Saturday, October 20, 2007

Pray Always

21 October 2007 – Proper 24C * Luke 18:1-8

The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, MD

“Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.”

It is easy to lose heart. There always seems to be so much going wrong all at once – in the world, in the nation, in the church, in our families and in our own lives. Threats seem to abound, danger seems afoot, and even when we try to get away, forget about things and go on vacation, there is the security search of our bags and our person to remind us that the world is a scary place. Even the earth, we are told, is in danger of getting dangerously warm, wreaking havoc for all God’s living creatures, most especially humans. Without having to invent new conflicts, one would think the facts of nuclear proliferation and global warming might be cause enough to lose heart!

It is even easier to forget about our need to pray always. I have always wondered just what Saint Paul was getting at when he instructs the church in Thessolonika to “pray without ceasing.”(1 Thess 5: 17) Do Paul and Jesus want us to detach from this world and the life we live, become hermit-monks, and do nothing but pray day and night? Or, as we explored earlier this summer, do we simply misunderstand what it means to pray?

For at one dimension, prayer is what we call our communication with God – in which case Jesus and Paul might be saying, “Keep the lines of communication open at all times and in all places and in every situation and circumstance in which you find yourselves.” Which gets at the heart of at least one misunderstanding about prayer - that it relies on our saying something, or at least thinking something. Keeping lines of communication open, truly open, means to be attentive and listening at all times – and in the case of prayer, that would mean listening for what new thing God in Christ might be saying to us when we least expect it.

When one combines this need to be always attentive and listening for God’s new Word with Jesus’ urging us not to lose heart, what appears to be at stake here is sustaining the virtue of Hope in a world that rarely provides evidence that such hope is justified. This is perhaps our primary task as a community of Christians – to sustain and offer hope to one another and to those, who like the poor widow in our parable, come to us seeking a more just world.

What Saint Benedict would call “the ears of our heart” ought to prick up at the mention of the word “widow.” For Widow in the Bible represents a class of people without resources, without power, and even with little access to the powerful, as the widow in our story soon finds out. She has no husband, and in those days that meant no inheritance, which meant she had little or nothing. Widows were dependent on the gleanings left in the fields after the harvest. And now, it seems, someone is taking further advantage of her.

The Judge is meant to be impartial – and judges in ancient Israel were charged to hear out
”the small and the great alike” (Deut 1:17). Yet, our judge, we are told, feels accountable to no one – neither God nor people. Here he is shirking his duty by refusing to hear the widow’s case. After all, she is in no position to bribe him to take her case. All she wants is what is just.

Her persistence in faith and pleading her case leads the judge to do the right thing for the wrong reason – he just wants to be done with her. After all, she is “bothering” him – which literally means to give someone a “black eye.” That is, he is losing face in the community the longer she hangs around. Indeed, he not only hears her case, but grants her what just what she seeks – justice.

This story has several important dimensions of meaning. On the surface is the promise of ultimate justice for those who persist in faith – that is, those who sustain a virtue of hope against all odds, and all evidence to the contrary. Faith is trust in God’s divine Justice.

There is also what has been called the discontinuity of faith – that is we can put our faith in persons like this judge, or we can put our faith in God. It is the discontinuity between unjust judges (kings, politicians, CEOs, just fill in the blank) and God that makes divine justice so much more trustworthy. Those who pray to a loving and just God should never give up – never lose heart. What we are meant to see is if this judge can be moved, how much more will a loving God of justice be moved by our persistent prayer?

Another dimension, of course, and central to the entire Gospel of Jesus Christ, is that of never giving up the cause of justice, no matter who has the power. Those who are expected to live on left-overs can have a better life. One of the ways the Bible envisions a more just society is for those who have to give of their first-fruits, not from the left-overs or after-market, after-taxes, profit. The tithe always comes from the first-fruits, and was seen as a way of providing more than the gleanings of the field for those who were without resources - our contributions to the work of God’s kingdom make all the difference.

Finally, the parable instructs us to know that Prayer is not the opposite of action – prayer is faith in action. The widow persists in living out her faith and her hope by actively confronting the judge over and over and over again. One can easily lose faith, lose hope, and lose heart in such situations. Those of us who confess faith in a God of Justice, Mercy and Love “must surely believe in the great discontinuity between God and us, what is and what will be,” writes David Jacobson. “For it is in our crying, our tears, and our prayers, that the ground of our hope is revealed. It is faith, the very gift that empowers us to keep on keepin’ on. Martin Luther King, Jr, put the view of such divinely wrought, faith-full, prayer-full action rather nicely: ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’” (Jacobson in New Proclamation:Year C – Easter through Christ the King [Fortress, Minneapolis:2006], p.237)

Our Prayers, our Actions, and our pledges commit us to be those people who sustain the virtues of Hope and Justice in a world that rarely provides evidence that such hope is justified. The Church, the Body of Christ, is called upon to be such a community of Prayer, Action, Hope and Justice for all people. The temptation is to live a life of cocky self-assurance like the judge. The call from Christ is to be as persistent as the widow in prayer and action to keep the needs for Hope and Justice alive in all that we do, all that we say, and all that we give for the spread of the kingdom of God. Amen.

No comments:

Post a Comment