“The Goal of Being Ever Prayerful”
October 16, 2016, 29th Sunday in OT
Genesis 32: 22 – 31/Psalm 121/2 Timothy 3: 14 - 4: 5/Luke 18: 1 - 8a
Bishop Ariel Cornelio P. Santos
Do you pray? If you pray, what do you pray for? What should you be praying for? The gospel today is taken out of Luke 18, but in Luke 17, Jesus was asked when the kingdom of God was coming. Jesus said that the kingdom of God is within you. His instruction is for us to pray the kingdom of God to come and for His will to be done. If the kingdom of God is within us already, why ask for it come? What did Jesus mean, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done?”
I believe that Jesus meant that the kingdom of God in us will prosper, it will thrive, and it would multiply. It would be so abundant in us that it overflows and spreads to others. Eventually, the kingdom of God spreads and the glory of the Lord covers the earth as the water covers the sea.
The purpose of the parable is to show that at all times we ought to pray and not lose heart. St. Paul said to pray without ceasing. The gospel is not just about praying, but it is equally about persevering in prayer. Prayer is not just the traditional way of praying. It is the Kingdom in us, wanting this Kingdom to come and to prosper. If we have this desire, we are praying even if we are not folding our hands or kneeling or bowing our heads. It is persevering in that desire, that prayer for God’s kingdom to come.
Why then do we pray if God is All-knowing? If God knows our needs and He knows what is to happen, why do we need to pray? I ask you, “Why do teachers ask their students questions when they know the answers?” Is it for the information of the teachers for them to learn or is it for the student’s sake? It is an exercise; it is for the student’s learning and growth.
Praying not just shapes our believing, but it also renews our minds so we may know and prove the will of God – that which is good, well-pleasing and perfect. Eventually, we will get the answer right to the question. Prayer trains us to realize and to know the will of God. The will of God is why we pray!
Many times, we pray for “my will to be done” and “my kingdom to come and to be built.” No, the will of God is why we pray, but His will includes our good and thus, the good of His kingdom. When God’s citizens are in good shape, then, His kingdom flourishes. Like students, we sometimes give the wrong answers, but eventually, we get it right. In our prayers, we ask for what are not necessarily the right things. It is not necessarily beneficial for ourselves and for the kingdom of God, but eventually, we will know the will of God, which is again what is good and what is well pleasing to Him and what is perfect. More and more, we will learn to trust Him more, but we need to be persistent. This is what is involved in the process.
In Luke 11:5, it is the parable about a friend who knocked at his friend’s house at midnight. The friend owner, who was already in bed, said that his whole family was already in bed and has settled and he said, “I won’t give you what you need. It is late!” Because of the friend’s persistence, the owner had to get up and he gives what his friend needs. Is the message of this saying to us that this is how God feels when we pester Him with our needs? No, what is being emphasized here is persistence. Persistence gives you the answer.
The Scriptures says, “Even you sinners, who know how to give good gifts to your children, if they ask for fish, you won’t give them a snake. If they ask for an egg, you won’t give them a scorpion.” Jesus said, “If you, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more your Father in heaven whose nature is love?” How much more than the unrighteous judge would God be considerate? He is a God of love, and what He wants from us is our good. He wants to develop in us perseverance, and He wants to train us so that we would grow in the knowledge of Him and of His perfect will.
Sometimes, we say, “I have been persistent, so why is still there no answer?” Has it ever occurred to us that maybe we have been asking for a snake, but God wants to give us fish? Maybe, we have been asking for a scorpion, but God wants to give us an egg. God is wiser than us and He knows what is best for us. In His wisdom and His desire to give us good, He withholds the bad for the best, and we interpret it as God not answering our prayers. We sometimes ask why He is late in answering. God knows the right time. Jesus said that God will not delay, but He will bring about justice quickly for His elect and for those He loves.
We pray for the will of God to be done and His kingdom come. St. John Chrysostom says, “Fulfill now, O Lord, the desires and petitions of Thy servants as may be best for us, granting us in this world knowledge of Thy truth, and in the world to come, life everlasting.” This prayer is acknowledging that God knows best and we don’t. In our limited understanding, we may have prayed for something that is harmful to us, but God in His wisdom knows something better is for us. It trains us to be trusting and to be patient in waiting for the Lord who knows best.
St. Paul, in 2Timothy, instructs Timothy to continue to persevere, to endure in the things he has learned. “With great (all) patience, preach, reprove, rebuke, exhort, and instruct.” This patience is for whom? St. Paul says to preach with great patience because time will come when people will have hardened hearts. People will be difficult to get along with. People will not listen to sound doctrine and the truth, and they will choose for themselves preachers who will tickle their ears. This is the reason we need to have great patience and be persistent.
