29th Ordinary Sunday (Year C)
First Reading: Exodus 17:8-13 Second Reading: 2 Timothy 3:14-4:2 Gospel Reading: Luke 18:1-8
PERSISTENCE IN OUR PRAYER AND IN OUR LIVING FAITH
An elderly lady was once asked by a young man who had grown weary in the fight, whether he ought to give up the struggle. "I am beaten every time," he said dolefully. "I feel I must give up."
"Did you ever notice," she replied, smiling into the troubled face before her, "that when the Lord told the discouraged fishermen to cast their nets again, it was right in the same old spot where they had been fishing all night and had caught nothing?" Jesus tested the persistence of his disciples. They obeyed him and the result was astounding – they caught 153 large fishes, so much, that their nets almost tore.
Today is the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time and the dominant theme that pervades in all three of today’s Scripture Readings is persistence in our prayer and in our living faith. Prayer is efficacious - in fact the most effective activity - and therefore, prayer that is constant and persisting is a guarantee of success. The First Reading from the Book of Exodus and from the Gospel from St. Luke confirm this truth by showing Israel´s victory occurring when Moses had his hands raised in prayer and through Jesus´ story of the insistent widow and the unjust judge. In the Second Reading from his Second Letter to Timothy, St Paul exhorts us to persevere in the faith we have received and transmit it faithfully, fulfilling our Christian vocation whether easy or difficult.
MOSES' HANDS RAISED IN PRAYER FOR VICTORY:
In the First Reading of today, the author of Exodus narrates a strange and surprising war story. After their deliverance from the slavery of Egypt, God ordered Moses to lead His people to the Promise Land. During their long march from Egypt to Palestine the Israelites had to go through land controlled by other people. Some of these resisted this invasion. The Israelites had to fight to gain passage. Exodus 17:8–13 tells us of the first of such battles. They are attacked by desert tribes called Amalekites. Moses sent Joshua to do battle while he himself, accompanied by Aaron and Hur, stood on the top of the hill with the staff of God in his hand. There he stood in the traditional stance of prayer, arms raised and palms opened. As long as he kept his hands raised, Israel was winning. But when he lowered his hands for rest, Israel began to lose. After a while, Moses was tired of keeping his hands up in the air. So Aaron and Hur put a stone under Moses so he could sit on it. Then they went on each of his sides, each one holding one of Moses’ hands up until the sun set. Finally, the Israelites won and put their enemies to the sword. What made the Israelites win the battle? Moses at prayer. He did not only pray, he persevered in his prayer - throughout the battle.
Healthy intercessory prayer is really prayer for divine justice; i.e. God’s Will. Moses’ arms were extended in prayer in his plea for a just victory over pagan Gentiles who opposed the freedom pilgrimage of God’s Chosen people. His extended arms were not magical gestures, but a posture of prayerful request.
PAUL URGES TIMOTHY TO BE PERSISTENT IN LIVING FAITH:
In the Second Reading of today, the text from 2nd Timothy is a continuation of pastoral advice from Paul, the Apostle, to Timothy the local Church leader. In essence, St. Paul is exhorting a youthful Timothy to be persistent, to stand fast, and to remain faithful to the Tradition he had received. St. Paul is encouraging him to proclaim the word as the principal activity by which to be faithful to the Gospel message.
Paul urges Timothy to continue in what he had learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom he had learned it and how from his childhood he had known the sacred writings that are able to instruct for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Even though Timothy had learned from his Jewish tradition particularly his parents much about the faith, it was from Paul that Timothy had learned about Jesus Christ. Now Paul solemnly charges Timothy to announce the word of God in all circumstances and to proclaim the message of Jesus, by challenging and encouraging people. He asks Timothy to be persistent in this work whether the time is favorable or unfavorable, with the utmost patience in teaching. In other words, the Word of God is always in season. Christians must persevere in their baptismal promise to reprove, entreat, and rebuke in all patience and doctrine, be it in the winter or in the summer, be it at home or at work, be it with family or with friends. Called to be God's children, the Lord has chosen to manifest His glory through us. If we remain idle, when the Lord returns, He will not know us. If we persist in our living faith, when He returns, He will welcome us to His eternal Kingdom.
THE PERSISTENT WIDOW AND THE UNJUST JUDGE:
In the Gospel Reading of today, the evangelist Luke explains that the parable of the unscrupulous judge and the importunate widow, which Jesus addressed to his disciples, is about “the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary.” The widow has been wronged and she is looking for justice. We are not told what actually her case involved against her adversary. Anyway, she takes her case to a judge to get it, but the corrupt and unjust judge ignores her plea. In those days, a widow was the personification of powerlessness and she hardly had any chance to get justice. She had only God as her protector and care taker. However, she relentlessly pursues him and goes on pleading and nagging until he could no longer tolerate her presence, until finally, he accepts to intervene and decides the case in her favor. He helps the widow not because he is good but because she is persistent. Jesus concludes that if a corrupt judge can do justice to someone who keeps on asking, God, the most just judge of all, will certainly listen to those who persist in prayer. That is to say that if we are persistent, we can wear down even God.
