October 19, 2019 // The Sunday Gospel
‘Pray always, without becoming weary’
Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Book of Exodus is the source of this weekend’s first reading. One of the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, its concepts are attributed to Moses himself. As such, it is part of the Torah, or fundamental document of Judaism.
As the title implies, its focus is upon the flight of the Hebrew people from Egypt. They had been enslaved and were going to the land promised them by God as a haven and as their own homeland, a land “flowing with milk and honey.”
The journey from Egypt to the Promised Land was not at all easy. First, the natural elements themselves often assailed the refugees. Then, the fleeing Hebrews encountered hostile human forces. Dissidents among them sowed seeds of confusion and alarm. Armies pursued them.
This weekend’s reading is about one such encounter. The Hebrews had to fight foes. Only when Moses held aloft the staff given him by God did the people prevail. After a while, Moses, by this time old and weary, could no longer lift his hands, so his brother, Aaron, the first high priest, and Hur, another faithful disciple, held up his arms with the staff.
For the second reading, the Church turns to the Second Epistle to Timothy. As was the case in past readings, this weekend’s selection reassures Timothy, and challenges him in his task of discipleship and of serving as a bishop. The reading stresses that Jesus alone is the hope of the redeemed, indeed of all people.
St. Luke’s Gospel furnishes the last reading. In first century A.D. in Palestine, widows were very vulnerable. Poverty was rampant. There was no “social safety net.” Since women could not inherit property or money from their husbands under the law, they had to rely upon their children to survive. Virtually nothing was available to a woman to make her own living.
Therefore, the woman in this story surely was desperate. Frantic in her circumstances, she boldly confronted this judge. It was a time when women were not expected to speak, indeed, rarely to be seen.
The judge hardly is to be admired. Evidently, he was a minor judge, and he was not an observant Jew. The Torah would have required him to be particularly solicitous about widows, yet he was not at all interested in this widow. He was more interested in polishing his own image than in responding to her plight.
Jesus uses the story to illustrate a lesson about God. Prayer does not require constant, loud pleas. Unlike the judge, God always is merciful. Sincerity, not repetition, is the key to the power of prayer. Anyone who prays must believe in God and trust that God will provide truly what is needed.
The readings from Exodus and St. Luke’s Gospel this weekend may create several rather simplistic, childish and incorrect views of God. Exodus might give the impression that some seemingly foolish and unrelated gesture, such as holding arms aloft, will guarantee God’s help in a crisis. It smacks of magic instead of illustrating a trusting relationship with Almighty God. Moses’ outreach of his arms symbolized his belief in God’s dominion over everything.
St. Luke’s Gospel cannot be construed to suggest that people must flood the kingdom of heaven with thundering calls to obtain God’s mercy.
Instead, these two readings call us to develop an attitude about prayer that is both humble and trusting. In humility, we realize we can do little on our own. While we can do some things, but we cannot fully control our destiny. As did Moses, we must depend on God.
We also must trust. We are inclined to dictate what God must provide us, but in this we act on our own judgments.
God will not forsake us. He will supply our genuine needs.
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