As Jesus continues with his disciples on their journey to Jerusalem for the last time, he has been speaking about the Final Judgment and takes the opportunity to tell them a parable.
There are two characters in Our Lord’s parable, each serving as a symbol familiar to the disciples. Jesus begins by describing his first character, a judge — someone his friends would have recognized as a non-Jew, who did not “fear God or respect any human being.” He was undoubtedly one of the paid magistrates appointed by Herod or the Romans and infamously called “robber judges.” If you didn’t have the money to bribe them, you didn’t stand a chance for a favorable ruling.
In contrast, the second character in the parable is a widow, the poorest and most defenseless member of society, who is without the resources to secure a good judgement for herself. All she has is her tenacity, and, in the end, it pays off.
After “a long time” the judge relents, weary of her persistence and afraid she might actually do him harm. “Pay attention,” Jesus says, perhaps stopping on the road to turn to his friends and drive home the point. “Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night? Will he be slow to answer them?”
Here, God is not compared to the dishonest judge — he is contrasted to him. God is not slow to answer the prayers of his people. Rather, in the words of his Son, “he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily.”
St. Luke is upfront about the moral of the story: “to pray always without becoming weary.” In fact, Luke’s Gospel has been described as a Gospel of prayer, and his is the only one that includes this lesson about praying with persistence
But there is one more question Jesus puts to the disciples in closing, not as an afterthought, but holding the key to understanding and living the lesson he has just laid out.
“But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
Here is another Judge, a Judge who has the right and authority to judge men because he became one himself, because of his humility and obedience in taking on human flesh and the human condition, and in suffering and dying for the sins of mankind. When this Judge returns, will he find people who have had confidence in God? A people who have trusted that their prayers are heard and answered promptly even if the answers are not as they would have wished? A people who have faith in the love and providence of a God whose thoughts are not always our thoughts, whose ways are not always our ways (Isaiah 55:8)? Or a people who have prefaced all their petitions with the phrase given us by the Son of Man himself: “Thy will be done”?
In the end, the most important part of persistence is a continual surrendering trust in the God who answers our prayers in his perfect way and his perfect time.
The battle of prayer and faith is not an easy one — our enemies surround us and wage war, just as the Amalekites did to the Israelites in the first reading. Sometimes, as the days wear on, we may find our strength slipping, just as Moses felt his raised arms grow weary.
We have a promise, though, given in the Psalm. Our God will sustain us and keep us “steady till sunset.”
May we learn to lean on him, and on his promises, and proclaim his faithfulness, “whether it is convenient or inconvenient.”