Memorial Day weekend has arrived but this doesn’t feel like much of a vacation. The death toll from Covid will be 100,000 in the next couple days. Stores are starting to reopen while others still remain closed because it isn’t worth the risk. Most people are wearing masks while a few defiantly refuse. Churches have become a major point of contention as some pastors go to court in order to have in-person worship while others are still being cautious. The summer begins with us a divided people. The times are unsettled and with this being an election year, politics will likely make the dynamics worse. So regarding the church in the midst of all of this we might ask, “What Now?” For the answer, we look to the prayer of Jesus out of the Gospel of John.
Jesus was about to be arrested as he prayed for himself and the disciples (for us). He had come to give eternal life. Eternal life was to know God and Jesus Christ whom the Father has sent. So this was his prayer for himself,
And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” John 17:5
Jesus then prayed for us. His prayer was interesting because of what was missing. He didn’t pray for us to be powerful. He didn’t pray for us to be politically connected or to adopt the world’s ways. What he did pray for is that we know his joy that comes through our relationship with him. Jesus also prayed that we be protected because we are to be in the world but we are not of the world. The world has different meanings but one point to be stressed is that it is loved by God. Jesus was going to return to the Father but his followers were to continue in the work of letting the world know that it is loved by God. Jesus’ love won’t be known by political games or by separating into our private enclaves but only by an engagement with the world, thus the need for prayerful protection. If the world is to know eternal life, the world needs to know Jesus Christ and the One who sent him. The knowledge of Christ comes through how we reflect him in the world.
This Memorial Day weekend the world is divided and in disarray. It needs to know that it is loved. It needs to know a life that is eternal. It needs to know Jesus Christ and the Father who sent him. This is the work for the church that might be wondering, “What Now?” Remember, always remember, Jesus has prayed for you. He has prayed for you to know his joy. He prayed that you be protected in this truth.
Prayer and the religious life go hand in hand. You can’t have one without the other. Vitality of one increases the other. We have our own prayer times and routines. We pray for others and ourselves. We pray for health. We pray for wisdom. We say prayers that reflect our thankfulness. We pray for the well being of creation. Again, we pray for these things in the lives of others as well as ourselves. So for Jesus to talk about prayer shouldn’t surprise us. Also for Jesus to connect prayer and faith shouldn’t be that surprising either.
As we look at the headlines of the world, what do we so often see? We see images of refugees fleeing brutal regimes, poverty and war. We see the powerful doing just about what ever they want without being held accountable for their actions. We see the weak so often being used with few coming to their defense. What does a life of prayer have to offer in a world like this?
Jesus is telling of a widow seeking justice from an unresponsive judge. This judge has no respect for anyone, not even God. Concern for the widow has strong support in Scripture and so the judge’s behavior is even all the more shocking. However, the widow will not be denied justice. While the reading describes the judge giving into the widow because of her pestering or bothering him, the meaning is far closer to her giving the judge, ‘a black eye.’ The widow was not passive in seeking justice. She would not be stopped even in the face of an unjust world. The life of prayer isn’t passive either.
The world may be slow to bring justice or even seek it. The message from the reading is that God is very different from this world. God will listen and respond quickly to his chosen ones who cry out day and night. This Jesus connects to his finding faith when he returns. Faith is fully believing that God and his kingdom have a strongly contrasting understanding of justice to the injustice we know full well. Prayer is not a passive but aggressive pursuing of God’s justice to come. Even, if it means giving the injustice of the world ‘a black eye.’ As Jesus taught us all to pray, “…thy kingdom come, thy will be done…”
The life of prayer is a privilege to know that God listens and responds. It is a privilege to be given the opportunity to bare the soul to God and know that we’ll find grace and justice. So take advantage of the life of prayer. When it comes to praying for God’s justice to be known, be like the widow and be unrelenting even to the point of giving the world’s injustice ‘a black eye.’