Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time – C

Readings: Ex 17:8-13; Ps 121:1-8; 2 Tim 3:14-4:2; Lk 18:1-8

“We must pray with our eyes on God… not on the difficulties.”
— Oswald Chambers

God only gives three answers to prayer:
1. Yes!
2. Not yet.
3. I have something better in mind.

Have you ever had a prayer answered after a long period of waiting? Have you ever prayed for something, only to give up when the prayer wasn’t answered? What happened in each case? How does patience affect your prayer life?

“Hurry up and wait!” Famous words for the traveler. And words to be pondered in a prayer life.

Sometimes events that affect our spirit occur at breakneck speed. Others seem to take an eternity. God seems to answer some prayers now. Other prayers he answers “in the future.” Many times, the prayers we need answered immediately involve eternal pressure, prejudice, or persecution. “Save us from this crisis!”

In Luke, Jesus taught God answers even these prayers. But in his own way. And in his own time. If we object to his means or his timing, can we really speak of a request in faith? Or are we really just complaining?

  • Kennon writes: Once, when I was a freshman in college (1992) I was with a group of guys who had traveled to Northern Alabama to a state park in the mountains. An unusually sizable amount of snow had fallen which made the mountains beautiful and enchanting. The Saturday afternoon during the retreat a group of guys decided to take a short hike to the top of a nearby ridge. Although the trails were well marked, and we left in plenty of sunlight, it began to get dark as we were descending the mountain. Being from Alabama, none of us were appropriately dressed for extremely cold winter nights. People in Alabama probably don’t know what parkas are. I know I wasn’t sure of this winter when I moved to New York. We didn’t really have heavy coats on, and several guys began getting cold. At first nobody was that concerned because we felt confident we could find the way down to our cabins. However, as darkness set in, we became completely lost in a frozen mountainside. We couldn’t even find the trail, and one guy poorly dressed started to get frostbite. This was an atheist group, but not a particularly charismatic group of guys. They weren’t big on signs and wonders -very intellectual. Hopelessness began to set in, and we knew there was silence throughout the park.We stumbled across a dirt roadway that we felt was probably not being used. The leader of our group eventually, after great desperation, had the frazzled freezing group stop for a very simple prayer. He prayed very simply, “God we know that even now you could have a park ranger come and pick us up.” But, none of us really believed that was going to ever happen. Within five or ten minutes after this very simple prayer headlights approached the freezing group. A park ranger pulled up and had us all pile in his jeep. I know that I was amazed, and I am pretty sure we all were. This was a great lesson to me, and all of us, on God’s ability to answer prayer for his children in times of great need. It strengthened my faith in a powerful way, and really shocked the guy who prayed it, because he more than most of us would not typically think of God answering so specifically, so quickly. I believe the Holy Spirit dropped those words into his mouth, knowing what we needed, and God wanted to happen. I think God orchestrated the whole thing to show our little group that he is very real, and totally capable of meeting our every need.
  • Bruce writes: One day I had taken off work to do things in the apartment, one of which was to change the lock on the door. After I had completed the last task, I went out into the hall and closed the door, to try the lock. Only then did I realize that I had left my keys inside the apartment, that I had no money on me (to go fetch another set of keys at another location), and that I had no coat and was wearing my house slippers. Now, I must explain that my apartment building usually is entirely deserted, because everybody works, I believe, and is gone during the day. It is entirely empty. Beside myself, I cried out to the Lord, “Dear Jesus! Help me! What am I going to do?” Just at that very moment, the door of the super’s apartment next to mine opened and a little black lady stepped out. I learned later that she had come to clean his apartment, although I did not know that he had a maid come in. She must have seen the despair on my face, and said, “What’s the matter?” I explained my dilemma, and it turned out that she was a kind Christian lady. She offered to loan me five dollars so I could use the subway to get my other keys; and later I repaid her and more through the mail, for her great kindness. I truly went on my way, praising the Lord and rejoicing. Such stories of the Lord’s goodness would fill volumes and volumes, and are a testimony for those who have the eyes to see them.
  • Bruce writes: My companion of more than a decade had contacted AIDS, and while the (many) nutritional and complementary supplements I had gotten him on seemed to help preserve his quality of life up, near the end he was homebound and in bed; and we had a home-care attendant who came in to be with him during the day. But this was a heavy time for me, not only because of Jim’s illness, but because I still had to go to Columbia University every day and then come home at night and take care of him – plus I was often up and down and up and down during the night, helping him. Then at 6:30 the next morning, the whole regime would start all over again. Part of my exhaustion was from sleep-deprivation, but what could I do? Then one evening coming home from work, I felt like I was at the end. I prayed, “Oh Lord, I’m finished. I’m so tired. I just can’t go on. What am I going to do? Help me!” At that moment I was filled with I can only describe was a flow of heavenly power, a miraculous energy surged through my whole body! I ran home, completely astonished by it all. From that time to the day he died, I never felt that exhaustion again, but had the strength I need to do whatever needed to be done. Also, Jim had always prayed that he might go home to be with the Lord from his bed at home and not in the hospital or a nursing home; and the Lord answered that prayer as well. As it happened one night, he simply went in his sleep, and peaceful homegoing it must have been, since I never heard any cry or sound of any kind during the night.

