Benediction Online

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Prayer and the Unjust

Genesis 32:22-31

Well, there are parables and parables, and at first sight this is not one of Jesus’ best. Luke tells us that it’s about persistence in prayer, which suggests that the widow is us and the judge is God. What an unfortunate picture of God! God is like an unjust judge – God is like someone who doesn’t want justice, who doesn’t care about fairness, but who can be persuaded by sufficient nagging to do what we, represented by the widow, want. God is reluctant to give his children good things but if we just beg enough he will grudgingly do so… I don’t think so.

That’s not the picture of God I get from the rest of the scriptures, and it’s not my picture of prayer either. In fact it’s a very problematic picture of prayer because it suggests that if we just pray hard enough and long enough then God will give us what we want. So if you have cancer and it doesn’t go away it’s your own fault for not praying hard enough or well enough. Which is simply not true. In this world stuff happens including accident, illness and disease. This picture also suggests that God is sitting on his throne in some other place deciding who gets what, pulling the strings as though we were puppets, not beings with free will.

So what is prayer, and why do we pray? Like love, prayer is many different things. But love is a good place to start. Prayer is an expression of love… when we pray prayers of adoration, praise and gratitude we are expressing our love of God… when we pray for others we are demonstrating our love for them… when we sink into contemplative prayer we are connecting with God’s love.

Humans are made in God’s image and we are highly creative. God creates by God’s word and to a large extent we too create through the use of language. If I tell you that I like you and appreciate your being around, you will feel a lot better about being with me than if I tell you that I don’t like you and wish you weren’t in my life. My words create a response in you which makes you feel and therefore behave differently. Often we create difficult interpersonal situations by the story we tell ourselves about them. If we tell ourselves that the other person is hostile then we come into every interaction already defensive. Our thoughts create. We can’t control many of the circumstances of our lives, but we can change how we think and feel about them.

I remember my mother groaning after a meal and saying, “Oh dear, now I have to do the washing-up.” I used to groan after a meal and think “Oh dear, now I have to do the dishes.” One day I noticed that other people just did the dishes and so I experimented. I found it was much easier to do them if I didn’t groan and complain beforehand. I had been using language to make the situation more difficult.

If language is creative, then our prayers too are creative. I think that when we pray we align our wills with divine will and that gives God energy she can use in the ongoing creative process of redemption. It is as though She is painting a picture using a medium which is constantly moving – when we pray we help the medium to move in the direction of God’s vision.  This is true when we are praying a prayer of longing as well as when we are praying a prayer for someone else or seeking God in contemplation.

The first reading, about Jacob wrestling with a man who he then perceives as God, is often seen as an image of our prayer lives. There comes a time, perhaps many over a lifetime, when we have to get down and dirty with God. A time when our longing for God becomes the most important thing in our lives, or a time when God is calling us so intently that it seems like a demand or even a command. As we practice love through prayer in any or all of its many forms, so we draw closer to God and in that relationship the need for our transformation becomes more and more apparent. We are invited, urged, to surrender to God. We are called to become the servants of Christ, not thoughtless automatons, but creative and liberated people whose full creative ability and will is dedicated to working for the kindom of God. The process of becoming Christ-like is not an easy, gentle path but one which needs courage, persistence and dedication.

Which brings us back to the persistent widow. It may be that the problem with this parable is not the parable itself but Luke’s introduction. He says, “Jesus told his disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. “ Maybe that’s not quite what it’s about. Maybe it’s about the need to keep working for the reign of God and not to give up.

In the reign of God there is fairness. Everyone lives peacefully and has all that they need to be fully alive and flourishing. In the reign of God there are no structures of injustice, no discrimination, no lack of power.  I don’t need to tell you that we’re a long way from that.

It is our job to continue to work in whatever way we can, to bring the reign of God on earth. It is our job to continue to stand up against injustice whenever we see it. It is our job to speak out. It is our job to pray. All of these are important.

I imagine that the people Luke was writing for saw injustice around them in unfair laws which discriminated against them. Some would have been living in places where the laws were not implemented, either through lack of ability or as a result of corruption – people like the unjust judge were commonplace. Think Afghanistan today. In some ways the world we live in is quite different. Laws abound and on the whole are followed. We wear our seatbelts, we don’t usually steal… if you read the sheriff’s logs in the Bay News there seems to be very little crime. Yet there are still massive injustices in the country and there are massive injustices in our global society.

I read this morning that there are 29.6 million slaves in theworld. That’s as many people as live in Australia and Denmark combined. Slavery doesn’t look today as it did in Roman times so it’s less conspicuous, but it’s nonetheless real. It’s a silent crime – the victims almost never come forward. It’s estimated that more than 15,000 people are trafficked into the United States each year. Some enter legally, with a visa and a job. But once inside the country, they are forced to repay recruitment fees, the cost of their travel, accommodation bills. As a result, they end up working an incredible number of hours, seven days a week, without being paid, in the impossible attempt to repay a debt which will never be settled.

Human trafficking and slavery is one form of injustice. I know you can name many others. As Christians, we are called to be as persistent as the widow in working against injustice. We are called to pray and we are also called to speak out. The widow did not just stay home and pray, she kept bothering the judge – the one who could do something about the injustice. It is not enough that we pray for those in need, we are also called to use our energy to do something to change our national and global society so that injustice becomes a thing of the past.

I invite you to find something you are passionate about and work at it, contribute money to the organizations which are making a difference, write to your representatives, write to the papers, talk to people about it. Make a fuss. And never forget to pray.


  • Thank you Caroline for the clear expansion of the reading in today's condition

    By Blogger Dennis, at 4:16 AM  

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