A reflection on the readings for Proper 24C: Genesis 32. 22-31, Psalm 121, 2 Timothy 3. 14- 4.5, Luke 18. 1-8 by The Rev. Dr. Sarah Rogers
Persistence – I think we have had a good example of that over the last few weeks. That persistence paid off when 33 Chilean miners were finally rescued after 69 days trapped underground. I’m sure that none of us who watched any of those men being brought home and reunited with their families can have failed to have been moved by what they saw. We can’t really know what they or their families endured during that time. But it is clear that a certain amount of persistence was required. Being under ground for so long posed a number of problems, those above ground had to get food down to the miners, there were nutritionists who made sure that they had a balanced diet, the miners themselves had to find ways of occupying themselves underground and the engineers had to work out a way of rescuing them. It seems that the miners lives below ground were structured by prayer, they had prayer services at 12 noon and at 6pm daily. I gather that an MP3 audio version of the bible in Spanish was sent to them through their family contacts, as well as an MP3 audio version of the Jesus film which tells the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection, a story that perhaps paralleled their own experience. They also took great comfort from the words of Psalm 95 verse 4 “In His hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks are his also’. Thankfully the perseverance of the Chileans paid off – and not only in prayer, but in working out the solution to a difficult problem - all 33 miners made it back up safely and there was much rejoicing..!
Today’s reading from Luke’s Gospel is a story about persistence. Taken in context it comes just after Jesus has been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God will come. The Jews of Jesus’ time were of course living under Roman rule, desperate for the Messiah to come and liberate them from Roman oppression. Jesus tells this parable about the widow petitioning the judge for justice because that is what the Jews are also seeking. Some want more than justice, they want revenge.
Luke gives us a picture of a determined widow who brought an ungodly and unjust judge to his senses. Widows and orphans are often used in the bible as a symbol of vulnerability. This widow may be vulnerable, but she is also persistent and that is what wins the day for her. That picture of a persistent woman is a familiar one, I have heard stories of many women who are persistent, particularly when it comes to issues of justice – especially where their children are concerned. I’m sure that at least some of the Chilean miners wives on receiving the news that it would be Christmas before their husbands would be rescued would have badgered the authorities to get them back sooner!
This parable about the persistence of the widow is an important one, and Jesus uses it to teach us that persistence in prayer is vital. From that point of view I find this parable slightly confusing, because the woman is petitioning for something for herself, but not only that, for something AGAINST someone else. This seems to be contrary to what we are taught about prayer. We generally believe that prayer should be altruistic, concerned with the welfare of others, not ourselves. Praying for ourselves is selfish…or is it?
It can be very easy to get into the habit of praying for things that, actually, we don’t care about very much – because we feel we ought to pray for them. Perhaps we shouldn’t be frightened to ask for the things that we really want – at least then we are being truthful and honest and that is important if we are to build our relationship with God. I think that many of the psalms give us a prime example of what it is to be honest with God, they often involve heartfelt pleas to the Almighty.
We must remember that God cannot be fooled, he knows our deepest desires. When we pray silently, deeply and honestly we can acknowledge our inmost thoughts, the things that perhaps we dare not ever say out loud or tell anyone about. I remember my teachers telling me not to be afraid to ask questions – if you don’t know, ask – it is stupid not to! I am pretty sure that the same is true of prayer – there is no wrong way of praying, except to leave a prayer unprayed. We are after all only human, and we quite often make a mess of things, but we should be persistent with our relationship with God and that includes being honest about our deepest desires. We must pray in all sincerity for the things that we most care about. Our prayers may not always be answered, sometimes it might seem that God completely disregards our petitions, but we must be persistent, we must not give up asking. We must be persistent in all things, in prayer, in faith, in proclaiming our faith. We must never give up.