A six year old boy was insistent on following his mum who was preparing to go and buy things (groceries) for their home from a nearby supermarket. The mum didn’t want her little boy to go with her because of his playful and destructive character which often embarrasses her when they are in public. The boy cried so bitterly that his mum was touched and decided to take him along but on two conditions. He would to sit in the shopping cart while the mum shops and he would not ask for anything to be bought for him. The deal was sealed between the mum and her only son and they left for the supermarket.
The agreement the mum and her son had was unperturbed until they got to the section for chocolates and cookies. The boy could not hold it any longer and he asked with a rather low voice “mum can I have some chocolates and cookies?” Turning sharply with a frown the mum said “remember you are not supposed to ask for anything.” The boy relaxed and behaved himself. After some time, he saw from where he was sitting, some children with their parents selecting packets of chocolates and cookies. He once again asked with a higher voice than the first “mum can I please have just one chocolate and one cookie?” The mum did not even look at him as she sighed with a big “NO!”
The shopping was getting to an end as the mum was going to pay at the cash counter. The little boy was sad that he was not going to get even a piece of chocolate. All of a sudden he remembered what he learnt from his religious instruction teacher that one can get whatever one asks for if one does so persistently and in the NAME OF JESUS CHRIST. With this flashing through his mind and considering the number of people there at the counter and her mum’s detest of embarrassment, the boy shouted very loudly: “mum can I have at least one chocolate and a cookie in the Name of Jesus Christ?” Spontaneously everyone turned to the little boy and started clapping for him as many also bought packets of chocolates and cookies for him with great admiration at his courage and adventure. At the end of the day the boy who made a deal with the mum in favour of “no chocolates and no cookies” got lots and lots of them as they were going home; the magic was persistence or if you like, positive stubbornness.
For us to get in tune with the reflection of this Sunday there will be need for us to understand what PERSISTENCE is all about; especially as it applies here. To persist is to CONTINUE in a certain course of action in spite of the oppositions, challenges and difficulties; in fact it means STAYING STILL IN THE GAME IN THE FACE OF TRIALS. The synonyms are perseverance, patience, endurance, resolve, unrelenting, steadfastness, tenacity, insistence, pertinacity, resoluteness etc. From all these we understand that persistence when applied to prayers involves being unrelenting and steadfast when we are praying for something; it means going ahead to pray no matter how the situation presents itself.
The above analysis could easily be found in the readings of today; especially the first reading (Exodus 17:8-13) and the gospel reading (Luke 18:1-8). From the first reading we are presented with the account of the war between the people of Israel and the Amalekites. Actually the Amalekites attacked the people of Israel at Rephidim. Evidently, the people of Israel did not plan to fight. The attack may have come as a punishment because from the preceding narrative the people of Israel put God into test at Massah and Meribah when they questioned if God was with them or not. The attack was so sudden but thanks to Moses who ordered Joshua to take some men to fight the Amalekites while he went up to a hill with Aaron and Hur where something very instructive happened. Moses knows the value of climbing the mountain; most of his encounters with God took place at such uplands. We are told that as Moses raised that legendry staff of God the Israelites started winning in the war but when his hands became weak they started losing. To make the victory permanent they got him a stone to sit while Aaron and Hur supported his raised hands which brought the victory of the Israelites on that day.
From the above narrative we discover the power and importance of not only prayer but also persistent prayer. Moses was conversant with God and he knew the liberating power of bugging God in prayers. The question that every active mind would ask is why the victory was assured by Moses raising the staff up and holding it there all day. The history of that staff began at the burning bush (Ex. 4:2) when God made it to become a serpent and back again to a staff. It was used to divide the red sea (Ex.14:15-21). It was used to bring forth water from the rock at Rephidim (Ex.17:5-6). That staff symbolises God’s active presence as God had worked a lot of wonders through it. In this scenario Moses pointed it persistently not just to the skies but also to God to move Him to act. It was like reminding God what he had done in the past and asking him to affect same in present situation.
