My Dear Friends in Christ
Grace and Peace to you in God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. By now, you’ve probably all figured out that I’m an Iowa State fan. I know it probably comes as a total shock to discover that it’s not because of Iowa State’s dominance in sports. It actually goes back to my neighbor who would invite me and my brother to Iowa State games with him when his wife couldn’t use their season tickets. It was always a lot of fun to go to the game even the years when you were fairly certain that Iowa State was going to lose. I can remember one Saturday, not all that different than this one, when I was home alone watching Iowa State on the TV. For once, it was a really close game and Iowa State had the ball with not too much time left in the game. They had a long drive down the field filled with mistakes and setbacks but they managed to convert on third down each time. And I was praying the whole time. I even went to the wall and took our sick call crucifix (pull it out) and set it up on the floor next to me so that Jesus could watch the game with me and I started to pray my newly learned prayer, the memorare: Remember, O most gracious virgin Mary that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help, or sought your intercession was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto you, o virgin of virgins, my mother. To you I come. Before you I stand sinful and sorrowful, o Mother of the Word Incarnate. Despise not my petition but in your mercy hear me and answer me.”
I prayed it over and over again and it seemed like, when I would pray, they would move the ball forward and, when I stopped to celebrate or get a drink, they would flounder. With seconds remaining, Iowa State scored a touchdown that turned out to be the winner when they stopped the run back by the opposing team. I jumped up and celebrated and then it hit me: Iowa State had won and IT WAS ALL BECAUSE OF ME!
I felt like Moses must have felt as he watched the battle proceeding in the first reading. As long as his arms are raised, the Israelites succeeded in their quest of winning. When he got tired and dropped his posture of prayer (put your arms out) a posture Jesus would have had on the cross, they lost. With the help of Aaron and Nur, he contributed to the battle by invoking God’s blessing. I kept my prayers going to God and, therefore, Iowa State won. The question that always comes up when something like this happens is why did God listen to my prayer and not to the fans of the other team? Did we just have more fans praying? What did I do right that time that didn’t work the next time? And, If it is an act of God, how can we get God to do it when something more serious happens like cancer? This past week, I’ve had several interactions with some really sick people, people who knew they were probably going to die because of the sickness they have. I prayed with them, anointed them, and did my best to cheer them up. However, I know from experience that a lot of times I will see these folks again when I celebrate their funeral. Why wouldn’t God heal them from their disease? What’s the use in letting Iowa State win if people are going to die?
The gospel today provides a really interesting answer to this question. Jesus tells of an unjust judge who answers the plea of a poor widow because she is so persistent in asking for his assistance that he just wants to be rid of her. He says, “Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says. Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night? Will he be slow to answer them? I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily. But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" In other words, the point of God’s answers to our prayers is that we may have faith in him. But faith shouldn’t be something forced on us. There’s got to be an element of trust despite some evidence to the contrary in faith. If God answered all our prayers and solved all our problems, we would feel dependant on God instead of manifesting faith. God would basically be a sugar daddy that we call upon when we need something instead of a loving Father with whom we long and yearn to spend eternity.
We rejoice when God answers our prayers the way we want but it must manifest in us faith. Otherwise, when God doesn’t answer them the way we want, we will lose faith. If God doesn’t answer your prayer the way you want him to, will he still find faith in you?