(Genesis 32:22-31, Psalm 121, 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5)
(watch here: https://youtu.be/Ma6KXkEBv8E)
1Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ 4For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’ ” 6And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
Reflecting on these readings this week, I couldn’t help but recall a poem I once heard. It goes:
I asked God to take away my pain. God said, No. It is not for me to take away, but for you to give it up. I asked God to make my handicapped child whole. God said, No. Her spirit was whole, her body was only temporary. I asked God to grant me patience. God said, No. Patience is a by-product of tribulations; it isn’t granted, it is earned. I asked God to give me happiness. God said, No. I give you blessings. Happiness is up to you. I asked God to spare me pain. God said, No. Suffering draws you apart from worldly cares and brings you closer to me. I asked God to make my spirit grow. God said, No. You must grow on your own, but I will prune you to make you fruitful. I asked for all things that I might enjoy life. God said, No. I will give you life so that you may enjoy all things. I asked God to help me love others, as much as he loves me. And God said… Ah, finally you have the idea.
Who among us hasn’t gone through this stream of requests at some point in life? We ask God to take our pain away from us, to heal our broken children, to grant us patience, to give us happiness, to simply spare us from the pain if not take it away, to make our spirits grow, and for all things that we might enjoy life. We ask and we ask and we ask some more! And what does our asking get us? Does it get us no pain, healed children, patience, happiness, less pain, developed spirits, and all things? Well, sometimes…not all the time, but sometimes. God does, on occasion, grant us our requests…and usually on His time! Yes, God satisfies our requests on occasion but typically not exactly when we make them. God mulls over our requests. God considers factors that we seldom, if ever, consider. Indeed, our vision is somewhat narrow and selfish by nature. Just look at all those requests we just mentioned. No pain, healed children, patience, happiness, less pain, developed spirits, ALL THINGS…those are selfish requests! Even healed children…those are your children! Yes, our requests are, by their very nature, somewhat limited and tend to be selfish by nature. We should be grateful that God would satisfy any of our requests, let alone some of them! We are blessed to know our good and gracious God. We are blessed to know our God who is willing to satisfy some of our requests, selfish as they are, if not all of them. And it is only when we make truly selfless requests that God undoubtedly satisfies. Be assured that every time we make selfless requests, God will wholeheartedly work to satisfy them. Not only that but He’ll satisfy them with a smile on His face! That’s what I love about that last request in that poem: “I asked God to help me love others, as much as he loves me. And God said…ah, finally you have the idea.” When we make selfless requests, God won’t say ‘no’ to us! God is pleased to hear such requests because they reflect the selfless love He gives us, over and over and over again. God is a good and gracious God!
So when we make our endless stream of selfish requests we are not unlike either Jacob in our passage from Genesis or the widow in our passage from Luke. In that first reading, we heard how Jacob had wrestled with a man all night long until daybreak. Neither Jacob nor the man were willing to give up so the man used supernatural ability and blew out Jacob’s hip socket. Of course, the man was not merely a man but God incarnate so it was no wonder supernatural abilities were invoked. But why had Jacob wrestled with the man/God? Why was he so unwilling to give in to the man/God? Because Jacob wanted to be blessed. Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” Jacob had made a selfish request of the man/God and was unwilling to take ‘no’ for an answer. The man/God blesses Jacob and they go on their way, Jacob forever walking with a limp as a reminder of their encounter.
Likewise, our gospel reading gives us one of Jesus’ parables about a widow who was unwilling to take ‘no’ for her selfish request. She kept coming to the judge in her city and asking, “Grant me justice against my opponent.” Over and over again, the widow made her request known until finally the judge satisfied her request. He moaned, “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.” Jesus compares the unjust judge to God, saying, “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.” God grants justice to those who make their requests known to Him. And sometimes it takes multiple requests before any results are ever seen. Sometimes justice isn’t granted though, or at least not in the way or at the time that we’d expect it. Remember, God’s justice considers factors we tend not to consider, like matters of the heart, and isn’t limited by other factors like time and space. God’s justice is supreme justice. It comes precisely when it needs to come and in precisely the right form, have no doubt about that!
But is the good news of these two passages simply that God will honor the requests of those who are willing to ceaselessly wrestle with God and “pray always?” Perhaps the two passages serve to illustrate a different quality of God that is equally respectable. It is good news that God honors persistence but it is just as good that our God is a patient God. Our God is a God willing to wrestle with us through the long night. Our God is a God eager to grant justice, no matter how long it takes present our case for justice. God wants us to come to Him, over and over and over again. God patiently waits for us to come to Him. God wants to deliver swift justice but He also wants us to come to Him and continually make our requests known to Him. Our God is a patient God. Our God is a God who mulls over each of our requests instead of simply dismissing them or outright satisfying all of them. When God doesn’t satisfy requests, it isn’t because He hasn’t fully considered their importance to us. God knows how important our requests are but He considers the larger picture. God has His reasons for not honoring our requests as we heard in that opening poem. And be assured that God knows how selfish we are. God created us to be selfish beings! But God also created us to selfless beings too. God created us to be like Him, the most selfless being there is.
God’s patience for us is perhaps our greatest blessing. God waits for us to reach out to Him in prayer. God waits for us to become like Him, selflessly loving our neighbors as He loves us. God waits for us to cry out to Him in both our times of joy and our times of struggle. In our psalm for today, we heard David cry out, “I lift up my eyes to the hills; from where is my help to come?” He answers, “My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. The Lord will not let your foot be moved nor will the one who watches over you fall asleep. Behold the keeper of Israel will neither slumber nor sleep; the Lord watches over you.” This is our God!! This is our patient God!! Our God patiently watches over us in our times of struggle. He alone knows what we stand to gain from such times. And when the time is right, when we’ve finally reached out to him in desperation, He swoops in and delivers sure and swift justice. This is OUR God…a patient and merciful God!
As we continue along our journey through Pentecost, let us give thanks for not only God’s eagerness to honor persistence but also for God’s patience with us. God’s willingness to ceaselessly wrestle with us and tirelessly listen to our joys and sorrows in prayer is truly a blessing. Let us strive to mimic such patience in our work and our relationships with others. There is a deep goodness that arises from patience. Let us ask God to help us do all that we do…with a patient heart.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.