Persistence ranks pretty high in Jesus’ list of values. He talks about it a lot. The importunate widow, in his tale, wins over the unjust judge because her persistence becomes a nuisance to him, and to get rid of her, he gives her justice. And there are the ill who, despite years of suffering, still have hope. In this week’s reading, Jesus offers us the neighbor, already in bed, who will give you what you need, not because of friendship, but because you persist in banging on his door. Pray like that, Jesus says.
And then, to add the bold print, Jesus asks, what parent will give a hungry child a snake instead of an egg? And so why do we think God doesn’t answer, or worse, sends us cruelty?
But most of us have prayed desperately long for something we have never gotten. And that disappointment lingers as unanswerable doubt about God’s love for us. That’s the way it is.
We’re now in the quadrennial American season of national political revival meetings, known as conventions. They weren’t always revival meetings, in the 60s and 70s, when first televised, the conventions were nasty brawls, sometimes pouring out into the streets, as happened in 1968. Power was at stake here, and the battles for it were vicious. Delegates forgot to be human pretty quickly, and instead did anything to win.
Now, we have primaries across the nation. The nominees are known before the opening gavel. But our elections are not less vicious. If anything, they are more publicly vicious than before.
How do you win? You use any punch you can land, and you curse, every time you open your mouth, you curse. We don’t have opponents, we have dangerous political enemies.
We wonder why there are so many street shootings, why the police are armed like soldiers, why some soldiers, who are highly trained killers, seek justice in the streets, why the President has to come to the streets of the nation so often to console us.
At the end of the first day of the GOP convention, the Closing Benediction was vicious. The Pastor of the Day implored God to destroy the Enemy, Hillary and the demon Democrats, and thanked God that we have Trump. A Benediction is supposed to be a blessing. This was a cursing.
Nicholas Kristof reflected on this in the NY Times, citing the theology Abraham Lincoln (perhaps our greatest President, and a Republican) raised in his Second Inaugural Address, in 1865, in which he spoke of the war that divided the country:
Abraham Lincoln declared: “Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes (God’s) against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.”
May we hold onto that sense of the purposes of God, and pray as Jesus bid us: for our daily need; for mercy for our own misdeeds and for the desire to be merciful to others; and that we not be led into evil. May we hold onto the wisdom that good arrives from persistence in seeking the good, even from the wicked, not from cursing or harming another.
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