Obviously, the parable is a lesson in persistence in prayer. But there is a problem also with this interpretation of the story. It is difficult and theologically incorrect for us to see anything of God in the judge himself. For, while the parable seems to present prayer as nagging God for what we want, such a reading misses the point. God is not like the judge in the parable, worn down by requests and coerced to respond. The judge in the the parable is corrupt and unjust. Since God can be neither, we must understand Jesus to be saying that if even an unjust judge responds to the persistence of the widow, how much more so will God listen to our prayers. God truly wants to hear our needs and respond generously. It is the final lament of Jesus that gets to the point of the parable. The lesson is about the persistence of the one who prays. God wants us to be like the persistent widow, staying in relationship with God, confident that God hears and answers prayers.
But there can be another way of reading the parable and interpret it. When we read this parable about perseverance, we usually think of it in these terms: God is the judge and we are the widow. This means we should persevere in pestering God until we are given what we want. But what happens if we turn that around and say that we are the judge and God is the widow? In some ways, this interpretation makes more sense. We, like the judge, are basically unjust. Sometimes we, too, have no fear of God; that is, we do not allow God to scare us into being good. Similarly, like the judge we persist in refusing to listen to the cries of the poor all around us. But God is the persistent widow who will not go away, an interesting turn on the story. God keeps badgering us, refusing to accept as final our no to love. God will persist until we render a just judgment, that is, until we let the goodness out, until we learn to love. Moreover, when one sees the widow as God-like, the meaning of the parable is that when one fights injustice, and keeps fighting it, and fights it until justice is achieved, then one is like God. Jesus own fight against injustice, even to his death and resurrection, is the model of a God-like fight to end the world of injustice and create the kingdom of God. An interesting turn on the widow’s story! We are like Jesus, like God, when we fight injustice without ceasing, nagging and fighting till justice is achieved. It may seem that people don’t listen to us, but if we keep it up, don’t relent, justice may come by the sheer force of our persistence.
Finally, Jesus concludes the parable by asking, "And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" It is interesting that it is after he speaks of the persistent widow that Christ then moves on to speak of the coming of the Son of Man, the great event of the end times, the establishment of an everlasting kingdom where the rule of God orders all things. In a world that is full of the frenzy of activity, it seems impractical and useless to take time to pray. What does it accomplish, after all? The truth is that there is little faith in the power of prayer to bring about real, palpable results. In the end, it all depends upon what results we are seeking. If we are only trying to have success in temporal affairs – money, promotions, vacations and the like – then it is much more practical to just ambitiously seek our goals without regard for prayer. Therefore, to obtain our salvation, we must persevere in our living faith, in our adoration of God, in our love towards others, in our righteousness, in our obedience to God, in our servitude, in our humility, all of these being the food that feeds our souls to assure our salvation through Jesus Christ.
In today's Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples about the need to pray continually without losing heart. The parable is meant to show the importance of perseverance, even when God seems to delay in coming to their aid. Just as prayer requires faith, it also requires perseverance. Persevering prayer is a way of keeping alive what we hope for. It means to cling to God specially when we are in darkness. When Jesus tells us to pray always and never to lose heart - to persevere in prayer - He wants us to trust in His Father who always listens to us and who will never abandon us. He wants us never to doubt that our prayers - though not answered immediately - are heard for His Spirit is always with us.
Now, many of us may say that we have tried prayer and have given up on it after a while. Why? Because we didn't get what we prayed for. Why? Because in these days of instant coffee and instant results, we may have the mistaken notion that prayer works automatically, that when we pray for something, God will grant it and immediately. But God is not like that. He always answers our prayers but in His own way and in His own time. God knows our hearts and our thoughts. He knows our wants and needs. So why does he so often seem to delay in helping us? Perhaps the difficulty here is that, while he knows our needs and hears our prayers, it is often the case that we don't know our own needs. Very often we need time to have the requests and desires of our hearts clarified for ourselves, and very often this can only happen over a period of time.
Moreover, the loving and compassionate God does justice for the poor and the oppressed. He wants us also always to be concerned with justice for the rich and the poor. After all, God cares for all peoples equally. For aren't we all His children and therefore embraced by His providence?
So today, as we continue with the celebration of the Holy Mass, let us ask God to bless us with all the perseverance that we need to live our faith in Christ. Some of us may need perseverance in our baptismal promise to preach the Gospel. Others may need perseverance in prayer. And yet others may need perseverance in faith, or in loving one's neighbor. No matter what spiritual need we lack, by persevering in prayer, we can be assured that it will be granted to us by the grace of the Heavenly Father and the power of the Holy Spirit so we may be sanctified in Christ. And this is the Good News of today.