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Bible Reflections View Comments

The Power of Persistent Prayer
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, October 20, 2013
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One of my cattle dog’s self-appointed jobs seems to be to let me know when she and the other dogs are ready to come in from outside, especially if it’s time for them to eat. She gives a short, sharp bark, every 3-5 seconds. She can keep this up indefinitely. It’s the only time she uses that particular bark. I can ignore it only for so long, and then I stop what I’m doing and let them in.

We all know what it’s like to be worn down by persistent pestering. So it is with the parable Jesus tells in today’s Gospel. The widow seeking justice finally wears down an admittedly hardened judge with her persistence.

We think of giving in to requests from others as a sign of weakness, something we ought to outgrow. Dog trainers would tell me that when I give in to Braith’s request to come in, she’s training me. On the other hand, I know that the dogs depend on me for their care.

Jesus seems to be reminding us that it’s OK to ask for what we need. Part of having faith means being willing to throw our cares, our needs, our desires on God simply because we believe we deserve what we seek and that our gracious God wants to give it to us. Part of growing up means not that we no longer have needs, but that we recognize which of our needs are truly worthy of being met. We learn to distinguish between whims and true needs. And God will be patient with us while we learn this lesson.

In the reading from Exodus, we see Moses praying for the victory of the Israelites over the Amalekites. The writer tells us that as long as Moses had his hands raised in prayer, even if that meant someone else was holding up his arms, the battle went in favor of the Israelites. This seems to be an interpretation by the early Scripture writers of the way God’s presence in their midst furthered the fortunes of the Chosen People.

We know that prayers and other religious rituals are not magic. Persistence and perseverance are strong virtues. The widow in today’s Gospel is seeking justice. This isn’t a whim or a selfish desire on her part that keeps her knocking at the judge’s door. She believes in the rightness of her cause. And she’s not going to be dissuaded if her first attempt doesn’t get a response.

Part of Jesus’s message in this story is that we give up too quickly. The introduction to the parable talks about “the necessity for the disciples to pray always without becoming weary.” Jesus closes his story with the enigmatic comment: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Faith is trusting that God wants what’s best for us. That trust will keep us asking for what we need. It will give us the strength to persist in our belief even when we’re tired, even when we doubt, even when we wonder whether our cause is worthwhile. And, like the people who held Moses’s arms and found him a rock to sit on, other people will join us in our quest for justice, for peace, for God’s gracious answer to our prayers. Magic? No. This is the power of love, the power of prayer, the power of true faith.

Persistent prayer of petition reminds us that we need to be focused, we need one another, and we need God. When our need is great, when our cause is just, we can depend on God to come through for us, even if it takes all night, even if it takes a lifetime.


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First Martyrs of the Church of Rome: There were Christians in Rome within a dozen or so years after the death of Jesus, though they were not the converts of the “Apostle of the Gentiles” (Romans 15:20). Paul had not yet visited them at the time he wrote his great letter in 57-58 A.D.. 
<p>There was a large Jewish population in Rome. Probably as a result of controversy between Jews and Jewish Christians, the Emperor Claudius expelled all Jews from Rome in 49-50 A.D. Suetonius the historian says that the expulsion was due to disturbances in the city “caused by the certain Chrestus” [Christ]. Perhaps many came back after Claudius’s death in 54 A.D. Paul’s letter was addressed to a Church with members from Jewish and Gentile backgrounds. </p><p>In July of 64 A.D., more than half of Rome was destroyed by fire. Rumor blamed the tragedy on Nero, who wanted to enlarge his palace. He shifted the blame by accusing the Christians. According to the historian Tacitus, many Christians were put to death because of their “hatred of the human race.” Peter and Paul were probably among the victims. </p><p>Threatened by an army revolt and condemned to death by the senate, Nero committed suicide in 68 A.D. at the age of 31.</p> American Catholic Blog People are not perfect. But God does not only call upon great saints to reveal his love for the world. He also calls the broken and desperate. We are all called to act as God’s light in this darkening world.

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