Friday, October 18, 2013

Pray Like a Widow: On Perseverence in Prayer

What is the connection between the First Reading (cf. Exo 17:8-13) and the Gospel reading (cf. Lk 18:1-8) for this Sunday? They don’t seem very related to me.

Oh, but they are! In the Mass, the First Reading and the Gospel reading will always share a common theme of some kind. It is not always readily apparent what that theme is, but it is there, and I think it is a worthwhile exercise to try and discover what the connection might be.

In the First Reading, we have an account of a battle between the Israelites and the Amalekites. When Moses held his hands in the air, God’s people prevailed. When he lowered his hands, the enemy prevailed.

In the Gospel reading, we have the parable of the widow and the dishonest judge. The widow persisted in her cries to the judge for vindication against her adversary until the judge finally relented and gave her justice.

I think both readings teach us something about being persistent in prayer, about praying continually.

Regarding the First Reading, raising ones hands in the air was a common posture of prayer in biblical times. Earlier in the Book of Exodus, Moses “stretched out his hands to the Lord” to entreat Him to end the 7th plague of thunder and hail (9:33). Solomon “spread forth his hands toward heaven” in his prayer of dedication of the Temple (1 Ki 8:22). Moses had to keep doing this — to keep praying — in order for God’s people to achieve victory. The moment he became weary in praying, the enemy began to win.

In the Gospel reading, Luke himself tells us that the parable is about “the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary” (Lk 18:1). Like the Israelites in the First Reading, the widow too has an adversary, and it was only through her continual petitions to the judge that she was granted justice.

The judge of course is a mere shadow of our great and merciful God. If a judge with no regard for God or man will vindicate a persevering widow, how much more will our Father in heaven come to the aid of his prayerful children? “The Lord is the judge … he will listen to the prayer of one who is wronged … the widow when she pours out her story” (Sirach 35:12-14).

To be unceasing in prayer is a common theme in scripture. This isn’t even Jesus’ only parable on the topic. Earlier in Luke’s Gospel we also have the story of the man who knocked on his friend’s door and did not stop until he received three loaves of bread (cf. 11:5-8). Paul is much more to the point: “Be constant in prayer” (Rom 12:12). “Pray constantly” (1 Thes 5:17).

Pax Christi,
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