First Reading: Almost in passing, Israel’s victory over the Amelek was recorded in Exodus. The battle with these bandits was not the focus of interest. Moses’ prayer stance was of interest. According to the narrative, as long as Moses held his arms out in prayer, the forces of Israel had the upper hand. But when he lowered his arms in weariness, the Amelek had the advantage. In the end, Israel won because Aaron and Hur held the arms of Moses up in prayer.

The narrative has two morals. Continue to pray, even when weariness and boredom set in. And rely on others to help you pray when you are tempted to quit.

Second Reading: The author first urged Timothy to stand fast in his faith and in the tradition that he learned. This would insure his personal integrity. He learned that faith from his mentor, but he had knowledge of the Scriptures from an early age. Both would ground him in the work he would do. In the end, the author charged his student to become the good teacher: proclaim the Good News, always remain faithful, and teach with patience and clear direction.

Imagine yourself in the shoes of Timothy. What would your Christian mentor say to you? I bet he or she would say the same thing you have read. Be strong in your faith. Use all the tools at your disposal. Get the attention of your students and keep them focused on your message. Have patient endurance.

Gospel: When analysing the historical context of Luke’s Gospel, we must always keep in mind this dual dimension: the time of Jesus in the 30’s, and the time of those for whom the Gospel is written in the 80’s. These two times influence, each in its own way, the writing of the text and must be present as we try to discover the meaning Jesus’ parables have for us today.

The immediate literary context presents us two parables on prayer: praying insistently and perseveringly (the widow and the judge) (Lk 18:1-8); praying humbly and realistically (the Pharisee and the Publican) (Lk 18:9-14). Although they are different, these two parables have something in common. They tell us that Jesus saw the things of life in a different way. Jesus saw God’s revelation where others saw something negative. For instance, he saw something positive in the Publican, who all said: “He does not know how to pray!” And in the poor widow of whom it was said: “She is so insistent that she even troubles the judge!” Jesus was so united to the Father that for him everything was transformed into a source of prayer. Many are the ways we can express ourselves in prayer. There are those who say: “I do not know how to pray”, yet they speak to God all day. Have you come across anyone like this?

Luke introduces the parable thus: “Then he told them a parable about the need to pray continually and never lose heart”. The words “to pray and not lose heart” appear frequently in the New Testament (1 Thes 5:17; Rom 12:12; Eph 6:18; etc). This was a feature of the spirituality of the early Christian communities. It is also a point on which Luke insists both in the Gospel and in Acts. If you are interested in discovering this dimension in Luke’s writings, carry out this exercise: read the Gospel and Acts and write down all the verses where Jesus or others are praying. You will be surprised!

Jesus presents us with two persons from real life: a judge who neither respects God nor persons, and a widow who will not stop fighting for her rights before the judge. The simple fact that Jesus presents these two persons reveals that he knows well the society of his time. Not only does the parable present poor people fighting in court to have their rights recognised, but it also shows us the violent contrast among social groups. On the one hand, an insensitive and irreligious judge, and on the other, the widow who knows which door to knock on to get what is owed to her.

For a long time, asking the same thing every day, the widow gets nothing from the insensitive judge. Finally the judge, even though “he had neither fear of God nor respect for man” decided to pay attention to the widow and give her justice. The reason is: to be free of this constant nuisance. A rather self-interested reason! However, the widow gets what she wants! This is a fact of daily life and Jesus uses it to teach us how to pray.

