Oct. 20 (29th Sunday C). Exodus 17:8-13. Psalm 121:1-2,3-4,5-6,7-8. II Timothy 3:4-4:2. Luke 18:1-8
Luke now frames Jesus’ teaching on prayer with two parables—the unjust judge who gives in to his plaintiff a poor widow because of her persistency and then follows it up with the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. The parables bring out the need for prayer in our lives as well as the sincerity that comes from a humble heart searching for God through prayer in a sacred place (the Temple).
The introduction to the parables, however, is very important for understanding how Luke sees what is essential in Jesus’ way of wanting us to pray: “Jesus told his disciples a parable on the necessity of praying always and not losing heart.” This shows us that Jesus,who is Jewish, insists on prayer of the heart and praying often because it is necessary. Jesus is actually giving us the main point of the first parable, the one chosen for this Sunday. We may realize that we have both a maxim here and then a colorful parable to explain that instructive note about praying as Jesus wants us to pray. Luke,too,is helping us to understand both the necessity of praying while leading us to the proper interpretation of the parable. Jewish prayer is always connected with the heart.
The key word about prayer in the first verse immediately caught my attention. It was the word “heart” while prefacing it with “not losing heart.” The word used in the original Greek of Luke is egkakeo which has several meanings and is translated differently in the English versions of the New Testament. Some use not becoming wearied or tired, others discouraged while trying to pray. The majority however use “not losing heart.” Even the notion of fear or pain is associated with the Greek word, for example, the fear of pain in giving birth to a child! All in this little word are possible translations. In the Latin the word is associated with “failing” (deficere). We all have these symptoms in our personal prayer life that have to be attended to in order to have a wholesome heart that beats with the rhythmic prayer that never stops. There is no “afib” in a healthy heart and even moreso in a heart that is always in tune with God.
We all recognize the necessity of prayer if we are believers, but we do not pray with persistence as does the widow seeking a good decision from the unjust judge who has no heart. Often our ordinary lives are crowded with what we are doing habitually each day and our interests. Prayer almost seems a distraction rather than seeing that many things that we do are distracting us from prayer.
The expression “not losing heart” would be more within the culture of the Jewish Jesus than the other translations, because the prayers he used come from the heart—his own, the Psalms, and the hymns going up the steps toward the Temple. Parables also are to be seen and interpreted in the light of their background in the Hebrew Scriptures and in the time of the Second Temple.
When prayer comes directly from the heart love is involved. God is love as St. John tells us in his First Epistle. Love is expressed in passion and passionate words when we pray in the manner that Jesus is instructing us. Love never loses heart, is not wearied, nor tired. Love is persistent. Love overcomes pain and fear and is never discouraged. As is often said in the Eucharist, “Let us pray!” Amen.
Copyright 2013 Fr. Bertrand Buby, S.M.