Ex 17:8-13, II Tm 3:14–4:2, Lk 18:1-8
The middle-aged farm couple had no children. As a last resort they put their trust in persistent prayer. And it worked. The wife became pregnant, and at the end of her term, she was delivered of triplets. “Persistent prayer really works, doesn’t it?” she asked her husband. Her husband replied, “Seems to– but I sure as heck didn’t pray for a bumper crop!”
We pray every day and the importance of prayer is emphasized in the Scriptures today. In the first reading (Ex 17:8-13) Moses holding up his arms is an Old Testament gesture for prayer. As long as Moses holds up his arms in prayer everything goes well. When Moses no longer holds up his arms in prayer there are problems.
I just want to focus a bit today on the position of Moses’ hands; Because the position of Moses’ hands in the story is not accidental. Holding one’s hands aloft is the traditional Jewish gesture for prayer. So, Moses’ prayerful position is an indication that our ultimate trust must always be placed in God. When we have to face any kind of evil, when we have to prepare ourselves for any kind of battle, we need to believe that God is with us.
But this is not always easy. There are times where we simply cannot understand why bad things happen to us. There are times where we try over and over again to break a habit of sin, to forgive someone who has hurt us, to become less judgmental and more patient. And yet, despite all our efforts, we do not succeed. We can grow disillusioned. We can tire of believing. Our hands, lifted in prayer, fall.
When this happens to Moses in the story, he calls upon Aaron and Hur to hold up his hands. When Moses’ faith is too weak, he calls upon the strength of others. We need to follow his example. Often, we are not able to believe on our own. When we experience trouble in our marriage, we need to reach out and seek counseling from someone who has wisdom. When we discover that we have an addiction, we have to find a twelve-step program. When we receive a frightening medical diagnosis, we need to depend on family and friends for support. When our faith is too weak, we need to depend upon the faith of others. This is why we have a faith community. We do not always have the strength to keep our hands raised in prayer by ourselves. So at times we must depend upon other believers to hold up our hands for us.
Whenever we come to Mass, we celebrate our connection to one another in a faith community. What we celebrate today is the way that our faith, one with another, gives us the strength to trust and to believe. We do not come here every weekend to pray in the presence of others. We come to pray with others, as part of the same community. We are, in fact, sacraments to one another, signs of the presence of Christ among us. Therefore, never hesitate to ask anyone in our community to pray for your needs.
When we were growing up, children were forbidden for us to keep pestering our parents for something. When father or mother said ‘no’ that was the end of any discussion. Jesus tells us, with God the opposite is true. God doesn’t mind being pestered; on the contrary, he prefers it.
In the male dominated society of Jesus’ day, widows had no significant social standing. It would not have been unusual for the widows to be taken advantage of and for them to have little recourse. The widow’s only recourse to justice was to pester the judge until he got tired of hearing from her. And so she did. By introducing the parable of the unjust judge and the persistent widow in today’s Gospel, Jesus emphasizes the “necessity of praying always and not losing heart.” Constancy in prayer is Faith in action. Jesus presents the widow in today’s Gospel as a model of the trust and tenacity with which his disciples are to pray.
Why does our Lord tell us to pray in that way? He hears every word we say, every thought we have and he knows everything we need. He doesn’t need reminders. One can only speculate why God wants us to pester him. Maybe it’s his way of getting to hear from some of us sometimes. Maybe it’s his way of not letting us forget he is our Father and we depend totally on him. Maybe it’s his way of trying to get us to enter into more of a relationship with him. I suppose we could speculate all day, but one thing is clear, Jesus said don’t quit praying.
Prayer is an act of faith in God and in God’s love. Part of the reason people give up praying too soon is because they don’t believe strongly enough. That’s why I think Jesus said at the end of the gospel: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Will He find in you and in me?