Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time: “Walking in Expectant Prayer”
Genesis 32: 22-30
2 Timothy 3: 14-4: 5
Luke 18: 1-8a
Jesus told His disciples a parable to show that they should pray at all times and not lose heart. Always have faith and confidence in God who answers our prayers. Faith is not magic or applying a formula and getting a result. Faith is not mind over matter or telekinis. Faith is not merely positive thinking and the gauge of faith is not a positive or negative result. What we are encouraged to do is to be persistent in prayer.
Sometimes, we have this formula to be so positive in our thinking and we equate it to faith such that if what we prayed for happens, then, we do have faith. If it doesn’t happen, then, we lack faith. This brought condemnation to people because Christians see other Christians getting their prayers answered and so those who do not get their prayers answered are considered lacking in faith. Sometimes, there are things we experience that we don’t understand. We praise God for answered prayers, but sometimes, we don’t get what we think we need maybe because we don’t fully understand God’s will. It is not a lack of faith to be uncertain. It is not a lack of faith to wrestle with God and to want to find out what His will is. It is not a lack of faith to walk through the valley of the death. It is not a lack of faith to struggle sometimes.
A prayer that is prayed in the Funeral Mass goes, “Help us, in the midst of things we cannot understand, to believe and to trust in the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting.” In other words, we pray, “Help us to be steadfast in our faith,” which we pray in the Creed. Hebrews says that faith is the substance of things we hoped for and the evidence of things not yet seen. Faith is giving substance to that we hope for, although faith is not blind. Faith is having a vision in our minds and in our hearts. We hold on to this, we are motivated by it, and we act accordingly. Faith is envisioning God's will and moving in that direction.
Our steadfastness and joy are proportional to the intensity of vision in our heart and mind. We want to keep it alive. In the Creed, we say, “We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of world to come.” This is what we picture in our minds and so we act accordingly. If we believe in this, then, we walk toward this. We believe for a world that is perfect, free from sin and immorality, so this is our direction and this is what faith is. Hence, faith without works is incomplete. The evidence of faith is zeal and intensity of effort toward fulfillment of the vision and remaining steadfast no matter what.
St. Paul said to Timothy, “Continue in the things which you have learned, which you picture in your mind, which you store in your heart and that you have been convinced of.” In the story of the three Hebrew children, they did not want to bow to the image of the emperor so they were thrown to the fiery furnace. They had faith that God will deliver them so they said, “Even if He doesn’t deliver us, we will still obey Him. We will still only serve Him.” There was uncertainty, but no wavering of faith. There may be uncertainty, but there is certainty in believing and in being steadfast. Do we know that we will always get results when we pray? Ultimately, we know that it will all come out in the will of God.
James 4:13 says, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.’” James continues, “You do not know what your life will be like tomorrow…Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this and that.’” In verse 17, James says, “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.’”
In another letter, St. Paul says, “Anything done without faith is sin.” Faith is having the vision of God’s will, and the zeal to act upon it. “I don’t need to know the outcome to have faith; I just need vision so that I can run with it.” In fact, not seeing it manifest yet is what faith is. It's precisely faith to press on even if we don’t see yet.
In James 5:16, he says, “The effective prayer of a righteous man accomplish much.” Whether we see the effect or not, we push by faith, and we press on because no prayer, no effort is ever wasted. If it according to the will of God and it comes from your heart, it is never wasted.
When I was younger, I used to a go a gym and with few repetitions of an exercise, I would gain muscles. Now, I work out a lot harder than I used to when I was younger, but I get less result. But even then, I know that exercise is good and right for me, and therefore, it is not wasted.
1Corinthians 15:58 says, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, (after learning the hope of the resurrection and that day when we will all be given eternal life and imperishable bodies), be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in work of Lord, knowing your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” Every effort, every offering, every service, every prayer and every ministry matters and they are not in vain. It goes to the building up of the kingdom of God.
Sometimes, we judge small things as small. We don’t understand that God sees differently. Whom did Jesus give the most attention in the temple when they were giving their offering? It was the widow who gave two mites. It counted and it mattered to Jesus because the widow gave from the heart. Nothing was wasted.
