On September 22 this year (2016), I saw a video from Nigeria that shocked me because it shows something very unusual. A man goes stark naked at the residence of someone who owes him an amount that is over $80,000. The man alleges that he has been begging his debtor to pay him but to no avail. Toward the end of the video, he makes a promise that he will not relent in asking for his money in like manner (going naked) whenever and wherever he sees his debtor until he pays him. The video is going viral!
The story above may evoke reasonable questions, moral judgments, cultural sentiments and the like. I, however, would like to dwell on and draw appropriate lessons from the creditor’s desperation and persistence for our reflection today. To persist is to CONTINUE in a certain course of action in spite of the oppositions, challenges, and difficulties. When applied to prayers, persistence tells us never to quit because quitters never win and winners never quit armed with faith!
In the First Reading (Exodus 17:8-13), we see the account of the war between the people of Israel and the Amalekites. The Amalekites fought the people of Israel at Rephidim, and it came unexpectedly.The attack may have come as a punishment because from the previous narrative, the people of Israel were doubtful of God’s presence, power, and might at Massah and Meribah. In the heat of the battle, Moses orders Joshua to take some men to fight the Amalekites while he goes up to a mountain with Aaron and Hur to pray but in some necessary forms.
Moses has been a mountain climber, and he knows the spiritual value of climbing the mountain, We can recall that most of his encounters with God took place at such heights. We learn from the narrative that as long as Moses raised his staff, the Israelites win, but when his hands become weak, they start to lose. To make the victory permanent, he sits on a stone while Aaron and Hur give him support; that position brought victory to the Israelites on that day.
One could ask: “why did God allow the old man, Moses to stay on under the sun of the day time and eventually under the cold of the evening with his hands up? Is He not the same God that divided the sea for the children of Israel to pass through on dry ground. Why is this situation different? God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9).
From the First Reading, we learn the power and importance of praying with resolute persistence. Moses knows the liberating power of persistent supplication. We could pause to reflect on the significance of raising the staff and doing so all day. The story of that staff began at the burning bush (Ex. 4:2) when God made it become a serpent, and after that, in Egypt, it also became a serpent that swallowed the other serpents from the rods of the magicians in Egypt. The staff signaled the recession of the red sea (Ex.14:15-21). By striking it on the rock, water came forth for the people to drink (Ex.17:5-6). That staff (rod) symbolizes God’s active presence with Moses. In this narrative, Moses pointed it not just to the skies but to God. It is like telling God to remember what he uses this staff to do in the midst of His people.
Moses did not climb the mountain by himself. He goes up there to raise his symbol of authority in the company of Hur and Aaron. Here we see the community dimension of prayer, and this confirms what our Lord Jesus Christ said: “when two or more gather in my name, I am in their midst. (Matt.18:20).
Today, God, wants us to climb the mountain of prayer, and He wants to see our hands raised and holding the staff of persistence. God does not want us to count on how long it takes us to climb the mountain nor how long our hands are up. Remember Moses had to keep his hands raised to ensure victory for the people of Israel. If you desire success, your hands ought to be raised and remain that way until victory is accomplished and even beyond that.
We have a more pathetic narrative about persistence in prayer in the Gospel Reading (Luke 18:1-8). The parable, which our Lord uses to demonstrate the need to pray persistently, tells us about a widow who wants justice done for her. We are not privy to her predicament, but she is apparently desperate and needs help from an unnamed judge.
If we look at the woman closely, we discover a lot of societal disadvantages. She has no one to speak for her; she lost her husband. In that context, a woman has no voice in the law court. In fact, she will not be given access to enter the mobile tent that serves as the court. She has no one to protect her nor provide for her. Furthermore, she was poor and could not grease the hub of justice. She sees the judge as the only mouth that can speak for her; she has no alternative or plan B. The only force left in her is persistence, and she uses it to the last.
Let us take a look at the unnamed man at the seat of judgment. The parable tells us that he does not respect any man nor fears God. He is simply apathetic. He is also corrupt because if the window is coming with wealth and affluence, his response would be quick. He also knows the details of the case and that it should favor the widow. His plan is to frustrate the widow by making himself unreachable, but that is not working for our poor sister as she intensifies her supplication.
The judge finally agrees to advance justice for the woman not for “goodness sake” but for her “persistence sake.” The tactful judge senses a dilemma. Knowing her to be unrelenting, the judge knows that any judgment that goes against her will bring about more persistence for an appeal. On the other hand, his inaction is already putting him on the spot. Finally, the widow gets an affirmative answer; case closed!
Today we all represent the widow one way or the other. in so far as something is lacking in your life, you are a widow. In so far as you are in need, you are a widow. Because of your “widowed situation,” many things (and people) may be against you, and there is only one judge that can restore all things for you, and that judge is God. To get Him to bring that restoration, you need to knock and to continue knocking. Why? Because His words say that the door will open (Luke 11:9).
Our God, the just judge, needs our disturbance. Often people tell me “Fr, I have prayed about it and no answer.” With God, this is a stupid thing to say. That means “you have stopped praying.” St. Paul encourages us to keep on praying without ceasing (1 Thess 5:17). Often we give God cynical challenges. Some people may say: “if you know you are the living God let this or that happen before this or that time!” We cannot command God. We only need to keep praying and wait for him patiently to act (Psalm 37:7).
Imagine what it takes for 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 long you have been praying, what is important is that you are still asking like the widow and persistently holding your staff like Moses. Furthermore and very pertinent too, do not make room for another alternative when praying to God; that is one of the banes of prayers that do not get answers. God needs us to make Him our one and only option.
In our prayers to God, there should be no Plan B; that is the beginning of persistence. Like the man in our opening story, God wants us to come to him naked; that is the way we are. Like Moses, we need to climb the mountain and hold on to the staff, and like the widow, we need to pray without ceasing and believe without doubting.
Happy Sunday and have a persistently prayer-full week ahead.