Jesus told his disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, `Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, `Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.'” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
Ever wonder why vending machines have one of the craziest warning signs ever? It reads – “Never Rock or Tilt: Machine can fall over and cause serious injury or death.” I suppose that is a good thing to know while purchasing your ice cold Coca-Cola, but as it turns out, the warning is necessary. It seems that a 19 year old college kid came home to his dorm drunk from a night of “binge drinking” and in a misguided attempt to steal a can of soda, rocked a 920-pound Coke machine and sent it tipping over upon himself. In layman’s terms, he was squished and died following the accident. This resulted in his relatives suing Coca-Cola and two other companies, in addition to the college, and winning damages to the tune of $660,000, plus funeral expenses. They alleged that the machine was not secured and lacked any warning signs that it could tip over.
Now, I’ve never rocked or tipped a vending machine to try and get something for free out of it, but I have given one a good smack on occasion when it didn’t dispense what I paid for, especially if it’s getting between me and my peanut M&Ms. We’ve all probably done something similar, but I can honestly say that my efforts have never been so violent as to tip the machine over, so I’ve never been in danger of “serious injury or death.”
Even though it’s apparently an extremely dangerous piece of equipment, the vending machine does serve its purpose: immediate gratification to thirst or a nagging sweet tooth. Pop in your quarters and – if all goes well – out pops your not so nutritious snack. I’m not sure about the rest of the world, but for Americans it gives us immediate gratification. No lines. No waiting. Here you go.
So, is it any wonder that we expect God to act in a similar manner? We step up to God the Cosmic Vending Machine, pop in our prayers, and expect them to be answered. I don’t have to ask if you’ve ever done that, because we all have. “Dear God, _____. Heal me. Feed me. Comfort me. Take care of this. Give me what I want.” We have dutifully stood before the God the Cosmic Vending Machine. We have popped in our prayers. And we now hold out our hands waiting for God to produce. To do his job, by golly!
When he doesn’t perform as expected, we might think that we didn’t put in enough money – enough prayers. So we give it another shot. “Dear God, _____.” If God answers, then we are good. Like the Samaritan leper from last week, we might remember to say, “Thanks,” but otherwise we go about our business. However, if God doesn’t answer, several things could happen.
When the Cosmic Vending Machine doesn’t produce, some will hang their heads and walk away thinking that it must be broken. Nothing in there anyways. Others will look up to heaven and declare, “I didn’t expect you to do anything about it, anyways.” And a very rare few will give it a good smack. Shake it a bit. Maybe even kick it a time or two and shout out, “Oy! I’m talking to you!” I might add that this is a good way to get squished. However, our parable today speaks of another way.
The unjust judge was one who cared nothing for God and nothing for people. He was all about himself and what was most convenient for him, yet in the case of the persistent widow he says to himself, “If I don’t give her what she wants she will just keep nagging and nagging and nagging and I’ll never get a moments peace.” In response to this Jesus says, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” From a few weeks ago, “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?” Our Father in Heaven is trustworthy. He will answer your prayer. And, unlike the unjust judge, he doesn’t consider it nagging when you come to him time and time again. But in the meantime, don’t go smacking him or walk away angry or sad if what you desire doesn’t pop out at a moments notice or doesn’t pop out at all, because sometimes what we ask for is not what we need – “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead?” A true statement, but “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a snake, will give it to him?” Not many, I would wager and neither will God.
The Apostle Paul writes, “in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’”
When we go to God in prayer, we can be persistent in asking, but what we must also remember is that what we are asking for is not necessarily what we need. It would in fact harm us even more – although I can assure you that if God let me win at Powerball, I would be a much better person – but in the meantime, from the time of asking and the time of receiving or not receiving we shouldn’t go smacking God around like a vending machine when it doesn’t dispense our M&Ms. It is during this time that we must stand in faith, understanding that God is with us and that we must rely on him to provide in our weakness. This is one of those major differences between that head faith and heart faith that we spoke of a few weeks ago – the head understands that God is always with us, but the heart grows weak when the emotions kick in. We must understand that it is in those times that we are nearest to Christ Jesus and are in fact walking with him.
Consider these words of my favorite monk, Thomas a Kempis, “JESUS has always many who love His heavenly kingdom, but few who bear His cross. He has many who desire consolation – that is comforting in times of trouble – but few who care for trial. He finds many to share His table, but few to take part in His fasting. All desire to be happy with Him; few wish to suffer anything for Him. Many follow Him to the breaking of bread, but few to the drinking of the chalice of His passion. Many revere His miracles; few approach the shame of the Cross. Many love Him as long as they encounter no hardship; many praise and bless Him as long as they receive some comfort from Him. But if Jesus hides Himself and leaves them for a while” … if the cosmic vending machine doesn’t give them what they want then … “they fall either into complaints or into deep dejection” … they start smacking the machine … “Those, on the contrary, who love Him for His own sake and not for any comfort of their own, bless Him in all trial and anguish of heart as well as in the bliss of consolation. Even if He should never give them consolation, yet they would continue to praise Him and wish always to give Him thanks. What power there is in pure love for Jesus — love that is free from all self-interest and self-love!”
Our relationship with God is not about what we can get out of it. It is a relationship based in love. God is love and that love as Brennan Manning said in our study is a “magnificent monotony.” It is never changing or failing. We therefore must love him in good times and bad. When we get what we want and when we don’t. That is what the statement at the end of our gospel reading is speaking to, “Will God grant justice to his chosen ones? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them,” then Jesus adds, “And yet when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
When the Son of Man comes will he find us angry and smacking the Cosmic Vending Machine or will he find faith? Will he find us grumbling and defeated or will he find us trusting in him while persevering in our perceived trials?
At the end of the Prayers of the People there is always a concluding collect. One of them reads: “Heavenly Father, you have promised to hear what we ask in the Name of your Son: Accept and fulfill our petitions, we pray, not as we ask in our ignorance, nor as we deserve in our sinfulness, but as you know and love us in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Bring your prayers to God. Lay them at his feet everyday knowing in your heart and your mind that they are being answered. Maybe not as you would like, but answered. Answered and fulfilled in perfect love.