Reflections for the Week of October 16, 2016 Twenty-second after Pentecost

Gospel: Luke 18.1-8. This is Jesus’ parable of the persistent widow who kept asking the unjust judge for justice until he finally in desperation gave in and answered her request. This parable, like the one we looked at recently about the unjust steward (Lk 16.1-9), may confuse us. In this case the question arises because we assume it represents prayer and the person representing God is represented as unrighteous and unsympathetic. How can such a person represent God in a parable of our Lord? But the point of the parable, of course, is the persistence of the widow which is so great that even an unrighteous judge (the very opposite of our God) finally gives in. The point, of course, is how much more our God who is loving and sympathetic will answer our prayers. Many parables have just one point and the other suggestive points must be ignored as irrelevant. So let us focus on the poor widow’s persistence and importunity as the lesson we should learn from this parable about prayer.

It is clear that God’s promises to us may take a long time to be realized. The first instance that comes to mind is the promise of the Lord’s return. He promised this about two thousand years ago! Have we misunderstood the promise? in Mt 24 Jesus seems to be promising His return within that generation (v.24), but the timing of that promise probably refers to the destruction of the temple (70 AD) and perhaps the coming of the spirit on Pentecost after the resurrection and ascension. In v. 44 he says, “The Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” But another long delayed promise is the coming of the Messiah who was promised in Is 9.7, 11.1-5; Jer 33.14-25; Mic 5.2-5. But our own experience is that prayers may not be answered for long periods. The parable is telling us not to give up as long as a favorable outcome is possible. This would include prayers for the gift of faith for family and friends. It would not include the gift of healing when the person we are praying for dies (their healing has been consummated if they are believers). But long periods of unanswered prayer act as a test of our faith, and persistent prayer may strengthen our faith. We become “prayer warriors” by persistence. Our faith grows. Being present to the Lord in prayer changes us. He may give us insight into His purposes that are different from our prayer. We must pray, as Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane, with humility, knowing that God’s purposes may be different from ours, and we trust that His love for us and His omniscience and omnipotence assure us that He intends the best for us even though we may not be able to imagine it or comprehend it. Our faith is tested and challenged, and as with an athlete in training, our faith grows stronger as we wait on the Lord. Jesus tells us to pray in His name (Jn 16.23, 24) which means to pray for His will to be done. Praying in His name is to pray for His will. This is, of course, what we want since His will is always for our good. We trust Him and His love for us and His beneficence under all circumstances even when this may mean that we don’t receive what we want. We know that our prayers are always answered even though at times the answer may be “No.” In retrospect we may well be grateful that He gives us what He knows to be best rather than what we want. Our faith is strengthened by accepting His will rather than insisting on our own.

Memory Verse: Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. GOD, the Lord, is my strength; He makes my feet like the deer’s; He makes me tread on my high places. (Hab 3.17-19).

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