Jesus applies the parable: “You notice what the unjust judge has to say? Now will not God see justice done to his chosen who cry to him day and night even when he delays to help them?” Then he adds that God well see justice done speedily. Were it not Jesus speaking, we would not have the courage to compare God to a judge in their moral attitude. What is important in the comparison is the widow’s attitude who, thanks to her insistence, finally gets what she wants.

At the end, Jesus expresses some doubt: “But when the Son of Man comes, will he find any faith on earth?” Will we have the courage to wait, to be patient, even if God takes time to answer us? We need much faith to go on insisting and acting when we see no result. Anyone who expects immediate results will be disappointed. Many of the psalms speak of this hard and difficult insistence before God until he sees fit to respond (Ps 71:14; 37:7; 69:4; Lm 3:26). When quoting Psalm 80, Peter says that one day for God is like a thousand years (2Pt 3:8; Ps 90:4).

The Gospels present us with a Jesus who prays, who live in continuous contact with the Father. Jesus’ only wish is to do the will of the Father (Jn 5:19). Luke is the one who speaks most of the prayer life of Jesus. He shows us a Jesus who prays always. Jesus prayed much and insistently, so that people and his disciples too would do the same. It is when facing God in truth that the person sees him/herself in its reality and humility. Here are some of the moments when Jesus prayed in Luke’s Gospel:

Lk 2:46-50: When he is twelve, he goes to the Temple, his Father’s house
Lk 3:21: He prays at his baptism and when he takes on his mission
Lk 4:1-2: At the beginning of his mission he spends forty days in the desert
Lk 4:3-12: When he is tempted, he faces the devil with texts from Scripture
Lk 4:16: On Saturdays, Jesus goes to celebrate in the synagogue
Lk 5:16; 9:18: He seeks solitude in the desert to pray
Lk 6:12: He spends the night in prayer before choosing the Apostles
Lk 9:16; 24:30: He prays before meals
Lk 9:18: He prays before speaking of his passion
Lk 9:28: On the Mountain, he is transfigured during prayer
Lk 10:21: When the Gospel is revealed to little ones he says: “Thank you, Father…”
Lk 11:1: As he prays, he inspires in the apostles the desire to pray
Lk 22:32: He prays for Peter, that he may have faith
Lk 22:7-14: He celebrates the Paschal meal with his disciples
Lk 22:41-42: He prays and sweats blood in the Garden of Olives
Lk 22:40.46: In his agony, he asks his friends to pray with him
Lk 23:34: When he was being nailed to the cross, he asks pardon for his torturers
Lk 23:46; Ps 31:6: At the moment of death he says: “Into your hands I commend my spirit”
Lk 23:46: Jesus dies with the cry of the poor on his lips

This list of quotations shows us that for Jesus prayer was intimately connected with life, with concrete fact, with decisions to be taken. To be faithful to the Father’s plan, he sought to be alone with him, to listen to him. In difficult and decisive moments of his life, Jesus prayed the Psalms. Like every other devout Jew, he knew them by heart. Saying the Psalms did not quench his creative spirit. Rather, Jesus invented a Psalm, that is, the Our Father. His life was a constant prayer: “At all times I do what the Father asks me to do!” (Jn 5:19.30). That which the Psalm says applies to Jesus: “… all I had done was pray for them!” (Ps 109:4)

As in the Gospel, so also in the Acts, Luke often speaks of prayer.The first Christians are those who continue the prayer of Jesus. Here is a list, which in one way or another, speak of prayer. If you look carefully, you will find other texts again:

