>Persistence is the key to the texts this week. Jacob persists in his wrestling match with the mysterious stranger; Paul encourages Timothy to keep at it; the widow persists in her quest to obtain what is rightfully hers and succeeds. And there is the persistence of Nicolas, my youngest son, and it is with his consent that I share this story.
On that horrible September night last year, when Celia was struck by that light rail train, and as we kept vigil at our sister and daughter’s bedside as she hovered between this world and the next, and wondered if she would make it through the night or leave us, I sent Carlos Raphael and Nick to their grandmother’s at two in the morning. Before we said goodbye, I asked the boys to pray that Celia would make it through the night. Happily, she did, and when my mother-in-law called the next morning, she told me that Nick had said that God listened to his prayer – his sister was still alive. “But, Grandma Kate,” he said, “I also prayed for doughnuts.”
My mother-in-law asked what she should do. “Get him the doughnuts,” I answered. “And tell him not to press his luck by asking for pizza.”
He asked for pizza; he didn’t get it. But that wasn’t God’s will – it was Mom’s.
What I love about these four stories is the element of perseverance, of persistence in prayer and right action, and how each comes from a place of either adversity or tragedy; how our acts of prayer give us the courage and strength to turn a situation around. But there are times when our prayers, we feel, go unanswered and perhaps we feel cheated, we may think God needs a little nudge, a tug on the sleeve, sort of, “Hey, Lord, did you hear me? I believe in you; I love you; now, how about it?”
Look at Jacob wrestling all night with the angel. “Let me go, for the day is breaking!” cries the stranger. Jacob replies, “I will not let you go until you bless me.” We know blessing is a big thing for Jacob; it’s what got him into his present circumstance. He continues and prevails. He has struggled against Esau, Laban and God; the blessing he finally receives and his new name are testimony that he is ready to assume his place as the inheritor of the Divine promise to Abraham.
The Gospel gives us another example of persistence. Two people as different as night and day, from different ends of the spectrum of society, a corrupt judge and a widow, in a combat of wills. He wants nothing better than the widow just go away and stop hounding him every afternoon; she only wants what is rightfully hers. He relents, but it is out of self-interest – the original Greek text suggests that the judge feared a “black-eye” – he does not want his reputation sullied. Persistence in the pursuit of justice finally wins; the powerless triumph over the powerful.
Jesus tells us that if an unjust judge can bestow justice, how much more will God grant justice to those crying out to him day and night? The author of Luke is advising the impatient church, sure that the end time and Jesus’ return are past due, to hang in there, to keep praying. So Timothy is reminded to be steadfast, and be ready to endure trials and suffering as he strives to complete his ministry as an evangelist.
For reasons known only to God, we sometimes pray and those prayers are not answered; or, we get puzzling answers – answers that lead to clarity of purpose and reason and after reflection, it’s the answer we need at the time. Jesus calls us to be persistent, whether we ask for peace, for healing, for understanding – or even doughnuts.
Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord.