I’m not one to usually use jokes in homilies, but I can’t resist, it fits too well. A man asks God, “How long is a million years?” God says, “To me, it’s just a minute.” “Well, how much is a million dollars?” God says, “To me that’s just a penny.” So the man says, “Lord, can I have a penny?” God says, “Sure, gimme a minute.”
The theme in today’s readings is nearly impossible to miss. First we see Moses lifting his hands in prayer, and whenever he falters, the battle goes badly. This is followed by Paul telling us to stay faithful to what we have heard. Finally, we come Luke, and he tells us straight out, “Jesus told his disciples a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary”, the parable of the widow and the dishonest judge.
If we are not careful, these images can leave us with a false impression, almost that God didn’t hear us the first time. We can think that God has some great flow chart where he carefully lists how much prayer has been given for what causes, and plans out his graces accordingly. So if you really want a new bike for Christmas, all you need to do is pray for it all day and all night, and you are guaranteed a shiny new racer.
Our experience certainly doesn’t show this to be true, does it? Very often, the things we pray longest and hardest for seem forever out of reach. How many millions of hours of prayer have there been for the end of conflict in the middle east? How many more for world peace? Every day, across the country we pray for our political leaders, and sadly, they seem to move further from God, not closer. We pray for our children hour after hour, and they still don’t seem to realize our advise is pure genius.
So there must be something we are missing here in this parable. Jesus says God is a loving father, much more inclined to do us good than a dishonest judge who cares only for himself. He tells us to persevere, to be patient, to keep praying, but we don’t see anything changing. What are we supposed to do?
God has the long view. He’s got the view from the mountaintop, he’s sitting in the plane looking down on the earth. Our view is shortsighted, we only see the few around us, and we only see forward to the next piece of bread we want to stuff in our mouth. I need a bike, I need an education, I need a house, I need the respect of my peers, I need a decent 401k, I need my spouse to realize how perfect I am. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but God pretty much sees all this the same way. We are children asking for a new bike. We don’t have the long view.
We don’t see the thing that really matters, the looming abyss that opens up beyond the doors of death, where we enter into eternity and become fixed in person and in character. We can change now, we can’t change then. God knows this is the gift that is most important, the gift that affects our true lives most deeply. Most of what we pray for is dust.
But the act of praying, the act of wishing for others good, and putting my selfish needs aside. The act of asking for strength to endure the trials of this life, trials that God has put in our path on purpose for our own good. The act of desiring God’s love to fill the hearts of others, the act of unifying our hearts and minds to the greatest of goods, God himself, this has the deepest and greatest impact possible. This affects who we are, it changes our very nature, it bring us one step closer to the perfection that God so desperately desires us to become.
God knows something we don’t. Prayer has the greatest effect on us, not on him. It is we who are opened and unlocked in prayer. Every moment of prayer changes our very nature, making us more and more like God with every day, every hour, every second. We must pray without ceasing, bring God to mind in every action, every thought, unifying ourselves with him, so that when we come to our end and see Him face to face for the first time, we already know who he is, and can turn to him. If we find we don’t know him, then we have missed the only thing worth knowing, and the pains of this life are merely a taste of the pain we will put ourselves through.