Act 1:14: The community perseveres in prayer with Mary, the mother of Jesus
Act 1:24: The community prays so as to know who will take the place of Judas
Act 2:25-35: Peter quotes from the Psalms in his homily
Act 2:42: The first Christians are faithful in prayer
Act 2:46-47: They go to the temple to praise God
Act 3:1: Peter and John go to the temple to pray at the ninth hour
Act 3:8: The healed lame man praises God
Act 4:23-31: The community prays under persecution
Act 5:12: The first Christians stay at Solomon’s gate (temple)
Act 6:4: The apostles devote themselves to prayer and the service of the word
Act 6:6: They pray before imposing hands on the deacons
Act 7:59: When he is dying, Stephen prays: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit”
Act 7:60: Then Stephen prays: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them”
Act 8:15: Peter and John pray that the converts may receive the Holy Spirit
Act 8:22: The sinner is told: Repent and pray that you may be forgiven
Act 8:24: Simon says: “Pray to the Lord for me yourselves so that none of the things you have spoken about may happen to me”
Act 9:11: Paul is praying
Act 9:40: Peter prays for the healing of Tabitha
Act 10:2: Cornelius prayed constantly to God
Act 10:4: Cornelius’ prayers are heard in heaven
Act 10:9: At the sixth hour, Peter prays on the roof of the house
Act 10:30-31: Cornelius prays at the ninth hour, and his prayer is heard
Act 11:5: Peter tells the people of Jerusalem: “I was praying!”
Act 12:5: The community prays when Peter is in jail
Act 12:12: Many people are gathered in prayer in Mary’s house
Act 13:2-3: The community prays and fasts before sending Paul and Barnabas
Act 13:48: The pagans rejoice and glorify the Word of God
Act 14:23: The missionaries pray to appoint the coordinators of the communities
Act 16:13: At Philippi, near the river, there is a place of prayer
Act 16:16: Paul and Silas were going to prayer
Act 16:25: At night, Paul and Silas sing and pray in prison
Act 18:9: Paul has a vision of the Lord at night
Act 19:18: Many confess their sins
Act 20:7: They met to break bread (the Eucharist)
Act 20:32: Paul commends to God the coordinators of the communities
Act 20:36: Paul prays on his knees with the coordinators of the communities
Act 21:5: They kneel on the shore to pray
Act 21:14: Before the inevitable, the people say: God’s will be done!
Act 21:20: They glorify God for all that Paul has done
Act 21:26: Paul goes to the temple to fulfil a promise
Act 22:17-21: Paul prays in the temple, he has a vision and speaks with God
Act 23:11: In the prison in Jerusalem, Paul has a vision of Jesus
Act 27:23ff: Paul has a vision of Jesus during the storm at sea
Act 27:35: Paul takes the bread, gives thanks to God before arriving in Malta
Act 28:8: Paul prays over Publius’ father who had a fever
Act 28:15: Paul gives thanks to God on seeing the brethren in Pozzuoli

This list tells us two important things. On the one hand, the early Christians kept the traditional liturgy of the people. Like Jesus, they pray at home among the family, in community and in the synagogue and together with the people of the temple. On the other hand, apart from the traditional liturgy, there appears a new way of praying among them in community and with a new content. The root of this new prayer comes from the new experience of “God in Jesus and from a clear and deep awareness of the presence of God in midst of the community: “In him we live, move and are!” (Acts 17:28)

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A longing for God expressed in prayer…. Psalm 63 (62)

God, you are my God, I pine for you;
my heart thirsts for you, my body longs for you,
as a land parched, dreary and waterless.
Thus I have gazed on you in the sanctuary,
seeing your power and your glory.
Better your faithful love than life itself;
my lips will praise you.

Thus I will bless you all my life,
in your name lift up my hands.
All my longings fulfilled as with fat and rich foods,
a song of joy on my lips and praise in my mouth.
On my bed when I think of you,
I muse on you in the watches of the night,
for you have always been my help;
in the shadow of your wings I rejoice;
my heart clings to you,
your right hand supports me.

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Prayer is a powerful spiritual force and something that God wants his people to do. Here are some quotes and Bible verses to help keep you motivated and encouraged about that most powerful work – Prayer!

· Fervent prayers produce phenomenal results.

· Time spent in prayer is never wasted.

· Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Philippians 4:6

· Prayer delights God’s ear; it melts His heart; andopens His hand. God cannot deny a praying soul.

· PRAYER SHOULD BE THE KEY OF THE DAY AND LOCK OF THE NIGHT.

· PRAYER IS THE LINK THAT CONNECTS US WITH GOD.

· When the devil sees a man or woman who really believes in prayer, who knows how to pray, and who really does pray, and, above all, when he sees a whole church on its face before God in prayer, he trembles as much as he ever did, for he knows that his day in that church or community is at an end.

· The greatest tragedy of life is not unanswered prayer, but unoffered prayer.

Fr. Gaspar Fernandes, OFM Cap.

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