Growing weary of prayer is a temptation addressed in this week’s Scripture readings. Moses literally grows tired as he holds up the staff of God, praying for protection as the Israelites battle Amalek’s army. If Moses rests his arms, Amalek gets the advantage. If Moses keeps his arms raised to God, the Israelites prevail. Poignantly, Moses’ comrades come to his aid, supporting his arms until the battle is won.
Unlike Moses we often do not see such immediate results from our entreaties to God. We get weary. We might stop asking for something because we decide God is not in favor of what we are asking. Why be a nag? Or maybe we just get tired of hearing ourselves pray. So we put our arms down for a while.
Jesus wants his disciples to be persistent in prayer. He knows there will be discouragement and adversity ahead. Jesus knows his disciples will not always have access to the big picture. But he wants them to know that their faith and their faithfulness are part of that big picture.
So he tells a parable about the Unjust Judge and the Persistent Widow. Luke tries to help out by cueing it up: “Jesus told the disciples a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary.” Then we hear about a widow with a legal grievance who keeps pleading to a feckless judge until he settles a case in her favor just so she will leave him alone. The parable itself is prayer-less, and neither the widow nor the judge is a clear protagonist. Reading yourself into the story can get you uneasily close to those feelings of unproductive prayer: begging an aloof Judge to give you what you want. How else might this parable be approached? Jesus is bringing attention not only to the form of prayer but to its substance. The substance of prayer is justice and mercy. But not the puny or provisional or imperfect forms of justice and mercy that the judge and the widow negotiate between each other. Mere human conceptions will never be full enough or satisfying enough or perfect enough to express God’s justice and mercy. In the end, prayer prevails by virtue of being prayer—constant and faithful. So as we prayerfully cup our hands to take the Eucharist this week, maybe we will feel the saints and the angels supporting our arms. And as we join with the body of Christ, at least in that moment we might gain a fleeting glimpse of the big picture.