A parable of persistence
A Reflection for the 12th October 2017
Malachi 3: 13-20; Psalm 1; Luke 2:5-13.
We move, this evening, from the prophet Jonah to the very short book of Malachi which, in certain versions of the Bible, is the last book of the Old Testament. The author is in fact anonymous, for Malachi simply means 'my messenger'. Malachi, you might say, wakes us up to God during times of non-crisis. During times of non-crisis, when things are 'humdrum and normal', our interest in God is often pushed out to the margins, other pre-occupations taking centre stage. Crisis has this for it: during it everything becomes important and significant. Malachi keeps us attentive, listening for God, waiting in anticipation, waiting to respond to the God who is always coming to us. The passage we heard this evening is one of those rather satisfying 'hell fire and brimstone ones', when the goodies are going to win and the baddies will get their comeuppance. 'On the day that I am preparing, says the Lord .... you will see the difference between an upright man and a wicked one, between the one who serves God, and the one who does not . ... . all the arrogant and evil doers will be burnt up.' It is a reminder that although from our human experience, the wicked often seem to triumph in the short term, goodness wins in the long run. 'The sun of righteousness will shine out with healing in its rays.'
In the cartoon Peanuts, one character, Lucy, is listening to music on a radio. She says to her friend, Charlie Brown, 'I do like to start the day with good music,' to which Charlie Brown says, 'I'm not so much worried about how my day starts, it’s how it ends that bothers me.' The prophet Malachi would echo Charlie's sentiments. He gives warning to evildoers that, even though they may prosper now, they will be held accountable at the end.
The Gospel reading carries a strong message about the virtue of persistence. In Luke, Jesus tells the parable about the person who bangs on his friend's door in the middle of the night, asking for bread for another friend who has arrived unexpectedly. 'I tell you,' says Jesus, 'if the man doesn't get up for friendship sake, persistence will be enough to get him up .... So, ask, search, knock and the door will be opened.' I am reminded of a story my Father enjoyed telling about my Mother. She had persistently brought to his attention that there was a bolt loose on the wheel of my pram. Never a great one for mechanics, he suggested, tongue in cheek, that a visit to the Rolls Royce factory in Birmingham would be a good idea. Next morning, after he gone to work, I was put in said pram, my Mother pushing me three miles to the factory and banged on the door. That evening, with an air of innocence, she congratulated my dad on his excellent suggestion and said Rolls Royce had been very helpful. They had not only in replacing all nuts and bolts on the pram, but giving her a bag of spares also! It is for me, my own parable about persistence. Ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you.
A parable literally means something laid alongside. If we place one thing beside another, a lesson can be drawn from either their likeness or their difference. With tonight's Gospel the point also is in difference, in the contrast. What Jesus says is, 'If a churlish and unwilling householder can in the end be coerced by a friend's persistence into giving him what he needs, how much more will God, who is a loving Father supply all his children's needs?'
Some of you are tonight entering the silence of the thirty day retreat, entering a great adventure that will take you in surprising directions. Persistence will be needed at various times. In persisting with something in prayer, we clarify for ourselves what it is we really want. It is all part of discovering our deepest desires, and what God desires for us. You will not be not wringing the graces and gifts you need from an unwilling God. Rather, you will be asking one who knows your needs better than you know them yourselves, and whose heart is the heart of generous love. There is no such thing as an unanswered prayer. The answer given may not be what was expected, but it is always a response in the love and wisdom of God. As the psalmist expresses it, 'Happy are they who place their trust in the Lord.'
Sr. Anne Morris