The Beauty of Prayer

 

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus journeys toward Jerusalem. On the way, he senses the looming adversity it harbors for him and his disciples. To strengthen his followers, he tells them a little story with a simple point. We shouldn’t let the details distract us from Luke’s introduction to it. He plainly states the purpose of Jesus’ story. “Jesus told his disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.”

Unless we are careful, we are likely to assume that Jesus wants us to see prayer as boiling down to persuasion! But the point of his story is not for us to try to persuade God about the rightness of our needs! The point is for us to be as persevering in prayer as was the woman who kept pestering the unjust judge. We are to persevere in prayer precisely so that God can persuade us about the rightness of God’s will. Jesus commends the example of the woman’s persistence, not her insistence on getting her way. Discerning that God wants us to be attentive and faithful, we then see that our relationship with God is the real issue, not our needs. If even an unjust judge will respond to persistence, how much more will our righteous God vindicate Israel’s faithful, who seek him?

Just as children do with their parents, we usually take our relationship with our Father in heaven for granted. At the same time we are absorbed with our needs and wants. Yet, we can also choose to be intentional about our relationship with God, and trust God’s Providence for our needs. Well, this is hard to do!

Here we can connect with Jacob’s experience, as recorded in Genesis 32. Jacob’s life has been greatly disrupted. He is filled with unease about meeting his brother Esau, whom he has wronged. Jacob worries for himself and his future, about his kids and his possessions. He wrestles with anxiety. During a dark night, he discovers he is wrestling with more than worry – he is wrestling with God! And so, he is also wrestling with himself.

This is the key: wrestling with God is usually the result of resisting God, and of resisting God’s will. Wrestling with God can leave us with the spiritual equivalent of a limp. As with Jacob, this ‘limp’ results from our stubbornness and hard-heartedness. In spite of this, God truly wants everyone to receive divine blessing, whether it’s Jacob and Esau, or all of us. But, sometimes, and maybe even often, we get in the way!

At the very least, as Jacob discovered, prayer is about hanging on to God, no matter what… ~ even while we are asking God questions, and even while we are contending with God’s will for us. It really is ok to tell God we are angry or sad, or disappointed or depressed. And it really is ok to tell God that we blame God for these things! The point is to tell God, instead of telling our friends or Facebook. By asking God, or honestly telling God, we engage with the Spirit’s presence. Then, like Jacob, we are in the best position to receive a divine blessing. It helps us see that prayer has little to do with changing God’s will. Instead, prayer has everything to do with God changing our will. For God always seeks to change our will so that it comes into accord with God’s great love for us.

 

The image above is of James Tissot’s painting, Jacob Wrestles With an Angel. This post is based on my homily for Sunday, October 20, 2019, which can be accessed by clicking hereOther homilies of mine may be accessed by clicking here. The Revised Common Lectionary, which specifies the readings for Sundays and other Holy Days, can be accessed by clicking here.

One comment

  1. Dear Sir,
    I have always interpreted the story as you have, but hadn’t connected it so closely with Jacob’s encounter with the Divine Wrestler. Thank you for pointing that out.

    As an aside, I heard from a professor that–considering source and form criticism, etc.–that some of her students looked at the parable itself and thought that the widow herself represents the persistence of God/Jesus in acting as advocate for his people (before the Accuser, perhaps?). I don’t know what exactly to think about this view but, as many before me have done, comparing God to an unjust judge is hard to take, too.

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