Done Speedily

Done Speedily

Twenty-Ninth Sunday of the Year. Fr Paul-Martin White preaches on the seeming delay in God’s answers to our prayers for justice.

Through radio, television, the internet, and many other means of communication, people in every corner of the globe can be in instant contact with each other. Scientists on Earth are able to be in contact with robots on Mars and receive photographic images of the planet.

In all modern societies, science and technology have developed many things to ensure efficiency and quick results for many of our needs and wants. One need only take a stroll around any leading supermarket to see the number of food items labelled instant.

Speedy results are an integral part of the modern world, an inseparable part of our sense of superiority over peoples of the past. But God does not quite seem to fit into all this. He doesn’t seem to deliver the quick and speedy results most of us would like him to.

I imagine some people would see God as belonging to the age when a letter might have taken many months to get from one end of the globe to the other, with fear of it being forgotten or lost at sea in a shipwreck. Many people see no relevance for God in their lives, because he fails to deliver on time, or he doesn’t seem to deliver at all, even in cases of absolute human suffering and abjection, where some human heart is crying out for justice.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus told the disciples about the need to pray continually without losing heart. The parable was meant to show the importance of perseverance, even when God seems to delay in coming to their aid. Most of us would like God to answer our prayers as instantaneously as a lighted match is dropped into a container of gas, as though God were like that container of gas waiting to be ignited by the flame of our desires.

God knows our hearts and our thoughts. He knows our wants and needs. So why does he so often seem to delay in helping us? I suppose the difficulty here is that, while he knows our needs and hears our prayers, it is often the case that we don’t know our own needs. Very often we need time to have the requests and desires of our hearts clarified for ourselves, and very often this can only happen over a period of time.

I suppose we could all imagine what we would be like, or what the world would be like, if God were to give instant response to the many prayers we present to him. I guess we would spend may months and years asking him to undo some of those very things we had importuned him to do. Were we to have him at our whim and fancy as most of us would like, I imagine our roles would have been reversed: we would be God and he our loyal subject.

On the other hand, we hear Jesus saying that God will see justice done for his chosen ones who cry out to Him. Justice will be done speedily, but in God’s own time when the Son of Man comes – and which of us knows when that will be? When and how God’s justice is done is not in accordance with our human reckoning, but it profits us to believe and to persist in our prayers for God’s intervention.

It is also possible that God’s justice may not necessarily be satisfying to us in the way we want it. What we can be sure of is that he is just and does deeds of justice, but not according to our human reckoning.

There are many accounts of Jesus granting instantaneous healing. However, there are no instances where the Lord sets himself up as arbitrator of any one’s claim (cf. Luke 12:13-21). Again in the account of the woman caught in adultery whom the crowd presented to him for judgement according to the law, he began not by directly arbitrating on the woman’s behalf nor by inquiring about her accomplice, but he invited her accusers to pass judgement on themselves (John 8:1-11).

It would therefore seem advisable to examine our conscience thoroughly whenever we are tempted to importune the Lord for justice either for ourselves or on behalf of others, and also to be thankful to him for the times when his response seems not forthcoming.

Readings: Exo 17:8-13 | 2 Tim 3:14-4:2 | Luke 18:1-8

fr Paul-Martin White lives at the Priory of St Michael, Archangel, in Cambridge.