October 19, 2010

Praying Always

     With a mischievous twinkle in his eye, Jesus tells one of his best stories in Luke 18:1-8. It is about a persistent widow and an unrighteous judge who had "neither reverence for God, nor respect for humanity." The widow, with inheritance laws stacked against her, had no other recourse than to make herself a public nuisance by repeatedly demanding justice from this unscrupulous character. We do not know who her adversary was; perhaps a male relative trying to take what little remaining resources she had or a landlord who did not want her to remain in her lodging. Her perseverance paid off. The judge finally relents out of self interest (not reformation of character); "because this woman annoys me, I will give her justice, lest by her continual coming she wear me out" (v. 5, Montgomery translation). The text does not tell if she brought an umbrella or big purse with her with which to threaten the judge, but she surely made an impression. She won by sheer dint of persistence!

     The parable is about prayer, Jesus explains, and this is where it gets difficult. He compares the unjust judge to God who will "see justice done" for the elect who cry to the Lord day and night. Then, we wonder, how much prayer is enough? Can one only get God's attention by repeatedly offering up the same petition? Is God testing the sincerity of the one praying? Jesus instructs his followers to pray always and not lose heart, surely a robust challenge.

     From my own experience I know that my prayers change over time. When I began praying about a certain matter, I thought I knew the solution I wanted God to grant. Continuous prayer about the situation has led me to explore other possible "answers"; but more important, continuous prayer has deepened my relationship with God. And maybe that is the point. Praying always links us to God, and we grow in trust.

     Yet, there may be another, better way to regard the parable. Maybe the unjust judge is not the right analogy for God; rather, the importunate widow may be the better characterization. God cries out to us to enact justice. Too often we "neither reverence God nor respect humanity." We are so curved in upon ourselves (Luther's definition of sin) that we ignore injustice all around us. God seeks to pray through us for the common good. True prayer begins with God, and we are wise to listen to the prayer the Spirit is already welling up within us. It is a cry for the reign of God to be realized through our actions. This prayer joins us to God and to others who wait for us to live justly.

Molly T. Marshall

To learn more about a seminary that seeks to practice justice, visit our website http://www.cbts.edu/

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