Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time (October 20, 2016)
Our Gospel begins: “Jesus told his disciples a parable…” The word “parable” is familiar to us. It is from two Greek words. “Para” as in “parallel” means “side by side” and “bal” as in “ballistic” means “throw”. So, parable means that two ideas are thrown down side by side and compared as similar or different. Usually, we hear Jesus speaking about the similarities of the two side by side items.
But today, we hear the difference between the dishonest judge who grudgingly hears this case and our honest father who enthusiastically listens to us. Today’s story is an echo of Chapter 11 where the inhospitable man would not get out of his bed out of compassion to help his friend but did get up so he could get back to sleep. He is completely different from our Father who graciously answers the door when we knock. Jesus used a bit of humor to remind us of the difference between faulted human beings and our gracious Father.
Our understanding of God presupposes two things: first, God already knows our needs so we really cannot give him new information. Second, God is loving, willing and able to meet our needs. The point of prayer of petition is neither an attempt to enlighten God’s mind nor to change God’s will. After all, we pray in the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy will be done.”
So, why pray for things since God already knows what we need? We pray to help ourselves understand. We sometimes find that the answer to our prayer is “no,” not because our Father is mean-spirited, but because God sees the big picture and what we pray for may not good for us. We, sometimes slowly, must come to the realization of what is good for us. Prayer helps. Persistent prayer gradually opens our eyes to what we need and what God wants to give us.
Realizing our real need may include insight into how we ourselves can achieve what we have been praying for. We invite the possibility that God has already given us the talent and the strength to bring about what we pray for without additional intervention by God.
Persistent prayer is not an option to cultivate; it is critical. Unless and until we pray persistently, there are some things that God cannot tell us, cannot provide for us. We need to quiet ourselves, so we can listen - most often, not to audible words from God, but to thoughts that come to us when we speak to him. Remember Elijah in the cave? He did not hear God in the earthquake or the wind or the fire - he heard god in the “gentle whisper”. [Kg.19; 12] God seldom – if ever - shouts.
In global, “big box” needs, it is helpful to realize that we may never see the result of our prayer. Many cathedral builders of old did not live to see future generations worshiping in the cathedrals they were building back in the age of cathedrals. Olive tree growers did not see the fruit of their efforts, for an olive tree is not expected to bear fruit for the first eighty years. The cathedral builders and the olive growers inside each of us need faith and trust. We will use our persistent efforts to do our bit to benefit others yet unborn. Praying through discouraging setbacks gives us clearer vision.
In our persistent prayer we have no guarantee that we always shall see results. Peace and justice, right to life, needed institutional church changes are issues that are examples. Our Lord wants these needs to become realities infinitely more than we. Prayer keeps us going and enables us to see new opportunities for action. We should not lose heart for at the true heart of everything is God’s ever-lasting and loving will.
We are called to live a pattern of both public, Eucharistic prayer and individual prayer to maintain communication at the divine on both the community and the individual levels. Communication is the life-blood of our deepest need, relationship. It is precisely the same with us in relationship with God.