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Thought for the week - 16 October

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

Prayer is a problem for many of us. And certainly I have great difficulty with the parable of Jesus that we have just heard in our Gospel reading. It seems to give the impression that if we pray long and hard enough we will be given what we are asking for. But experience tells us that this is simply not true. Or is that we are not praying hard enough; or we are praying in the wrong way? Certainly the parable seems to suggest that it is persistence that really matters if we expect our prayers to be answered. But, if we look a bit more carefully at the story perhaps this is not the true meaning of the parable. After all Jesus does tell some very peculiar stories. Think for a moment of the parable of the Unjust Steward – he tells us to be like him! Let’s look a little more carefully at what Luke says. He says that Jesus told this parable of the persistent widow and the unjust judge, “In order that we might pray always and not lose heart.” Then Jesus tells that parable about a nasty and godless judge. He is also a corrupt judge who is quite open to bribery, something the poor widow can’t afford. This poor widow, without political protection, totally powerless, can have little hope before this judge. She does have one thing. She has the ability to pester. Leaving messages on his answering machine, as it were, constantly banging on his door, giving him no peace — she is nothing if not persistent. Finally the judge says to himself, “Even though I could care less about God and can’t stand humanity, I will give this woman what she wants, just to get her out of my hair.” How does this story keep us praying without losing heart? Maybe in this story, Jesus wants us to understand that, even though the world may look broken, unjust, and corrupt, if we keep working at it, if we persistently believe the world to be a basically good place, things will work out. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. If that were the parable’s lesson, this would not be, “Pray always and don’t lose heart,” but merely “Keep at it, be persistent, and things will eventually work out for the best.” If that were the point, then Luke would have said that we should doggedly keep at prayer, harassing God until we get what we want. But Luke says that Jesus told us this parable, “In order that we might pray always without ceasing and not lose heart.” So maybe this is not a story about the rewards of persistent prayer. Maybe it isn’t even a story about prayer. Perhaps rather it is a parable about the character of God. It’s not only about a widow. It’s about a judge. If this corrupt and godless judge will open up his hand to those who seek justice, how much more so will God. Think of prayer, then, not as asking God to do this or that for us, but rather as asking God to be God, to be who God is. When as a child you suffered some injustice, received some blow from life, what did your mother say? She attempted to comfort you. “There, there, she said. “It’s it will be alright.” What did she mean when she said that? She didn’t mean that your pain was silly, for why would she comfort you if you were not in real pain? She did not mean that everything is going to be all right in that moment. You know enough of life to know that often things don’t work out all right. What she meant was that finally, ultimately, in the larger picture, the world is structured in such a way that things will be right. Pain does not last forever. Even the worst set-backs can be integrated into life and you go on. In other words, when she said, “There, there, everything will be all right,” she was making a statement of faith about the ultimate character of the world. This parable is a story, not so much about the effectiveness of prayer, but about the character of God, the trustworthiness of God. The judge revealed his godlessness : God reveals his goodness. Remember those wonderful moments in the bible, particularly those prayers in the Old Testament, where people dare to call God to account. Moses says to God, “Didn’t you say? Didn’t you promise? Remember, you are the one said...” These prayers are not merely pestering God, they are in a way defending God’s character. They are saying, in their speeches to God, “I believe that you are a righteous God whose will is for the good of your children.” Later in this service we will pray, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come,...” First the Lord’s prayer talks about who God is, before it asks God to do anything like give us bread,or forgive us our sin. We wouldn’t even bother God about bread were it not for our abiding conviction that we are God’s creatures and that our Creator cares. In praying we show our confidence that God hears, and cares, and acts. When we pray for something as mundane, as essential as “daily bread” it is making a rather amazing statement of faith in the goodness of God. Prayer is our way of letting God be God, of letting God care about bread, and rain, and peace, and forgiveness. Prayer isn’t primarily asking God for things, even things so basic as bread. Prayer is the courageous determination to let God be God. We pray. And in our prayer God is revealed to us. I recently read the story of a man who recalls, during the depths of his illness, encountering Christ in a vision. Christ turns and says to him in his dream, “Your sins are forgiven.” The man replies to Jesus, “Who said anything about my sins. Will I be healed.?” Christ looks annoyed. “That too” he says as he disappears. So we say, “Take heart,” meaning, “Take courage.” Sometimes its tough to pray because we are afraid to risk the encounter with the true God. And yet we keep praying and that is why we do not lose heart. When we have had a good day we need to share it with someone. How much more so when we have had a bad day. That is why we keep praying and that is why we do not lose heart.

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

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