There is an ancient Chinese proverb that goes like this: “The hardest substance known to humankind is water.”
At first glance, water does not seem to have the appearance of being a hard substance, especially if it is examined only one drop at a time. But beneficial and necessary as water is, too much of it is not necessarily a good thing. Just ask the people of Haiti and the Southern United States about the power of Hurricane Matthew. Some of us remember the effects of other storms such as Agnes, that impacted our region some number of years ago. Water can erode mountains, carve canyons. If you’ve ever had a leak in the plumbing in your house, you know first-hand there is nothing like a little leak. A little leak can do damage of a serious magnitude. There’s the repair of the pipe, the repainting and the other renovations that can reach epic proportions before the damage is repaired.
So apparently the Gospel for this coming Sunday (Luke 18:1-8) seems to liken prayer to the dripping faucet torture. The corrupt judge who expects to be bought and who sells out to the highest bid of special interest groups for his reelection campaign becomes wearied by the persistent nagging old woman. The only advantage to him in hearing her case is that it will make her finally go away.
As was the case in the story of the ten lepers, today’s gospel lesson is unique to Saint Luke. It is not found in any of the other Gospels. You may suppose that it was not included because the parable evoked in them the same reaction that it evokes in us. We’re left wondering why our Lord would have used this parable in the first place.
Well, what we have here is an image about prayer and vindication. People in our Lord’s time were quite used to the concept of an absolutely corrupt judiciary. So the point of the parable is: God is not like that. He hears your prayers; God hears your concerns. God knows your struggles. Prayer is not an exercise in nagging the Almighty; applying dripping water torture. To use another metaphor, the idea behind prayer is not how squeaky wheel gets the grease.
One of the popular songs performed by the singer, the late Janis Joplin, had these words: “Lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz” which only serves to highlight the idea that prayer is about asking for things. In reality, although it is clear in scripture that God wants us to ask about things, there it is more abundantly clear that the purpose of prayer is to foster a relationship with the Divine. As in the sacrament of communion, the purpose is literally ‘to be made one with the Divine.’ Prayer is about relationality. It is about intimacy with the Divine. It is about who and what we become through the act of worship and prayer. When you come to understand prayer in that way, you also become aware that there are types of prayer that are of a higher order. Meditation (yes, it exists in the Christian Tradition); contemplative prayer; Lectio Divina are all ways that one comes to be with the Lord.
In the theme of our lessons, we may want things, but God wants you. He wants to write his law in your heart. He wants you to be among his people, walking in a new covenant with him–a covenant of love.