Exodus 17: 8-13; Luke 18: 1-8
In listening to the First Reading from Exodus today, the first thought that crossed my mind was actually a commercial. If you watch any sports, you’ll probably be familiar with it. It’s the Bud Light commercial that ends with the line, “It’s only weird if it doesn’t work.” It’s the commercial where the guys are rooted in their superstitions about what they wear and how they hold their beer bottles, thinking it has some impact on their team or leads them to the victory they are looking for. It’s only weird if it doesn’t work. This first reading sounds more like superstition with Moses holding his arms out until it hurts thinking somehow if they were to fall, defeat would be at hand. It’s only coupled with this Gospel that the necessity of prayer makes any sense.
However, as kids, isn’t how we are often taught to pray? We have to say all the right words and do all the right things and somehow, if we do all of that, God will somehow find favor upon us. But over time, we hold out our arms like Moses, over and over again, leading to frustration because it seems like God doesn’t listen or I don’t feel anything, and we give up on it. Yet, if I stop, somehow God is ready to pounce on me and take me out, bringing defeat as they feared in the first reading today. We start to think that I must be doing something wrong or not saying the right words because God doesn’t seem to be responding. As I get older, I begin to realize it doesn’t have much to do with what I say, but how I listen.
Just maybe, that’s the time that we begin to realize that it’s time to grow up in our prayer. We do so well at teaching and learning all these prayers, that eventually begin to feel empty because it isn’t satisfying the soul, and yet, it’s the only way we know. Jesus, however, is teaching yet another way to pray. Prayer is a theme of Luke’s Gospel and Jesus goes off and prays in silence and meditates. Silence must be a part of our prayer, even if it is ten minutes in the morning and another ten at the end of the day. I did have someone come up to me and say, “But every time I have silence, my mind starts running an million miles a minute.” I know, we all have that! But take a step back and look at these thoughts that aren’t really us to begin with. So often they are irrational fears and worries that we have absolutely no control over, and yet they control us! Entering into silence and meditation begins to provide the freedom to let those thoughts go. Again, it’s only weird if it doesn’t work, but it does work.
So quickly we then want to give up. We give up because we fear the silence. We give up because nothing seems to happen. We give up, especially in this instantaneous world, because things don’t happen quick enough. Yet, these readings today touch upon that persistence that is needed, especially in those times. I think of Mother Theresa who went years with emptiness, darkness, and dryness, yet, she remained faithful to silent meditation and look where it led her!
The widow in the Gospel today becomes a model for us in our prayer. Here’s a woman who’s facing desperation. How many of us turn to God most in times of desperation? Again, it’s only weird if it doesn’t work; and it works! She has lost her husband, the income he brought, and has even lost her voice since he too would have been that for her. Most would think that a poor widow would have just walked away meagerly, but not this one. In her persistence, her shadow is also revealed in the judge. This guy who is ruthless fears being shamed by the woman; literally in the translation, that she’s going to punch him in the face. Out of fear of this shaming, he gives in. In reality, it’s her shadow, that fear would have been hers because that was what society would have expected from her but she doesn’t give into it and persists, even in this moment of desperation. It’s only weird if it doesn’t work, but it does.
At some point in our lives, we have to grow up in our faith and in the way we pray. It’s not that all those prayers we learn and the way we learn them no longer work, but it’s not the only prayer that disciples are called to in life. There is a deeper prayer that can lead to fullness of life, and it so often begins with silence. I know we are all very busy and silence evokes great fear in our lives, fearing what we are going to face. We too often want to give up, but that’s often because we keep doing the same thing over and over again, thinking the words and the formula are what it’s all about; maybe that was ok when we were kids, but as adults, we need something more out of our prayer. We need something more than superstitions like Moses holding out his arms, we need faith that leads us through the grey of life. Faith and prayer that leads us to a bigger God that embraces all. Faith and prayer that leads us to acceptance and patience. Faith and prayer. that moves us beyond the box into something greater in life. It’s only weird if it doesn’t work, but it does as long as we remain committed to persevering and allowing God to push us through the emptiness that it sometimes brings to the other side of life.