The Gospel passage this weekend is another of those that can leave the reader a little bit puzzled at the end of it. It is another instance of the parable, a form of short story very typical of Eastern, semitic literature. The key to understanding parables is to realise that each of the stories makes only one point. To make that point, the author can and does draw on images, characters, attitudes that may not seem to accord very well with the point he wants to make. To us, that can be confusing. To the oriental mind, it was not.
The first line in this reading says, “Jesus told his disciples a parable about the need to pray continually and never lose heart.” That is all that is being said. If we go beyond that and try to see an image of God in the character of the crooked judge, who out of a mixture of boredom and fear, changes his mind on an issue. Then we do indeed abuse scripture. God can’t be bribed or bargained with.
Christ urges us to persistence, perseverance in prayer, not simply because if we keep at it long enough we will eventually get what we want. That may be true, but it equally well may not be true.
The parable underlines something central to the nature of faith. To be a believer means to be a persistent believer. The reason for our persistence is not that it will eventually make God see things our way. It is rather that by persevering, not only in prayer but in everything we are called to do, across the range of our personal, social, professional responsibilities, that perseverance will bring us closer and closer accord with God’s view of the world.
Simply enough, God’s view of the world is that it is worth saving. There is nothing more persistent in all of human history than God’s love for us. The whole of scripture is testimony to that. The whole of scripture is testimony as well to the fact that a good deal of the time humankind has not been particularly loveable. So many times, the reasonable, understandable thing for God to have done would have been to simply give up. But He didn’t. God’s love is changeless, persistent, and constant. It does not depend on what we do. And that must be our attitude as well. To be a believer means to see the world as God sees it, to act toward the world as God does. Faith without constancy is really no faith at all and a constancy that goes far beyond what is reasonable and understandable.
A constancy of attitude, which, like God’s own, does not depend on how we are treated but depends rather on a decision we make as to what that attitude should be. If we do that then our persistence finally becomes faith.