29th 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 attributed to Moses himself. As such, it is part of the Torah, or the fundamental document of Judaism.
As its title implies, its focus is upon the flight of the Hebrew people from Egypt, where they had been enslaved, 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 seemed often to assail 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. 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 Palestine, widows were very vulnerable. Poverty was rampant. There was no “social safety net.” Since women could not inherit from 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. It is easy to assume that, frantic before her circumstances, she boldly confronted this judge. It also was a time when women were not expected to speak, indeed rarely to be seen.
The judge is hardly admirable. Evidently he was a minor judge, and a Jew. The Torah would have required him to be particularly solicitous about widows. Yet he was not at all interested in this widow. He at last acted as much to save his own image before the community as to still her entreaties.
Jesus uses the story to illustrate a lesson about God. Constant, loud pleas will not finally weary God. But, unlike the judge, God will be merciful. He has promised mercy. But, to ask God for mercy, anyone must believe in God and in God’s promise to be merciful.
The readings from Exodus and St. Luke’s Gospel this weekend easily can 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 is an invitation to magic, not to a trusting relationship with the divine person, Almighty God.
St. Luke’s Gospel then can be construed to suggest that people must flood the kingdom of heaven with thundering calls to be answered with the response the person wants.
Instead, these 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. We can do some things, but we cannot fully control our destiny. As did Moses, we must depend on God.
We also must trust God, even in moments of great concern. Unlike the indifferent judge, God will provide for us, giving us what we cannot achieve ourselves, life eternal.
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