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Sunday Scripture: Pray without giving up

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010
By Father Timothy Schehr
Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Exodus 17:8-13; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:2; Luke 18:1-8
If we want something badly enough we will go to great lengths to get it. In the readings for this Sunday Jesus wants us to be just that way when it comes to prayer. Luke introduces the passage by noting that Jesus told His disciples a parable to emphasize how important it was for them to pray all the time without giving up. We would all probably agree the Lord’s parable is well suited to make this point.

Jesus begins with a portrait of the worst kind of judge imaginable. This judge, as Jesus explains, does not fear God and has no respect for any of God’s people. We might well wonder how someone with such a barbarous character ever became a judge in the first place. But that’s another story. Jesus wants His disciples to be absolutely shocked by the judge. Could anyone hope to get a fair hearing from such a judge or even get this judge’s attention for that matter?
Jesus has another shock for His listeners when He introduces a widow into the parable. Widows were among the most vulnerable members of society. It seems this woman is no match for the iron judge she must confront. But we should remember that in the Bible widows generally serve as models of faith since they must rely on God. Readers might recall the widow of Zarephath in the days of Elijah (1 Kings 17), or the widow who contributed all she had to the temple treasury (Luke 21:1-3), or the widow, Anna, who prayed constantly in the temple (Luke 2:37).
The widow in this parable is determined to get a just hearing, even from the worst judge imaginable. Jesus describes how she never surrendered her position and eventually wore down this judge who had no respect for anyone. In time she moves even him to render a just decision for her. It is a remarkable feat and demonstrates the value of persistence.
With the widow’s victory over the dishonest judge fresh in their minds, Jesus can now drive home for His disciples the point of His parable. God is the exact opposite of the judge the widow had to appeal to. God is just and ready to extend mercy and compassion to all those who appeal to the court of heaven. So then why would any of the Lord’s disciples hesitate to pray to God all the time to give them the strength to make good progress along the journey of faith? Have they any doubt that God will deliver a just decision for them, if they are so committed to doing God’s will on earth? Jesus concludes by having them ponder the question whether the Son of Man will find faith on the earth in spite of God’s readiness to assist them in every way.
Prayer is the theme of the first reading, too. The Israelites must defend themselves from an enemy determined to block their progress towards the Promised Land. Naturally the people fear the worst. But Moses encourages them with the assurance that he will be standing on a high hill with the staff of God extended towards heaven to secure God’s intervention on their behalf. As long as the people see that staff held high they are confident. But Moses is well over 80 years old. He grows tired and the staff begins to lower. Aaron and Hur step up to offer their help. They know how important it is for Moses to pray for them. In the second reading Paul knows Timothy could use a little spiritual help too. He tells his trusted associate to be persistent in his proclamation of the Gospel.  
Father Schehr is a faculty member at the Athenaeum of Ohio.
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