Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Prayer and struggle

Today's Gospel (Matt 26:14-25) lets us glimpse Judas negotiating a fee to arrange for Jesus to meet the religious authorities face to face. It also recounts the secret preparations made to allow Jesus and his disciples to eat a Passover meal together well away from public demands made upon them. On what may have been another occasion while eating together, Jesus warns of what is about to happen. All are in distress about this. Even Judas seems to be in denial, and doesn't regard what he is doing as an act of betrayal, as does the evangelist. He is the victim of his own short sighted opportunism, as we all can be on times.

In anticipation of the violence about to break out against Jesus, today's Servant Song poem (Isaiah 50:4-9) speaks of a disciple as one who listens to God, and listens before speaking to encourage others. In the face of aggression, a disciple is steadfast, resisting passively, not reacting to the offender. The disciple trusts in God's justice as defence and challenges accusers to take part in a proper hearing to establish the truth of their allegations. Retaining such a strong moral position requires great courage. Any unjust allegation arouses indignation, shame, anxiety, loneliness, as Psalm 69 expresses, in appeal to God:

'For it is for your sake that I have borne reproach, that dishonour has covered my face.
I have become a stranger to my brothers, an alien to my mother's sons.
For zeal for your house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me.
When I wept and humbled my soul with fasting, it became my reproach.
When I made sackcloth my clothing, I became a byword to them.
I am the talk of those who sit in the gate, and the drunkards make songs about me.
You know my reproach, and my shame and my dishonour; my foes are all known to you.
Reproaches have broken my heart, so that I am in despair. I looked for pity, but there was none, and for comforters, but I found none.
They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.'

(Ps 69:7-12)

Whatever help can be found to achieve justice in human affairs, endurance and persistence in pursuing the cause comes from appealing to God.

'But as for me, my prayer is to you, O Lord. At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love answer me in your saving faithfulness.' (Psalm 68:13)

Strength is to be found in praising God, even more than any material offering which could be made.

'I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving.
This will please the Lord more than an ox or a bull with horns and hoofs.
When the humble see it they will be glad; you who seek God, let your hearts revive.
For the Lord hears the needy and does not despise his own people who are prisoners.
Let heaven and earth praise him, the seas and everything that moves in them.
For God will save Zion and build up the cities of Judah, and people shall dwell there and possess it; the offspring of his servants shall inherit it,
and those who love his name shall dwell in it.' (Psalm 68:30-35)

Learning this by direct personal experience in prayer and struggle is what has enabled many champions of truth and justice to survive, down the ages.

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