterwards he said to himself, `Though I neither fear God nor regard man, 5 yet because this widow bothers me, I will vindicate her, or she will wear me out by her continual coming.'” 6 And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. 7 And will not God vindicate his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? 8 I tell you, he will vindicate them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
I. Read: understand what the text is saying, paying attention to how it says it
Basically this Gospel passage is simply a parable and its application. But Luke gives a very precise clue to its meaning in the introduction when he says that Jesus taught his disciples ‘always to pray and not lose heart.’(Lk 18:1) This is a teaching intended by Jesus for those who are his close followers. The lesson is not that we must pray, but to pray without ceasing.
Jesus tells the parable of the unjust judge – what a contradiction! – not just to teach his disciples to pray (they already knew that, since he had taught them to pray: Lk 11:1-13), but how to pray without ever giving up. This, at least, is what Luke wrote, and this is the key to interpreting the parable.
But the lesson is not altogether clear because in telling the parable, Jesus puts in a conclusion that goes beyond a mere recommendation to pray constantly. (Lk 18.6-7). In Jesus’ final comment, if you look carefully, two elements seem new and surprising. Firstly, God shows justice to those who pray to him by listening to them. Coming to the help of his chosen ones is an act of divine justice. Secondly, the person who persists in prayer is not just asking for something but is making a real act of faith. To pray often and to pray always is an act of faith.
In his final comment, Jesus strikes a note of great caution, which is both serious and unexpected (Lk 18:8). We are surprised, in fact, that Jesus asks, as if he himself is not sure, if he will find faith on the earth, this kind of faith that is expressed in continuous prayer, on the day of his return. The truth is, an affirmative answer can be given him only by disciples who pray always and do not lose heart.
II. Meditation: apply what the text says to life
To inculcate the practice of permanent prayer in his disciples Jesus tells the parable of the unjust judge and the persistent widow. He had already taught them to pray. Now he teaches that prayer should not be an occasional occupation, but a continuous exercise … and a joyful one!
Here Jesus is not just telling the disciples to pray, but that they should not cease praying. Jesus urges his disciples not to lose heart when they pray. He does not want to see them disenchanted. While they are talking with God, he teaches them how to pray. We must ask ourselves why does our prayer not fill our lives with excitement and enthusiasm. What are we missing? What is preventing our prayer from becoming a happy time and a wonderful experience? Why pray at all, if we do it with so little enthusiasm?
The example of the persistent widow tells us, in the first place, that if we are to ask for something unceasingly, we must feel the need of it very deeply. If an unjust judge is capable of doing justice, contrary to his normal way of acting, is the good God likely to fail those who pray to him day and night, without ceasing? Jesus asks the question, convinced that God will not fail to answer those who persevere in their prayer.
One must suffer real helplessness, like the widow, to bother people who are not trustworthy. The widow persisted with her request, not because she trusted the judge who had no fear of God and no respect for people, but because there was nothing else she could do. You do not have to be just in order to act justly. If you keep on asking, you can get from an unjust judge something you could not even dream of. Just to get rid of the constant nuisance, and because he was afraid of being attacked, the judge granted the case of the woman who insisted so much. And because the widow annoyed him so much with her pleading, the judge eventually had to give in to her.
Maybe we can see here the reason why our prayer life is lacking. Is it that we are not so greatly in need of help? Or is that we think we have a right to be listened to always, just because we have asked once? If we were more aware of our poverty, we would not be ashamed to keep asking, even to the point of annoying God. Our prayer does not last long, because we do not realize sufficiently how much we are in need.
Jesus seems to be telling us that one of the most frequent reasons why our prayers fail to catch God’s attention, is that we do not insist enough, and we do not persevere as we ought.
We become disillusioned with a God who wants us to keep on repeating our needs even though he knows them already. We find it hard to accept that God delays his answer, even when we cannot remain silent about our desires. We expect an answer right away, as soon as we ask God for what we want. Just because we have made our needs known, we think we have a right to be heard. In the story of the persistent widow and the unjust judge, Jesus has taught us a good reason for a life of ceaseless prayer, and a good way to achieve it.
