October 20, 2019
XXIX Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
In the Gospel account of Luke, the theme of prayer frequently occurs, whether it refers to Jesus withdrawing to pray, to His disciples who ask Jesus to teach them to pray, or to when He invites them to pray.
Two parables, in a special way, refer to prayer: one which we have heard today, and the other that’s found in Chapter 11 (Lk 11:5-8).
A type of paradox occurs in both: in Luke 11 we find a man who, on seeing his friend come to his home at night, has no food to offer him. He therefore asks another friend insistently for something to eat. The latter, won over more by the insistence of his friend than by his generosity, gets up to give him something.
In today’s Gospel the protagonist is an unjust judge who, annoyed by the persistence of a widow who continually pesters him, decides to do her justice. But in both parables, those who finally, almost begrudgingly, do what they were asked to do are taken as “negative” examples, to show that the Father, unlike the judge and the friend, does not need to be prayed to with insistence because He will give good things to His children (Lk 11:9-12) and will give at once (Lk 18:7).
And so, we must deduce that prayer, according to Jesus’ teaching, must be insistent, but that the hearing of the prayer does not depend on the insistence of the one praying.
So then, why the need to insist on prayer?
What Jesus wants us to understand is that the invitation to pray at length is not to convince the Father to give us something: God is completely free and good. Jesus, rather, focuses on “our part”, that of those who pray. He basically tells us that we need to learn to ask, that is, to live in an attitude of constant expectation, need, and dependence. These are attitudes that characterize the humble, precisely that of the widow, or the friend who has nothing at home to offer others.
If the Father is One who always gives, man is he who always receives: that is the insistence to which we are called, which does not consist so much in endlessly repeating the same request, but in remaining always with trust, with an insistent, unlimited trust before God.
This, then, happens within the scandal of life, which is never “just”. Life, in fact, continually puts before us the scandal of evil, innocent suffering, injustice. In the face of all this, there are two possibilities. Either rebel, giving into the temptation to accuse God for all the evil that we see before us or pray to have eyes capable of discerning the completely original way that God has chosen to “do justice” (Lk 18:7). It is the way of the Paschal Mystery.
In this way, the scandal of injustice becomes precisely the place where prayer arises, and where to learn and see how God answers. He does not answer according to human logic, as we’ve seen many times throughout the course of reading the Gospel of Luke, and as we will see at the end of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, where every human prayer will be heard and answered.
Therefore, if the judge and the friend decide to indulge their interlocutors to be freed from the annoyance they comport, it is exactly the opposite for God, for the Father: God answers not to free Himself from relationship with us, but to remain there, because He is moved in the face of our pain, and He listens to our prayer that asks not to be abandoned.
The duty of insistence, of trust is given to man. That is the faith that Jesus would like to find when He returns to earth, as He asks in the last verse of today’s Gospel (Lk 18:8). Will He find people who know how to be needy, how to wait, how to ask; people that know how to trust and entrust themselves to the Good Father?