Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C
[Exodus 17:8-13; Psalm 121; 2Timothy 3:14-4:2; Luke 18:1-8]
Netflix. Prime Video. Disney Plus. I understand that these are among the most popular of what are called “streaming channels”. By means of a technology far beyond my understanding, movies, television shows, documentaries and so on can be streamed from cyberspace directly to a television, computer, or mobile device. What renders these so popular is that they offer on-demand service. They are arranged to pander to my desires as I demand them and offer almost instantaneous response.
Services such as these exist and do well because we have become an on-demand people. A self-obsessed individualism has long reigned in our society. “I am the centre of everything, and so expect that my desires should trump all other considerations.” This finds particular expression in the expectation that I should receive an instant response to my questions and demands. Needing to wait more than a few minutes for a reply to a text message is considered an intolerable delay.
The passage we heard from the Gospel of Luke this morning invites us to consider carefully how our on-demand expectations might enter our prayer. As people of Christian faith, we know that we are dependent on God for all things. We express this dependence through prayers of petition, by which we bring before God our hopes, desires, fears, and challenges, asking Him to answer our needs. What are our expectations as we do? If we approach God as an “on-demand service” we shall expect that He will answer us by providing exactly what we ask for in the same instant we make the demand. When the answer is not provided, we might begin to think that there is a “problem with the connection”, or God “cannot respond at the moment”, or even perhaps that “the service has been terminated” due to a sinful “default” on our part. If there is lack of responsiveness from streaming channels, we can get frustrated. When it seems that God is not responding, we are tempted to “lose heart”, that is, to get discouraged and grow in anxiety since things are not unfolding as we think they should.
For precisely this situation Jesus offers the parable recorded by Saint Luke. By it the Lord is encouraging us to keep praying and “not lose heart.” If even an unjust judge, who really doesn’t care about God, or a widow, or anyone else will finally respond to persistent requests, how much more will God respond to those whom He loves. Furthermore, Jesus tells us, our Heavenly Father does not delay in responding. There is instant streaming. But the divine response that streams into our lives is justice. “I tell you, God will quickly grant justice to them,” Jesus says. By “justice” is meant what is right, just, and truly needful as God knows it to be. In other words, God responds swiftly in accordance with His divine knowledge and wisdom, not our limited and self-centered preoccupations. This means we may not recognize God’s answer as it is given, but Jesus assures us it will always be in accord with our true good.
Occasionally I will read in the news about growing discontent with one or more of the main streaming services. We are told that subscriptions are falling off, ostensibly because customers are increasingly dissatisfied with the programming on offer. In our on-demand culture, failure on the part of a company to provide what is asked for is corporate suicide. People will just walk away. What God has on offer for us is what we need more than all else: salvation in the gift of His Son Jesus. Yet what Jesus teaches may not always be to our liking. We may be disappointed in what we hear him say today about prayer. Perhaps we are disheartened and troubled by his call to repentance of heart and the reform of our lives. If we see Jesus as only a service provider for the satisfaction of our desires, we are likely to be tempted to “cancel the subscription”, as it were, and walk away. The first reading reminds us that, if we do, we lose.
Recounted in the text from Exodus is a battle between Israel and the Amalekites. The struggle went in Israel’s favour as long as Moses kept his arms raised to God. When his arms were lowered due to fatigue, the battle went the other way. We can grow weary of praying if we do not seem to get what we want, and we let down not our arms but our guard and begin to rely on ourselves. Without doubt this will mean a loss in the battle against the fear and anxiety that can level us. To borrow from Saint Paul, the call in such moments is “to continue in what you have learned and firmly believed”. Well, what we have learned from Jesus is to trust absolutely in the faithful love of our God, to believe firmly that our Heavenly Father knows what is good for us and always provides it as it is needed. Let’s not forget that. Rather, let’s trust in God, and keep praying.
Our most effective prayer, of course, is the Eucharist. Here we offer not only our petitions but also our very lives to the Father through Christ. May we do so filled with confidence and hope, since in this sacrament the Father does answer, streaming instantly into our hearts His love and mercy, which are all we really need.
Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
Saint Joseph’s Basilica
October 16th, 2022