Pray With Hands and Heart Wide Open
On the fifth Sunday of Lent, which in our Church is called the Sunday of the Judge, Jesus tells a parable "to show that we should always pray and never give up." In this parable of “the Widow and the Unjust Judge” our Lord emphasizes the importance of the prayer, and especially the importance of the perseverance in the prayer of petition.
Here is the parable as Jesus told:
“There was a judge in a certain city,” he said, “who neither feared God nor cared about people. A widow of that city came to him repeatedly, saying, ‘Give me justice in this dispute with my enemy.’ The judge ignored her for a while, but finally, he said to himself, ‘I don’t fear God or care about people, but this woman is driving me crazy. I’m going to see that she gets justice because she is wearing me out with her constant requests!’”
Then the Lord said, “Learn a lesson from this unjust judge. Even he rendered a just decision in the end. So don’t you think God will surely give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will grant justice to them quickly! But when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith?” (Luke 18:1-8 NLT)
In our century, humanity suffers from a lack of justice and equality: equality in living conditions, in social relations and in many other things. Across the continents, we see manifestations of various social movements who claim justice and happiness for all. National and international news give us daily scenes more or less similar to the approach of the Widow of the parable. Different groups march or sit at the door of the world's great ones to defend values and to demand equal justice like the widow did. And experience shows that very often the persistence pays off.
If persistence pays off with a corrupt human of limited power, how much more will it pay off with a just God of infinite power. Jesus assures us that the tenacious prayer will never remain unanswered. This tenacity is the essential quality for the one who undertakes the path of prayer. It isn’t difficult to begin praying, but the difficulty arises when one has to persevere in the prayer.
Jesus provides us also the essential condition to overcome this difficulty: The figure given to us to illustrate persistence in prayer is that of a widow. In ancient society, widows were among the most socially vulnerable because they didn’t have husband’s protection.
The widow of the parable disturbed the judge with her claims until she obtained what she wanted; and yet she had every reason to be discouraged. Her cause seemed to have been lost in advance, for she had the misfortune of falling upon a judge who didn’t care about people and justice at all. But she persisted because she didn’t have another choice. If she troubled the judge, it is because she was in need.
In the image of the widow, we can easily discern the first and fourth beatitudes in action: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven … Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be filled.” Matthew 5:3,6
The first condition for participating in the Kingdom of God is to recognize our poverty, our hunger, and thirst. Indeed, the perseverance in prayer comes from vulnerability and poverty. Persistent prayer is an acceptance of our dependence on God our Father; that we earnestly need His grace.
The widow knows that the judge, even unjust, is the only one who can do her justice. Likewise, we must acknowledge that we are fundamentally dependent on God in our life and that we are powerless and unable to satisfy our needs and those of our beloved ones.
Poverty in spirit is, therefore, essential to persevere in prayer, but it is also necessary for understanding God’s response to our prayers. The one who is poor in spirit knows that even his requests are poor, and that his Father who is in heaven has prepared a future of Love for him and for all humans much more beautiful, much more amazing than they can think of. Saint Paul says: “Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. " (Ephesian 3:20)
Our persistent prayer is not like a cry cast into the void; it’s not a bottle thrown into the sea whose likelihood of being gathered by God is very slim. No. The rock of our expectations is the love of our Heavenly Father and promises of our Lord Jesus Christ: “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.” (Matthew 7:7), He says, “Very truly, I tell you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.” (John 16:23)
The Father waits to hear every prayer of faith, to give us what we determine, and what we ask in Jesus’ name, all we need to do is to turn to him with our hearts and hands wide open.