The last line of today’s Gospel is a disturbing question to ponder: “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Before this line, the Gospel concerns what we want from God. The widow in Jesus’ parable clearly represents all of us, as we bring our petitions before God in prayer, and the judge represents God. Jesus assures us that God listens to our prayers much more attentively than the unjust judge listened to the widow, and he answers us much more speedily than the judge answered her pleas. But in this last line, Jesus shifts the focus to what God wants from us. Jesus seems to hint that it might be a long time before he returns in glory, and he wonders if he will find faith in the hearts of his people upon his return. What God wants from us is a response of faith.
The Catechism tells us, “Faith is man’s response to God, who reveals himself and gives himself to man” (CCC 26). In a later passage it goes on to say, “By his Revelation, ‘the invisible God, from the fullness of his love, addresses men as his friends, and moves among them, in order to invite and receive them into his own company.’ The adequate response to this invitation is faith. By faith, man completely submits his intellect and his will to God. With his whole being man gives his assent to God the revealer” (CCC 142-143).
In our fallen nature, we tend to think first in terms of our own will: what we want to happen; what problems we want to solve; what we want to acquire; what we want to avoid. When we pray, we might approach God primarily from this point of view. To put it bluntly, we use prayer to tell God what we want him to do for us. If this is our focus, we are likely to become discouraged before long, since God does not seem to answer us in the way that we hope for. But getting what we want from God is not the main purpose of prayer. As Pope Francis instructs us in the Spiritual Reflection: “The object of prayer is of secondary importance; what matters above all is [one’s] relationship with the Father. This is what prayer does: it transforms the desire and models it according to the will of God, whatever that may be, because the one who prays aspires first of all to union with God, who is merciful Love.”
In the parable, the widow is only asking the judge to do what he should do anyway: render a just decision. She is not asking the judge to do something different from what is right and proper to his position as judge. We can conclude from this, and from Jesus’ question about finding faith on earth, that we should make the primary focus of our prayer not what we want him to do but rather our union with him through faith. This is the purpose for which God reveals himself to us: he wants to unite us to himself and bring us to share eternity with him in Heaven. If we pray for this — Lord, transform my heart so that it is more like your own. Teach me to love like you do. Help me to abandon my will to your will. — then we can be sure that he will quickly and generously answer our prayer, because this is the very purpose for which he reveals himself to us in the first place.
We can learn from the first reading that God’s people, those who strive to respond with faith to his self-revelation, will find themselves in a battle. There are many forces which oppose God’s will for us, including the devil, the world, and our own weak and sinful flesh. These forces fight to turn us away from faith in God. As long as we persevere in prayer and reliance on God, we can overcome these enemies by the power of God. But when we “let our hands rest,” that is, when we stop praying, when we take our focus off God and begin to seek our own will, then our spiritual enemies will begin to get the better of us.
The first reading shows us, however, that it is difficult and tiring at times to remain faithful to God and his will. We need the support of others, as Moses needed the support of Aaron and Hur. One way that we can support one another is given to us in the second reading. We can and should proclaim God’s word to one another, not only by actually referencing Scripture, but more especially by living out the word of God in our words and actions throughout the day, “whether it is convenient or inconvenient.” As we strive to “remain faithful to what [we] have learned and believed,” we serve as an inspiration to our brothers and sisters, helping them to persevere in the battle of faith.
What is my real purpose when I pray? Do I find it difficult to persevere in prayer? To whom do I turn for spiritual support?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 18, no. 8. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.