This advice seems smarter the more you think about it.
Jesus gives startling advice this Sunday, the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C — advice that seems smarter the more you think about it.
He says to treat him like an unjust judge, who won’t answer a just complaint until we pester him for a long time.
How can this be a good thing?
It was hard enough to explain why Jesus compared Christians to unjust stewards. Now he compares himself to a judge “who neither feared God nor respected any human being.”
The woman who has to deal with this judge is in a terrible bind. She is a widow. She has nothing and no rights; he has everything and no motivation to help her. So she gives him a motivation: Unless he helps her, she won’t leave him alone.
The Gospel makes it clear that God isn’t really unjust, but the analogy works because he can sure seem that way sometimes: Sometimes unemployed Christians pray and can’t find a job. Sometimes sick people pray and don’t get better. Sometimes parents pray to avert a tragedy in their children’s lives and the tragedy comes anyway.
Where is God’s love? Where is his justice? He seems uncaring and aloof.
But look what happens if we keep praying like the widow.
By returning again and again to the judge, the widow shows that she is well aware that he holds all the cards, and that her only hope is in him.
By asking Jesus for our needs again and again, we show that we are well aware that he has real power to help us, and that we are alone without him. Only if we “pray always without becoming weary” do we show we truly have faith.
But something else happens too: The more we ask God, the better our request becomes.
Compare it to asking your boss for a new computer. The first time you ask, your reasons may be hasty and superficial. But the more you have to focus on the request, the more you gain humility and wisdom. You realize that not just you, but plenty of others need better equipment, too. As you refine your case, you realize that you could be a lot more productive with or without it, and you see how it will truly fit the company’s needs.
The first time you ask for a new computer, you want to solve a problem in your life. The 25th time you ask for it, you want to solve problems in everyone’s life.
In the same way, not only your faith but your love grows, the more you have to ask God.
Getting no answer helps you grow in another way, too: You end up reaching out to others for help.
This is something God did for Moses in the first reading. In order to fight Amalek’s army, Moses has to stand on a hill with his staff in his hand. While his hands are raised, his side wins. If he rests his hands, he loses.
So Moses gets the help of Aaron and Hur to hold his arms up and win.
The widow never got help in her prayers, but we should. Then, we are raising the question up together. Where a quick and painless answer would teach us to ask thoughtlessly and alone, the delay leads us to ask mindfully, with others.
Scripture works the same way.
Paul in the Second Reading says, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching,” but adds that it is necessary to “be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient.” Scripture won’t reveal its saving power on first glance; we need to keep at it to “get” it.
For instance, it is easy to forget what Jesus really said when he said, “Ask and you shall receive.”
What he really said was: “Ask, and it will be given you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you.”
He didn’t just say to ask, he said to seek. That requires persistent effort like the widow’s. And he didn’t just say to seek, he said to knock. That means he doesn’t just want to give us things, he wants to have a relationship with us.
So, when God stands aloof like an unjust judge, keep at him. It is easy not to. As Jesus put it at the end of the Gospel: “When the son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
Pray — persistently — that he will.