Persistence is different from stubbornness. Persistence is about ongoing attitudes and / or actions that lead to a good outcome. Stubbornness is really about us and self-willfulness, often for selfish gains. Persistence is often about justice. Stubbornness is often about injustice. The persistence of the widow in this weekend’s Gospel is not a matter of stubbornness. The unjust judge grows weary and is annoyed with the widow. He fails to grasp the deeper meaning of her persistence: an injustice is being done and the widow seeks to change that.
In this parable, the widow’s persistence in petitioning the judge is directed toward changing his mind so that he will act and render a just decision. Our own prayer is not a matter of trying to change God’s mind. Persistent prayer is about faithful relationship to God that expands us and our expectations of how God is to act. God always acts justly. The challenge of the Gospel is to keep on praying to a God who wills only good for us, who wills that we receive salvation and eternal life. Sometimes it is required that we must change our minds about what we pray for or about our perception of how God answers our prayer.
Whether the response to our own prayer is delayed or speedily given, faith and hope uphold our efforts to “pray always.” Persistence requires discipline, and it rests on the hope that the desired outcome of our efforts will be achieved. For example, we are persistent in exercise routines, athletic training, or music practice. So, it should be with prayer. We persist because of our hope that God will hear us and that our petition is just. This hope, nonetheless, is not merely future-oriented, concerned only with receiving what we request. This hope rests on the conviction of our steadfast relationship to the God who has always been faithful and who always listens to our prayer. If faith seeks justice and salvation, then hope spawns the confidence that our prayer will be heard and one day we will share everlasting life.
Will God “find faith on earth?” God does find faith in those who persist in prayer. But what about those of us who feel like we are praying persistently for our needs, but God does not seem to be answering us?
This raises the important issue about what we pray for. If our prayer is simply about getting what we want, then our focus may only be upon ourselves. If, instead, our focus is on “justice being done … speedily,” then persistence will get us that justice and, ultimately, salvation. The key is to remember that the answer to our prayers is not getting what we want now, but justice, that is, right relationship with God that leads to eternal life. Ultimately, then, our persistence in prayer leads to receiving more than we could possibly want or imagine. It leads to favorable judgment when Christ comes and we enter into eternal glory with Him.
This is not to say that we forgo praying for our own needs. For example, for the good of our family, secure employment, good health, or sufficiency in retirement, etc. These needs, however immediate, are always prayed for within the larger picture … what we need in order to secure right relationship with God and salvation. In this, we are always assured that our prayer will be heard.
May Saint Michael the Archangel defend, guide, protect, and intercede for us always!