In his book, Mere Christianity, C.S.Lewis once wrote:
God knows our situation; He will not judge us as if we had no difficulties to overcome. What matters is the sincerity and perseverance of our will to overcome them. (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 55)
Keeping on keeping on can be difficult. The Christian life is a marathon rather than a sprint, and it can be easy to get discouraged. Each of us needs to be encouraged to persevere, in all things, but especially in prayer. Talking to God, and listening to Him in prayer is a foundation of our faith.
In the first reading from Exodus we see what prayer can achieve. Our life is a struggle, just like the one fought between Israel and the Amalekites. The battle is not simply being fought through violence, instead God’s people are supported by prayer:
‘Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. ’ (Exod 17:11)
Obviously maintaining such a posture is tiring, so Moses needed some help:
‘But Moses’ hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side. So his hands were steady until the going down of the sun.’ (Exod 17:12)
And like the Israelites, we can conquer in spiritual matters by keeping our arms raised in prayer. We can also support others in their prayer. The church is a community where we pray, where we help each other, where we bear each other’s burdens. We pray for others and ourselves, and we, in turn, are prayed for. All around the world, at every moment of every day, we are surrounded and upheld by Christians praying for us.
Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy shows us that prayer is something we need to learn, to believe, and to continue doing. Prayer isn’t always something grand, it can be a bit of a slog, and it takes a lifetime to master. It has to be taught, as St Paul says:
‘Scripture is profitable for … training in righteousness’ (2Tim 3:16)
Teaching the faith, and telling people who Jesus is (the Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary) and what He does (preaches repentance, the forgiveness of sins, dies on the Cross, and rises again, and sends us the Holy Spirit). It is easy to make this into a message which makes few demands upon us, that says, “yes, you’re all absolutely fine, you don’t need to do anything. You don’t need to change”. Being a Christian does make demands of us. We have to do certain things, which we might prefer not to do, and similarly not do things we might rather like to do. As followers of Christ, we all need to reminded about this regularly, to help us stay on track, and to help us to pray well together.
In today’s Gospel Jesus teaches us ‘to pray and not lose heart’ (Lk 18:1). This is important advice. Especially when times are difficult, as they are at present. Not all prayer is answered immediately, or necessarily in the way we might like. Our Lord teaches us with a parable. There is a woman, who has a lawsuit — probably a dispute with a member of her family over inheritance of land and property. There is an unjust judge. He is corrupt and expects a bribe before making a decision. The widow, however, is not in a position to be able to give him money, which is the only way that the judge will decide in her favour, as that is how he operates. So she does what she can, which is to constantly badger the judge. The widow keeps on, and on, and on. She doesn’t give up or give in. She is persistent, and continues to ask for justice. Eventually the judge gets fed up, and he is the one who gives in, wanting a quiet life. The result is that the widow receives what is owed to her. Jesus’ point is that the widow is persistent: she keeps on, and keeps keeping on, so that the judge has to listen to her in the end. The widow’s continued prayers turn wickedness and injustice into mercy and justice. Likewise our prayers bring about change: they change us. That is the point of prayer: not to alter God’s mind, but to transform us, into what God wants us to be. Persistent prayer can, and will change us. This is how saints are made: through prayer.
Jesus’ parable reminds us that God hears prayers. However, He may not always answer them in a way that we might like. Sometimes God says, ‘no’, or ‘not yet’, which might not necessarily be what we want to hear. This teaches us patience and wisdom, which helps us to grow in our faith. Our growth in holiness can be painful and difficult. In the first reading from Exodus, Moses is clearly tired, he has to be held up by Aaron and Hur. In the letter to Timothy, Paul is not advising something popular, but something unpopular, that people will not want to hear.
Today’s Gospel passage ends with the question:
‘Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’ (Lk 18:8)
This is an important question. If we look at recent statistics, then people in this country are becoming less religious. Fewer people have faith in Jesus Christ. We can only hope to change this situation through prayer, which will lead to action. We need to make sure that our own faith is strong and attractive, and be prepared to bear witness to it, regardless of the cost. Our faith can only be attractive when it is real. This is what will encourage people to follow our example, and come to know and love the Lord. Only in this way can real living faith be transferred, so that when Christ comes, as He surely will, He will find faith on earth.
Let us then trust in Christ, knowing that His promises are true. Let us be nourished by His word in Scripture and fed by His Body and Blood in the Eucharist to give us life in Him. Let us love the one who loves us, who gave His life for us, to take away our sins, to heal us and restore us. And healed and restored by Him, let us bear witness to Him, so that the world may come to believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. To whom be ascribed, as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen.