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Thursday, March 17, 2016

Today’s Reading | Luke 18:1–17

Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it. But Jesus called for them and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” (NRSV)

On several occasions, I have had people complain to me that "they tried prayer, but it didn't work," as if they had gone on the divine Internet in search of a particular item, only to find it out of stock. Were the two parables about prayer which we read today a response of Jesus to similar complaints?

The first parable portrays a widow, one of the most vulnerable people in that very patriarchal society, seeking justice in the courts of her day. She finds herself before an unjust judge who strives to ignore her petitions. Yet she persists, pursuing her cause unceasingly. The judge relents, granting a just decision in her favor, so she will stop bothering him.

When I struggle to keep my prayer life strong, I find the graphic human circumstances Jesus expressed sustaining my efforts. Generalities do not help: keep trying, God will yet respond, don't give up. Instead, I discover renewal as I picture the courage and conviction of the widow. If she could succeed with the unjust judge, how much more mercy will I experience in the mysterious ways of our loving God?

Lest we become complacent in our patterns of prayer, Luke places a second parable of Jesus immediately following. Pharisees were religious leaders of the day, highly regarded and respected. Tax collectors, on the other hand, were agents of the occupying Roman Empire, religiously unclean, despised. Yet it is the humble prayer of the tax collector that Jesus affirms, startling his hearers!

When we are too proud of our prayers, and all that we do to try and follow Jesus, the petition of the tax collector is a wakeup call.

Gracious God, be merciful to me, a sinner. Thank you for the very human characters in the parables who stay with us and inspire us as we seek to stay in prayerful conversation with you, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Written by Jeffrey Doane, Parish Associate for Older Adults

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