Man ought always to pray and not lose heart
Luke 18: 1.
There are things we ought to do, but do not take time to do: (a) Balance our check book; (b) Change our car's oil and filter; (c) Get a regular physical examination; and last but certainly not least: (d) Pray! Our Lord has taught us that we always ought to pray and not lose heart. The apostle Paul exhorted believers to "...pray without ceasing" 1 Thessalonians 5: 17. St. Paul speaks today of the varying and differentiated gifts we have been allotted and if we are to utilize them for God's glory, we must pray to be guided and led by his merciful grace.
We know that our lives would be deeper and certainly fuller, and that we would be better prepared to face life's challenges if we would talk to God regularly. But so often we do not take the time and as a result we feel spiritually dry and weak. All the gifts enumerated by St. Paul in the epistle reading today find their total fulfillment in the cooperation of individual faith with the love-inspired grace of our Lord. Not only is the source of our giftedness the Lord himself, but its fulfillment is completed for his glory simply because it is expressed and manifested "...according to the proportion of faith" Romans 12: 7. If we live as we have been gifted, our lives are enriched and our God is glorified.
We can hinder the time that should be spent with our heavenly Father by constantly reminding ourselves we have other things to do so we continually think to ourselves, "I do not have time." In our preoccupied world, of course we do not have time. But we must take time, strangle some other interests and make time to realize the center of power in our life is the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus St. Paul advises us strongly, "Hate what is evil, hold to what is good" Romans 12: 8. We must prioritize and recognize the values of Christ should become ours.
If we fail to balance our checkbook, service our car, or get a physical exam, we can run into serious problems. But if we neglect prayer, we will lose all spiritual power. We will be doomed as were the scribes in today's gospel narrative. Scribes were the ones who copied and wrote the scripture in the time of our Lord. Because they were so often exposed to the law of God, to his revelation among us, they assumed they knew and understood it best. Instead of being instructors and examples of the law of God, they became its dictators and lost love for others who perhaps did not understand it as well as the Scribes thought they themselves did. Their love was with pretense, to show they were on top of the heap when it came to living in response to God's challenges for man. But today they expose their hypocrisy because they did not live up to a fundamental challenge: "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse"
Our Lord is then constrained to make simplicity plain for them. Yes, He can very easily offer forgiveness to the paralytic because no one will see nor detect it. Unquestionably, forgiving sin cannot be proven except to its recipient. But without doubt these Scribes can readily understand the difference between a man lying on a pallet and in an instant, in response to the explicit command of Christ, rising up and walking away. Thus if Christ can cure this man of physical constraint, obviously, He can also offer forgiveness of sin, something the offending Scribes would not have questioned or lamented if their prayer life enriched them with spiritual wisdom and perception that with god all things are possible. They were so busy doing their outward physical copying work, they had no time enough to pray; so instead of their vocation leading them closer to sanctity and holiness they became too busy to save their souls. Instead of simply inscribing written letters on papyrus, they should have been preoccupied with writing the law of God's love on their hearts and souls so they might live it.
This all sounds a bit like so many of us. Think for a moment of all the things our God has inspired us to do, for example, "Rejoice always..." 1 Thessalonians 5: 16. We are able to rejoice and we have been instructed to demonstrate the joy of the Lord. We know it's a good idea, but we cannot seem to make it a habit. So we need to train ourselves to thank our God regularly, to praise and honor his name in every situation.
Than, of course, we have to think of some of God's other specific commands: "Trust in the Lord" Proverbs 3: 5; "Be filled with the Holy Spirit" Ephesians 5: 18; Pray without ceasing" 1 Thessalonians 5: 17; "Be holy because God is holy" 1 Peter 1: 15, 16.
Today's gospel narrative teaches us we must encounter the Lord seriously, not as if we are paralyzed and need desperately to be cured, but simply as if we had faith and are believers. Instead of questioning the Lord, we must ask ourselves if we take God's commands seriously ourselves. We must responsibly ask ourselves if we are relying on him for the ability to do what He wants us to do, or do we prefer to go it alone, depending on our own ability and then miserably failing. Obedient to the Lord's initiative and direction, doing what He commands, we should joyfully follow Christ willingly with heart and hands.
Let us never forget servants of Christ must be masters of themselves.