Is Prayer Your Steering Wheel or Your Spare Tire?

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In 1970 there was a book by Joseph Heller and then a movie entitled, Catch 22.” The phrase Catch 22 eventually became a often used expression for a situation that is hopeless. An example of a “Catch 22” situation is a person who cannot get a certain job without five years of experience. But the only way he can get five years of experience is to get the job and start working.

The widow in today’s Gospel (Luke 18:1-8) was in a real “Catch 22” situation. She was the helpless victim of a terribly corrupt system. She probably wanted the unjust judge to help her to get the inheritance that her husband had left her. Her adversary was probably the lawyer who was holding back the money that was rightfully hers.

The “Catch 22” was that, in order to get a hearing with the judge to get her money, she needed a bribe to pay him off. Since she didn’t have any money with which to bribe him, she couldn’t get a hearing to get her money.

In Jesus’ time in Israel, women had absolutely no rights of their own. Their rights came through their husbands. So if a widow did not have a family to take care of her, she was really up against it, especially if she had small children.

So in this impossible situation, this poor widow uses the only means open to her. Like the squeaky wheel that gets the oil, she comes to court every day and creates a scene. Wouldn’t you do the same if your children were starving? So for his own peace of mind, the judge finally gives her what is rightfully hers. Now in most of Jesus’ parables, there is a similarity between the main character and God. But in this parable. The point of the story is the difference between the corrupt judge and God. It is a story of contrasts.

Although the widow’s situation is apparently hopeless, she never gives up. But Jesus is telling us that our situation is never hopeless with God. God is NOT LIKE the corrupt judge. God doesn’t have to be bought off before God will answer our prayers. Our God is always approachable.

If for some reason you think that God does not hear and answer your prayer, then today’s Gospel is for you! God wants all of us to come before him with all of our needs and concerns. God always answers our prayers, although the answers may not be what we’d like them to be.

Maybe you are wondering – What is the point of praying? If God already knows what we want? Or why bother praying, because whatever I ask for never seems to happen? Maybe we ask these questions because down deep, we think God is like the unjust judge, hard-hearted and uncanny.

That’s probably why Jesus used this type of judge in the parable. Jesus had a lesson to teach us. We have to persist in our prayers regardless of the outcome, not because God is hard-hearted, but because we may be.

When we ask God for something, are we trying to ask God to change his mind? That would make God like the unjust judge. The point of the parable is: God is not like the unjust judge. Our prayers do not change God, they change us. They open us up to God working in our lives.

Prayer reminds us of our need for God. We so easily forget God when thngs are going well. When the sun is shining on us, we start to think we can make it on our own. We think we can get by on our own hard work and our own luck. We even try to be so good that God will have to grant us our requests.

I think that one of our problems with our prayers not being answered is that we are not praying for the right things. Our prayers are too small and too self-centered. I mean that God wants us to ask and ask and ask again for eternal things. I’m not putting down asking God for good health, creature comforts and world peace.

But to God, the most important prayers are prayers related to our salvation. God loves us so much God wants us to be with him for all eternity. A God Provide God wants our prayers to be answered. But God asks us: “Do you really trust God with your needs and with your life?” Or is our real trust in our hard work, our luck, our good looks, the strings we can pull and the bribes we offer God?

God won’t give us everything we want when we want it. But God will hear us and answer us. It is up to us to discern and to appreciate God’s answers, even if the answer is NO.

There are four ways God answers prayers: 1. “No, not yet,” 2. “No, I love you too much,” 3. “Yes, I thought you’d never ask,” and 4. “Yes, and here’s even more!”

Our trust in God is based on our faith in God. Do we trust God with everything? Our loved ones? Our health? Our business? Then our very lives will be a prayer. Do we only think of tangible things, like our health? God wants us to pray about eternal issues and things. God is not a disinterested bystander. God loves us and God wants to be an active part of our lives. If God is only watching us from afar, why bother?

We pray because we know that God cares. Why would Jesus give us his own body and blood in the Eucharist if he didn’t love us? And because of his love for us, God is watching us constantly, watching to see if we’re the kind of people who will keep on praying for our loved ones, our world, our lives and especially for our eternal souls.

God is only a prayer away. In your life, is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?

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