Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Persistent! (Luke 18:1-8)

Sometimes I think we lose some impact of some parables because we read them, even though they were meant to be told.

This one’s a good example. I can’t imagine Jesus telling the tale of the widow and the unjust judge straight, like we just read it, because it has too many comic moments. Especially the alternate translation, in which the judge is worried the woman may come and slap him in the face.

And I think the comedy helps Jesus make the point he really wants his people to understand. On the surface, we could see the people who heard this story come away with the idea that they were to keep asking God for something, instead of raising the issue once or twice to see what God would do. That’s probably part of the message, but not nearly all. By using humor, Jesus could show the people that the most obvious message might not be the only one, once they started to think about it.

Because elsewhere, Jesus doesn’t seem to hold the idea that the way to pray is to ask God over and over and over for something that I want. Those petitionary prayers may be a part of prayer life, but they don’t in any way make it complete.

The Lord’s Prayer has petitions, but it begins with praise to God. The petitions themselves are not for wealth or power, but for what we need and for God’s kingdom to come on the earth. Jesus himself, in Gethsemane, prays for release from the trial he is about to face, but offers himself to God’s will in any event.

Maybe Jesus would like to see his listeners open up to the idea of not praying just so they get what they want, but praying so they want what they get.

I don’t mean they just go all doormat for whatever wrong life hands them, thanking Jesus for a burned-down house or some other tragedy. I doubt Jesus asks us to enjoy tragedy, either ours or someone else’s. But those things happen in life, no matter what. Bad people make bad choices, other people suffer, things go wrong, and so on. So far no one’s been able to erase those things, no matter what solution they’ve tried.

As Christians, we don’t claim to have special protection from tragedy or sorrow. What we claim to have is a God who never deserts us, no matter how bad things get.

As Christians, we claim that God will not only bring us through things that go wrong in our lives, he will use them to create something new within us. Even the execution of his Son couldn’t keep him from working something amazing in the world. If he can work in that, he can work in anything.

If prayer really is communication with God, instead of just a long list of requests, then it might change us as well. Any kind of two-way conversation involves the possibility of change in both of those involved. When we ask God for what we want, we suppose he might change things, so that we get what we’ve asked for. But we never allow for the possibility that we might change as well unless we complete the communication and listen to what God wants of us.

Only then can we start to see how we might deal with the situations we face in our lives, and allow God to work in them and in us.

Think of it this way – rain is a reality. No matter what happens, when water falls from the sky, those underneath it get wet. They have to have buildings, shelters, umbrellas or whatever in order to keep the rain from hitting them if they want to stay dry.

And no matter what, sometimes we will be outside with no umbrella when the rain starts to fall.

In our lives, we can try to protect ourselves from the effects of things that go wrong. We can make shelters of this kind or that kind so that when things do go wrong, it won’t affect us. But they won’t always work and sometimes we will be without shelter when something bad happens.

Way too often, when it rains, I respond by praying for an umbrella. “Lord, I wish I had my umbrella right now.” Way too rarely do I pray for, say, shampoo.

And way too rarely do I face difficulties by asking, “Lord, help me through this, and use what’s going on in my life to do your work in it and in others.”

If even an unjust judge will give that pesky widow what she wants, then surely the Lord will be swift to begin to respond to our desire to follow him in all things, whether good or bad.

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