The mercy of the Lord is everlasting and ours should be, too. We are to be ready in season and out. At
all times, we persevere and not lose heart, even if we are dealing with difficult people. The reason we think people are difficult to deal with is because they are just like us. Pray for them without ceasing. Prayer is an attitude, the desire for the Kingdom, which is in us, and which is to prosper and to spread.
In Genesis 32, Jacob was wrestling with God. Jacob was very anxious. He was afraid and greatly distressed. He was afraid of facing his brother Esau because they had a fight. He trusted God and prayed and he wrestled with God until he got the answer from Him. He also acted on his reconciliation with his brother.
Can we imagine God telling us to stop persevering in praying? This will be music to our ears! When we are afraid and distressed, do we face what we need to face or do we give up and walk away from it? The sad thing is that we live in the midst of a society that has developed the culture of divorce and this has crept into the Church. It causes divorce, division, and dissensions because we don't apply great patience. We don’t treat people with great patience and perseverance. Our lack of patience and self-love outweigh our compassion for others and how much we value relationship. This is not so among us in the kingdom of God. If we pray for the kingdom of God, we will apply perseverance and great patience in dealing with these things.
In the gospel, the widow asked the judge for legal protection. My Bible says, “Do me justice. Give me justice.” She did not ask vengeance on her opponent; she asked justice for herself. If you are like me, sometimes when we sin, we pray for God’s mercy that is, “Lord, forgive me for my sin and don’t give me what I deserve.” When others sin, especially against us, we pray for justice for them, that is, “They sinned; give them what they deserve.” Let us turn it around by praying justice for ourselves and mercy for our offender. We ask justice for ourselves because something has been stolen or taken from us. Somebody destroyed something that we owned or involves ourselves. This is justice. At the same time, we pray that God forgives our offender and restore him, remembering that we all once were sinners. The truth of the matter is that we are still all sinners.
Read Ephesians 2:2,3,11,13; Ephesian 5:8; Colossians 1:21. These Scriptures remind us that we were formerly sinners; God forgave us. He did not listen to prayers of people, if ever, who were praying for justice and vengeance for us. He actually restored us and He included us in the common wealth of Israel and to His household. This is justice because our God is justly merciful and mercifully just. Both His justice and His mercy are restorative. He restores what has been taken from us. He restores the sinner and the offender back to goodness. Remember that we were once like them. We were once lost and now, we are found. We were blind, but now, we can see.
In Luke 7, it is about Jesus healing the sick, raising the dead, restoring the sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf and the ability to walk for the lame, and the poor hearing the good news. At that time, John sent disciples to Jesus to ask Him, “Are You the expected One or should we wait for somebody else? Jesus told them, “This is what you tell John: the blind see; the lame walk; the deaf hear; the dead are raised to life; and the poor hear the good news. What do you think, am I the expected One or not? What does the Old Testament say? Who do you wait for?” The Pharisees did not accept Jesus’ teachings and His miracles. It was the sinners and the tax collectors who accepted what Luke chapter seven says is God’s justice.
What is God’s justice? It is the blind seeing; the lame walking; the deaf hearing; the dead being raised to life. In the eyes of the Pharisees who rejected God’s justice, the reason people were sick was because they had sin in their lives. The reason people were leprous was because they have grave sin in their lives and leprosy was a grave consequence of life. The Pharisees thought that the reason we die is because we sin; the sting of death is sin; and so, people get what they deserve. The Pharisees brought the adulterous woman to be stoned and this is justice to them.
God’s justice is, “He created man very good.” Somebody, with an evil intention, destroyed the goodness that was created in man. The enemy destroyed this creation, introduced sin and death was the consequence. God’s justice is to restore that which was broken or marred. In the eyes of the religious, one who sins needs to face the consequences. We do face the consequence when we continually, willfully and stubbornly sin. God intends the consequences for restoration not for punishment. This is God’s justice and this is what we pray for when we say, “Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done.” God’s justice is deliverance from oppression, and sin and death, and restoration to wholeness.
This is the truth of our creation. This is the goodness of our creation. This is what God is doing: restoring all things, including your offender. It fact, it includes us who offends somebody. We are all sinners and God is in the business of restoring us. This is what the kingdom of God is all about. This is the will of God. This is what we need to persevere and to pray for because this is the way it is in the kingdom of our God.