Just because she insisted, the widow was heard. She did not mind that fact that the judge had little regard for her. She knew what she wanted, and this was enough for her to keep on bothering him. She knew she could not solve the problem herself, so she let the judge know that she would give him no peace until he listened to her – not because she trusted him, but because she needed him. She was not able to solve her problem alone. She appealed to him, even though she knew he was unjust. She was more concerned about her own need than about his misconduct, and she did not stop harassing him until he granted her justice, contrary to his usual way of acting.
Jesus wanted his disciples to imitate this widow, but they did not have the sense of helplessness she had, that led her to persist even where she was not welcome. When we turn to God for help, we need to be so aware of our own poverty, that we will not cease bothering him, day and night, until God hears our prayer and breaks his silence. Jesus warns us that when we do not persist in prayer, it is because we do not realize the seriousness of our situation, or we think we can solve our problems on our own. If we think we can free ourselves from our helplessness, we are bypassing God. That is the risk we take if we do not persevere in prayer.
Jesus is not afraid to compare the unjust judge with God who is always just. When faced with a God who seems not to listen to our prayer, it is not good to stop praying! A resigned silence is not the best way to attract God’s attention. God will not get rid of us, until we get rid of our needs, provided we do not stop praying until he answers us. If we continue to pray to him until he hears us, then our prayer is good, because we pray without giving up. What we lack is what the widow had – the persistence born of necessity and courage even in helplessness. Why not just come to God and keep on asking, without ceasing, until eventually he listens to us and answers our plea?
For Jesus, and for those who heard the parable, God is more just that the unjust judge. Ceaseless prayer overcomes God’s reluctance to intervene. Praying aloud, if necessary, leads in the end to our being heard. Those who keep on asking, persuade God to grant their request “speedily”, without delay. The best advice Jesus could give was to keep on praying without ceasing. A life of prayer without ever giving up compels God to act justly. Who would ever have thought it?
Jesus urges us not to give up, even when God seems to pay no attention to our problems. When God seems not to listen to our prayers, it is better not to give up. If we remain silent, we will give God reason to think that we can do without his help. If we believe that God is not listening to us, we will not regain his attention by our silence and resignation. If we cry out day and night begging him to answer our needs, we will eventually be heard. God will emerge from his silence, if we keep coming to him. He cannot ignore our plea for long, if our prayer is unceasing and hopeful. By dint of perseverance, anyone who prays will gain God’s favour and his attentions.
But if God is to deal with us the way the judge dealt with the widow who needed his help, we must feel that we are his chosen ones, we must be aware of our need for Him, and ask for it day and night. It is not only our need that brings Jesus’ disciples to pray to God, as it was in the case of the widow. When we pray to God we are not only asking for justice. We pray not only because we need God’s help, but also because we know we are his chosen ones. We know that God loves us with a love of predilection and that he will not fail us. If a day goes by without being heard, we should spend the night shouting, so that God may do justice without delay.
Is not it strange that Jesus ends the parable wondering if, when he returns, he will find much faith among his disciples? There are many good disciples of Jesus who cannot bear even a slight delay on God’s part or a silence that lasts a little longer than usual. There are many who do not know how to pray without losing hope, just because they do not get what they ask for immediately. Our belief that God is interested in us must be greater than the interest that we have in Him. If we lose faith in God just because he makes us wait for a response, then we have lost faith in him and the certainty that one day he will hear us.
The kind of prayer that causes us to get discouraged in living the Christian life can arise from our need and the helplessness in which we live. It certainly does not come from an awareness of being God’s chosen ones. If we feel loved, we can cry out to God day and night, with no disrespect. Only when we decide to keep on asking God, only then will we learn to let him solve our problems. The kind of faith and the way of praying that is not afraid to keep on bothering God is the kind of faith that Jesus wants to find on his return. Will he find in us this faith that does not give up hope, even though our prayer is not answered immediately, or if he delays in coming? When the Lord returns, will he find us joyful and continuing to cry out to God day and night?