Another aspect of the prayer of Moses for the victory of the people of Israel was that it also involved a community. Moses went up the hill with Aaron and Hur. Hence it can be said that the victory on that day was not only through the staff of Moses pointing to God, but also through the contributory mutual effort of Aaron and Hur assisting Moses. Hence the prayer was not only persistent it was also community oriented.
In the gospel reading our Lord Jesus Christ demonstrated the need to pray always and not to lose heart using a parable known as the parable of the importunate widow or the parable of the unjust judge. The widow in question wanted justice done to her from the onslaught of her adversaries, but this wicked judge who had no fear of God nor respect for human beings would not allow that to happen. The high point of the parable is the widow’s persistent pleading to the judge to let justice reign in her favour. We are not told how many times this widow came to the judge but all the same she kept coming. Some translations would say she came day and night that means both at the judge’s place of work and at his home. It was the judge who rightly judged the situation very well. According to him, if he fails to give the woman what she deserved she would wear him down. So he rose to give the woman what she asked for. At the end of the parable our Lord asked “if the unjust judge could do justice to the widow what about our Just God; will he not give justice to his elect even when he delays in coming? Furthermore our Lord asked: “when the son of man comes will he find faith on earth?”
Looking at the gospel reading we see two different individuals separated by a very big gap at least socially. On the one hand is a woman who in their context then had no say even in law court. She is also a widow that means there is no husband to speak for her. There is also every possibility that she was poor considering the nonchalant attitude of the judge. On the other hand we have not only a man but also a judge who is also rich. Socially these two are parallel to each other. However the woman who had NO SAY could not accept NO FOR AN ANSWER, until the judge addressed her case sufficiently.
Prayer is one important exercise that we often neglect and persistent prayer is more needful. From our understanding of the character of God he needs people that will bug him in prayers. In fact there are many reasons why we should be unrelenting and persistent in prayers.
- It shows that we truly and totally depend on God (John15:5; Act 17:28).
- It shows forth our faith (Heb.11:6).
- It makes us to become familiar (conversant) with God (John 10:27-29).
- It brings about answers to our prayers (Isa. 58:9; 65:24; Jer.33:3; Psalm 91:15).
There are indeed many people who are where they are today simply because they persisted. Most of us know about Thomas Edison the inventor of electric bulb. Apart from the fact that he was told that he was too stupid to learn as a child, he made 1000 unsuccessful attempts before he could light a single bulb. Edison took to the path of persistence and it paid off. Remember the little boy in our story, he was not ready to let go until he got what he wanted from his mum.
Most people on the other hand, give up after the first attempt or trial. That is why St. Paul would advise that we should pray without ceasing (1 Thess 5:17). Some of us give God negative challenges. By this I mean like giving God a deadline for instance “if you know you are the living God let this or that happen before this or that time!” Our work is not to command God but to pray to Him with faith and patience. Imagine what it takes a bird to build a nest or a fox to dig a hole; it is just persistence. When we stop praying we start perishing, when we stop pushing on, we run the risk of being pulled off. It does not matter much long you have being praying what is important is that you are still praying and holding on God as you will obtain what you are looking for at God’s own time and bidding!
Today the Church is celebrating Mission Sunday. If we take time to look at the nature of mission generally, we discover that it is all anchored on steadfast and persistent prayers. No wonder our Lord Jesus Christ said that the harvest (mission) is plenty but the labourers (missionaries) are few and thus enjoined for prayers that the Lord of harvest sends more labourers (missionaries) into the harvest (Matt.9:37-38). Every worthwhile mission can only be sustained and activated by fervent and unrelenting prayers, which is simply the communication with Lord of Missions.
Another important requisite for mission is the word of God; of course that is every missionary’s working instrument. It on this ground that St. Paul in the second reading admonished Timothy to pay attention to the word of God in his missionary vocation (2 Tim.3:14-15) . Today we pray for missions not just in the sense of remote places, but also in the so-called big cities where people are growing cold about things of God in their senseless search for material acquisition and comfort.
May your fervent and unrelenting prayers bring favours and God blessings to you this week. Have a blissful week ahead.