There seems to be a stark contrast between the First Reading and the Gospel on this 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time. The scene from Exodus is a battle scene where as Moses prayed the troops were successful in their military encounter. Many of us are startled by the battle images of the Old Testament, often forgetting that they were a small nation of people on the move who were going to be engaged in war for survival. God acts to defend and save his people from annihilation. The parable of Jesus that we hear this week jolts our ears as we are introduced to an idea of God a cold and heartless judge. The theme, that ties the two Readings together is persistence in prayer.
Our ordinary understanding of God presupposes two things: first, God already knows our needs; second, God is loving and desires to meet our needs. Hence, we wonder why we need to pray since we can neither tell him anything he doesn’t know and we also cannot really change God’s mind.
We pray to God so that through our dialogue with God we might become enlightened. Sometimes we find that the answer to our prayer is “no,” not because God is mean-spirited, but because God’s plan and ours often meet a point of divergence. We have to come to the realization of what is necessary for us and for our growth. Sometimes what we need is the opposite of what we think we need. Every parent understands this reality. While prayer is useful, persistence in prayer opens our eyes to what we actually need and what God wants to give us. It can take a long time – relatively speaking – for us to come to that insight.
Persistent prayer is critical to the life of faith. God requires our persistence in petition to open our hearts – ever so gradually and gently – to his action in our lives. Unless pray with persistence there are some insights that we cannot learn, some gifts that God is bestowing upon us that we cannot exercise.
It is not unusual that we may never see the final result of our prayer. The life of prayer demands a long view of history that few get to see. For 2,000 years the Church has fervently prayed “thy kingdom come” and the kingdom is yet to be realized in our midst. We pray for peace but it seems that there is more war than peace. We pray for justice in the world and we see more division and injustice. This can be, and is for some, discouraging, even to the point where some even cease to pray.
What is the Lord telling us by his apparent silence to our persistent prayers? All too often we allow simply the prayer to stand on its own, but we take no action. Moses raising his hands alone did not defeat Amalek. The Israelites had to engage in the battle. And so it is with us. Often the Lord tells us to “go and do” in response to prayer but many of us prefer to “sit and wait.” Once we have the insight we must do something about it, otherwise, our prayers seem to go “unanswered.”
Through the persistence of our prayer – private and public – we strengthen not only our relationship with God but also come, ever so gently, so begin to see the world not as we do but as God calls us to so that we might more completely unite our wills to his.
Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.’