In the Old Testament reading, Jacob wrestled with God the whole night. He struggled with God. He was renamed from Jacob, as a schemer, to Israel, which means he who struggles with God. We are the Israel, the people of God. We are a people who struggle with God. We are not a people who have all things figured out. We are not a people who are “know-it-all.” We struggle to know God; we struggle to know His will. Sometimes, we experience a Jacob, wrestling with God lasting through the night when it is dark. We struggle when we are uncertain.
A Church Father has called this the dark night of the soul – a time when it seems like God is distant, not present. In the Footprints in the Sand, when the man saw only one set of footprints during a time of difficulty in his life, it was then that the Lord was carrying him. He thought God abandoned him at that point, but God told him that it was the time He carried him. We experience a time of Jacob, and we think God is far from us. Jacob thought he was struggling with Esau, not God. Sometimes, when we go through a dry spell spiritually, it is when God is nearest to us. It is when God is more present in us and with us. We don’t know because we struggle and wrestle with Him.
Mother Teresa experienced something similar. She had diaries, memoirs, and letters to her priest confessor. She wrote that in her last fifty years of her life, she felt like God was not with her. She felt like she was left alone. Even during her prayer and her ministry, she felt alone. Her ministry flourished and was interviewed by world leaders/politicians and she was interviewed on TV and other venues. Inspite of all these, she felt empty and that God was not near her.
Mother Teresa requested the priest to burn her letters, but the priest said, “No, for these will help a lot of people who will experience the same thing as you are experiencing.” She said in one of her memoirs, “If only one could look into my heart and mind doing my ministry,” people will think she is a hypocrite. She went through a dark night, wrestling with God, but the whole time God was with her.
St. Paul experienced this. He thought he had certainty in his theology and belief that he ordered Christians to be killed because he thought their belief that Jesus was the Messiah was heretic. But St. Paul said that the Old Testament says, “Curse is anyone who hangs on a tree.” He was so certain of what he thought until he had an encounter, a wrestling match with Jesus and his being a heretic-executing inerrant certitude, turned into a “Who are You, Lord?” This is a genuine conviction because this is a genuine encounter with God.
The people of God are those who haven’t all figured out. The people of God are those who are learning, and growing in the knowledge of God. We can’t say that we know God. We sometimes are too overly certain of what we confess. The people of God are those who struggle with Him to know Him. God’s infinity cannot fit into our small brain. God is way bigger than we can fathom. We should acknowledge this. We should come from a thinking of being a know-it-all to saying, “Lord, I need someone to guide me. I don’t know the way. Help me learn from You.”
In our struggling, we may break our hip or lose our sight, but towards the dawn, we will receive our blessing and receive our answer and regain our sight. This is if we are like Jacob or like the widow who is persistent. We tell God, “I will not let You go until I receive my answer to my prayer and until You bless me.” This is what Jesus wants His disciples to learn. Do not let go until they receive the blessing and the answer to their prayers.
St. Peter said in 2Peter3:3-5, “Be steadfast. There will be those who will says, “Where is the promise of God’s coming? Since the foundation of the world, everything remains the same. Nothing changes.” With God a day is a thousand years. God is not slow but He is patient, not wishing that any should perish.
We are not certain because we don’t have God’s perfect will all figured out, but what we do know is that we need to be steadfast. This letter of St. Peter starts and ends with: be steadfast.
The great saints mentioned in Hebrews 11 all died without obtaining the promise. Does this mean that they did not have faith because they did not get the promise? No, this means that they were full of faith because they did not waver until the end. Even if they did not see the promise, they still did not waver in their faith. They persevered, pushed and were faithful.
This is the exact and same point of parable: be steadfast; don't give up on prayer and in our faith. The parable is not about God being like the unjust judge, but about us having the attitude of being persistent like the widow. Not just in prayer, not just in faith, but in acting according to what we pray for, and to what we believe. In due time, in the break of dawn, we will obtain God’s promise, God’s answer, and God’s blessing.
Persevere. Be Steadfast. Press on for this is the way it is in the kingdom of our God.