Fr. Scott Lewis writes about the need to be persistent in our prayers. Graphic by David Chen

Through persistence, prayers will be heard

  • October 6, 2016

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) Oct. 16 (Exodus 17:8-13; Psalm 121; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:2; Luke 18:1-8)

Good leadership is essential in all human endeavours, whether in war, business or politics. The qualities of a leader can make or break any battle or collective activity. During the battle with the Amalekites, Moses stood on a hill with his lieutenants where he could be easily seen by his troops. His raised arms gave them courage — in their own minds, he was imparting some sort of blessing or power. They felt reassured that God was with them. As long as his arms remained raised, the Israelites prevailed; when Moses’ arms drooped, they began to lose ground.

There was nothing magic about his arms. He acted like a conductor of an orchestra. Musicians are perfectly capable of playing a piece without a conductor, but the presence of one that is inspired can mean the difference between a passable performance and a memorable one. Good leaders inspire and empower others rather than running the entire show themselves.

Being a control freak is not the same as being an effective leader. Today we suffer from a shortage of good leaders. Those in positions of power or leadership often seem more intent on doing and saying what is politically expedient than inspiring others. There is a great need for leaders that can instill hope and courage in people, for fear and the loss of hope are the scourges of our age. Unfortunately, far too many take the path of all demagogues and power seekers. They appeal to the lowest common denominator — fear, resentment, envy and hatred. It works almost every time, but not in a way that is helpful to others. In a metaphorical sense, each one of us can raise our arms like Moses and through word and deed offer courage and hope to others who might be faltering or losing hope. We will truly be doing God’s work.

When the author of 2 Timothy wrote his letter, Scripture meant what we now call the Old Testament. By insisting on the divine inspiration of Scripture, he did not imply inerrancy in historical details or scientific accuracy. He was affirming their continuing validity at a time when some wanted to jettison tradition and reinvent their religion. The point of this letter was that one tradition flows into the other. His emphasis was not on doctrine but on Scripture’s importance for moral and spiritual formation. The best understanding of Scripture is a guide for godly and humane living.

Most of us have at one time or another been outraged at the legal system or a verdict rendered by a judge. Incompetence is usually the culprit, but sometimes it is due to impropriety. How strange that in the Gospel of Luke, a corrupt and lazy judge plays a prominent role in parable about prayer! This was certainly Luke’s style — he took examples from the everyday life of the people that were humourous, albeit in a bitter and sardonic manner. Luke had no use for prayer that was lacklustre and half-hearted, nor for stock phrases recited as if they had magical power. In the Jewish tradition, especially in the psalms, prayer engaged the whole person — body, emotions, thoughts. Prayer came from the heart and guts, with intensity, brutal honesty and fervour — and it was persistent.

In 1 Thessalonians, Paul told his followers to pray without ceasing. This does not mean repeating words 24/7, but letting a prayerful attitude become the backdrop for everything that we do. In the parable, the corrupt and lazy judge finally gave justice to the widow bringing a case before him. He did so not because he was concerned for justice or feared God, but to get the irksome supplicant off his back. Not exactly the most admirable of motives! The point of the story is not that God is like a corrupt judge. In a classical “from the lesser to the greater” type of argument, Luke hammers home one essential point. If the widow’s pleas were finally heard, against all odds, through her unflagging efforts, how much more will believers be heard by their persistence in prayer.

As Moses raised his arms during the battle, we can raise our arms in prayer, taking care not to grow weary or give up. There is too much at stake.