Breath of the Spirit: The Power and Potential of Persistence
We live in a culture of immediacy. We want what we want, and we want it right away. Almost without realizing it, one can place that same expectation on our relationship with the Divine. We approach Love as customers impatient if our pumpkin spice chai latte takes more than a few minutes to bring to the drive through window. Today’s reflection, though, reminds us that Love is not set to our expectations, but instead rewards the patience and persistence designed not to give us what we want but to make us anew.
Sunday, October 16th, 2022: 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Psalm 121:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8
2 Timothy 3:14-4:2
The Power and Potential of Persistence
A reflection by Ann Penick
The theme throughout all three of this Sunday’s readings is persistence! The reading from Exodus is a reflection on a legend concerning Moses, who persistently held up his hands – with the assistance of Aaron and Hur – holding the staff of God over the Israelite army so they could defeat the Amalekites in battle.
The passage from 2 Timothy encourages Timothy to be persistent in faithfulness to what he has been taught. Timothy is praised for following Paul’s teachings and example. He is confirmed and commissioned to persevere in the faith and teach others to do likewise by passing on what he has learned. Timothy is reminded of the importance of his task, the importance of the job which lies ahead, and the cost of being a follower of Jesus Christ. Paul assures Timothy there will be challenges of persecution not only from the Roman Empire, but also from teachers who spread false doctrine.
In the gospel, Jesus offers the parable of a widow’s persistence as a teaching about the need for our own. Jesus assures us that God will act for justice but wonders aloud if our faith will last. Jesus begins with the introduction of a completely unscrupulous judge who will not be guided by God or human law. The disrespected people are represented by the widow relentlessly asking for her rights. She is ostensibly so annoying, the judge ends up giving her the justice she demands. God works despite the unjust to bring about justice – but only if his disciples persist.
Luke mentions a number of widows in Jesus’ ministry. Jewish law in Jesus’ times considered widows a vulnerable population who should be given priority. In addition to being vulnerable, widows also appear as prophetic, active, and faithful. Think of Anna (Luke 2:37) who spreads the good news of Jesus’ birth. In Luke 4:25-6, Jesus mentions the widow of Zarephath who feeds Elijah from what few supplies she has in a famine and whose son is restored to life by the prophet.
All these appear in Luke’s gospel, including the widow of today’s parable who is persistent, active, and forceful enough to get the justice she demands – even from a totally unjust judge. Her persistent petitioning shows up in advance (Luke 18:1) as an image of, and lesson in, prayer. Luke’s gospel has already addressed prayer quite a bit. Luke begins with a group of people praying outside the temple. Jesus prays at his baptism and throughout his ministry goes off by himself to pray. He prays on the Mount of Olives at the desperate beginning of the Passion.
When the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray, he introduces the Lord’s Prayer (Luke 11:1-13). There, as in this parable, he encourages them to be persistent and to trust, assuring the disciples they will receive the Holy Spirit if they but ask. If the unjust judge will act after persistent requests, will not God do the same for the people whom God loves?
The parable ends with a question that wonders if the delay of an answer to prayer or the delay in Jesus’ return may cause some followers to lose faith. What does that mean? We may be able to find our answer in the Gospel of Luke!
There are a number of people in Luke who are praised for their faith: the Centurion, the woman who anoints Jesus’ feet, friends who bring a paralytic for Jesus to heal, the woman with the issue of blood who touches the hem of Jesus’ garment, the Samaritan leper, and the blind beggar whose sight Jesus restores. So, when Jesus returns, Luke suggests he will find faith, but it may be in unexpected places. Faith is found not among the usual people we think of – religious professionals or those certain of their own righteousness – but among those on the margins of society. Those convinced of their need for mercy.
We are assured God wants what is best for us. Jesus reiterates in Luke 12:22-31 that God intends to meet our basic needs. But Jesus is most insistent that God wants to give us three gifts: the Holy Spirit, Justice, and God’s Realm. Jesus wants for us God’s best possible gifts – as we are precious in God’s sight.
For us, the parable suggests that persistence in prayer is a sign of faith, just like the widow in today’s parable. Another sign may be in what we pray for: our daily bread, the Holy Spirit, justice, peace, the Realm of God.
It takes faith and courage to remain in the Church. Hopefully, we get encouragement from other believers, and from those who have given us good example. It takes a lot of discipline (meaning a willingness to be taught, as in a disciple) to be a follower of Jesus when pressures come from so many other things going on around us. We can pray for faith and discipline, and persistence in prayer will help us grow in both. We can get support by worshiping within a community who welcomes us, through the study of both the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, and through the writings of faithful Christians throughout Church history. None of these commitments are easy to maintain, but as the Scriptures suggest, there is much grace to be discovered in our persistence!
Ann Penick is originally from the Chicago area. She and her husband, Jim, live in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. Ann was ordained a priest with Roman Catholic Womenpriests in 2011. Ann has been serving the faith communities of Dignity Washington and Northern Virginia Dignity as one of their presiders since 2017. She also serves as one of the board members of DignityUSA. In addition, she has been pastoring a faith community of young families in Washington, DC since 2013.