Persistence isn’t a trait that we seem to value very much. It’s much more our style to expect quick results, and to give up when we don’t get them. Think about it. Most people don’t write letters any more. Not the kind that you write by hand with a paper and pen, an envelope and a stamp. We’re much more likely to communicate by email, text message, twitter, or even phone. It’s so much quicker and easier. Not that I think there’s anything wrong with email and text messages. They’re really my lifeline. But it’s been a long time since I’ve gotten a real letter, written by hand.
We are pretty quick to give up when we don’t get instant results. I remember 100 years ago, when I was a little kid, we were taught that when you called someone on the phone, you waited 10 rings for them to answer, since people often had to run to get to the phone. Today, people have four or five phones in the house. And ten rings? We’re lucky if we get four. If the phone isn’t answered in four rings, what do people expect? They expect voicemail. You’d be lucky if someone actually tried to call you twice. With ubiquitous mobile phones, all-the-time internet access, and instant messaging, we expect immediate access, and immediate answers.
We don’t value persistence all that much. If we don’t get an immediate response, we’re off to something else. Time to change channels. Try something new. And yet, we value the people who stick with it. Remember Cal Ripkin of the Baltimore Orioles? Why was Cal Ripkin such a hero? Was he the greatest baseball player who ever lived? Probably not. But he stuck with it, to a degree that most people find heroic, playing 2162 consecutive games. We have become such an impatient people, that heroism is now defined as regularly showing up, and doing your job. That kind of persistence is something we find very difficult.
And persistence in a relationship is even harder for us. Oh, we have lots of reasons for not hanging in there, and some of them are pretty good reasons. Still, I see lots of people in relationships, even committed ones, who seem to me to be keeping their options open. Not really going in with the idea that this is going to be forever.
So what about our relationship with God? Are we any more persistent there? Can you keep praying when you don’t get the answer you want? Or even worse, when you appear to get no answer at all?
In the Gospel we’ve got this parable of the unjust judge. Remember, this is a parable, not an allegory. Luke isn’t saying that God is an unjust judge who ignores our pleas. He’s saying: if this judge, who is unjust, is finally worn down by persistence, why would you think that God, who IS just, would not answer you? We’ll get an answer to our prayers. But we need to remain faithful.
That’s sometimes hard to do. Have you ever felt like Moses in the first reading today? All you have to do is hold up your arms, and the battle will be won. And for the first ten minutes, it’s no problem. But when the battle stretches on all day, what then? Some times remaining faithful means doing something really simple, but doing it persistently for a long time. It is easier to do something really hard that’s over really quickly. But sometimes the battle isn’t over quickly. If you’re coping with a permanent disability, or an addiction; if you have to care for an chronically ill child, or parent, or spouse; you know the feeling of having to keep those arms up through the long battle. In this Exodus reading, how did Moses cope?
The community came to his aid. They help him sit down, and they help hold up his arms. Seems pretty simple, doesn’t it? Does Moses say, “Oh, no, I’m fine… Don’t need a thing?” Does he think, “God must want me to do this all by myself?” No, of course not!
Being faithful means being persistent. It means showing up, and doing the simple things we know we ought to do, and doing them over the long haul. Not being bored or impatient, or looking for a way out. But it also means doing them together. Supporting each other, and maybe holding someone else’s arms up until the battle is won. God will bring swift justice to those who call out to him day and night. But when the Son of Man returns, will he find any faith on the earth? Or will we have hung up, or changed the channel? Being faithful means being persistent. And most of the time, we persist best, when we?re supporting one another.