This weekend I had the opportunity to preach again at St. Augustine's in Brighton, so I thought I'd share with you my homily from October 20th's readings.
Let's start with the Gospel. Jesus gives a short parable about a judge and widow. Jesus describes the judge as "a judge in a certain town." That description means he's a pretty generic character; Jesus isn't talking about a specific person. A judge like this was a town judge who settled local disputes, so he was a decently important person in his area. But this judge is revealed to be pretty selfish, because he "neither fears God nor respects men." If love doesn't motivate you to do good, then at least fear and respect should. If you don't even have that, like this judge, then there's no really no kindness in you at all.
And then there is the widow. Throughout the Bible, the widow is the image, the icon, of the most helpless in society, and Judaic law called for special care for widows because they had no way of taking care of themselves. She begs for a just judgment from the selfish judge, but he refuses even though it wouldn't have cost him anything.
As we follow this short story, theres even a bit of comedy if we know where to find it. It should make you laugh a little bit that this mean old judge, who neither fears God nor respects man, actually does the right thing because when faced with this helpless old woman, because he is afraid of her hitting him. One translation I read said he's afraid of her giving him a black eye! He's afraid of getting hurt by the little old woman!
This selfish judge gives the widow what she deserves because of her persistence, and then the point of the story becomes clear for us. If a selfish man like this judge eventually gives justice, how much quicker will God the Father give justice? Be persistent in asking for what you need. God the Father is the most unselfish judge and giver there is, so ask him for what you need. That's the point that Jesus draws from this parable! He tells us that his Father will do great things. He 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." Jesus is guaranteeing us that justice will be done for us by God, we just have to be persistent like this widow.
But then at the end there's a twist. In the very last line of today's reading Jesus does something a bit unexpected, and it deserves our attention. The last thing Jesus says to us in this Gospel passage is, "But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” So what is this about? Here at the end of a lesson about perseverance in prayer, he throws in this line about having faith. What he is doing, it seems to me, is connecting perseverance in prayer with faith. If you have faith, you are persistent in asking for what you need from God. Our faith gives us the confidence to ask for whatever we need from God.
But when I talk about asking for what I need for God, I'm talking about what I really need, not what I think I need. Sometimes I really think I need a Red Ryder BB gun, but God promptly reminds me that "No, Brian, you'd shoot your eye out." No, even more than I need a Red Ryder BB gun, I need mercy, I need love, and I need salvation. These are the things I really need from God. He could give me a Red Ryder BB gun, and he may, but that's not what I really need.
And yet we all know that sometimes we ask for really big things from God and we don't get them. We ask for things like health and safety for our loved ones, and it still doesn't happen. When things like this happen, it takes monumental faith to believe that when God doesn't grant health or safety, he still loves and he still has mercy, and those remain far more important. Again, when God doesn't give things we need from our human perspective, like health for loved ones, we have to have faith that he is giving the things even more important than that.
So this faith, which is often very difficult, cannot be just a thought or feeling. If we have faith that shows itself in persevering prayer, this faith also has to show itself in action, and this is what Saint Paul teaches us in his letter to Timothy. We've been hearing from this letter in our second reading for a couple weeks now, and today he gives Timothy some solid advice about how faith and perseverance should manifest themselves in his life. Primarily he's teaching Timothy how useful the Scriptures are to him. We can use just the end of this reading to understand what Paul is getting at and how it applies to us. At the end of the reading he says "Proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching." So now, along with being persistent to God in our prayer, Paul tells us to be persistent in our proclamation of Jesus Christ. Paul understands human weakness so he says "be persistent whether convenient or inconvenient."
When we proclaim the word, when we proclaim Jesus, it should be by our words and our actions. Our actions- living a good Christian life, keeping the commandments, loving others-provides a necessary foundation. But then sometimes we have to point to Jesus by name and say that he's the one! He's the motivating factor behind everything I do! He's the one who saves me from my sins!
That's never convenient, because the world doesn't want to hear it. But that's what we are called to do. We are called to be persistent in our prayer to God, and in our proclamation of his good deeds to the world. Persistence gets tiring, so we have to turn to the holy Eucharist, where God perseveres in his love for us far more than we could ever persevere in our love of him.