In the movie “Aladdin” (The animated one), there is a scene when the genie tries to advise Aladdin how to relate to the princess. The genie turns into a bee and says, in a buzzing kind of voice, “Beeee yourself.” Even though the word “persistent” is only used in our second reading for Sunday, all three Scripture readings tell us to “Be persistent.”
In our Gospel reading (Luke 18:1-8), Jesus tells a parable about a persistent widow and a dishonest judge. The widow is persistent in getting justice in her case, and although the judge neither fears God nor respects anyone, he finally gives in to her demands. And so Jesus says: “Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says. Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night? Will he be slow to answer them? I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily. But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
Jesus is calling us to be persistent in prayer, but it’s not about having to nag God to give us what we want. I came across this quote about prayer that speaks to this. It’s from the book Amazing Grace by Kathleen Norris: “Prayer is not asking for what you think you want, but asking to be changed in ways you can’t imagine.” God knows what we need. Prayer is opening ourselves more and more to God’s love and God’s will. Sometimes, though, we may still feel that we need to nag God, because it seems to us that God is slow to answer our prayers, and justice for us is not being done for us “speedily.”
But even in those cases, we are called to put our trust in God; to trust that God will answer our prayers in God’s time and in God’s way. We need to be open so that we can recognize when God answers our prayers. We are also called to be open to do what God wants us to do. As St. Paul tells Timothy in our second reading from 2 Timothy (3:14 – 4:2): “I charge you, … to proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient …” We are to share the Good News not only by our words, but by what we do and how we relate to others. We may be called to be like Aaron and Hur, in our first reading from Exodus (17:8-13), who had to help Moses keep his hands up so that the Israelites could be victorious in battle against the Amalekites. We know how wearying it can be when it seems we have to keep fighting for what is right, or just to keep going in times of adversity. Don’t we appreciate it when God answers our prayers by sending someone to help us? What if God wants to send us to someone else?
When we persist in prayer and opening ourselves up to God, we find we can have the persistence of the widow in working for justice, not only for ourselves but for others. We find we can have the strength to help others persevere I hope and love. And we find that we have the faith to hear God speak to us through the events and people in our lives. We find that we have the faith to recognize when God answers our prayers.
May we be persistent.
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P., is a member of the Passionist Community in Birmingham, Alabama.