Tuesday, October 11, 2016

PENTECOST XXII (Proper 24) 2016

Jacob Wrestling the Angel -- Leon Bonnat
The common theme in the readings from Genesis, 2 Timothy and Luke that the Lectionary appoints for this week is unusually obvious – persistence. Jacob wrestles with a stranger (traditionally referred to as ‘an angel’) all night long, and even at daybreak will not let him go until he gets a blessing. Paul tells his readers to ‘be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable’ for proclaiming the Gospel. Luke recounts a parable in which Jesus invites his hearers to emulate the persistence of a widow who will not stop petitioning a judge until she gets a judgment in her favor.
The connection is easy to spot. But what lesson should we draw from it?  Do we really have to pester God as the widow does, or wrest a blessing from God as Jacob does? Does God act justly and benevolently only if, and when, we demand that he does? This is what Jesus seems to say. Yet the suggestion sits very badly with the idea of God that most Christians have, and proclaim – a God whose love is ever present and enduring, and who always takes the initiative, reaching out even to those who are hostile or indifferent.
The Widow -- Otto Dix
The same readings can point us in another direction, however. It is a fact that devout and serious people sometimes give up on God, and stop reciting prayers that they have said for years. Moreover, this happens not out of pique or petulance, but because it suddenly seems as though, despite their prayers, neither blessing nor justice is ever forthcoming. This is part of the reality of discipleship. Prayers are no recipe for success.
What is there for Christians to say in such circumstances, except this? We ought to persist in the ways of faith. Persistence, though, amounts to nothing better than beating one’s head against the wall, unless we can continue in the belief that God’s love and justice does not fail. In the face of silence, two things sustains that belief  -- a sense that no other blessing will serve, and the example of Jesus. Christ’s persistence in the face of hatred and social conformity resulted in death on the Cross, but by that very fact showed his love of God to be unshakeable. His persistence was then vindicated by the Resurrection.

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