By FATHER DONALD DILGER
Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
First Reading: Exodus 17:8-13; Response: Psalm 121:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8; Second Reading: 2 Timothy 3:14-4:2; Gospel: Luke 18:1-8
The Israelites are on the way from Egypt to their promised land. They had to pass through the territory of the tribe of Amalek (in the northern Sinai wilderness and the Negev desert). The Amalekites were afraid of this horde of runaway slaves, whose flocks would compete with their own for pasture. They decided to stop them. Moses decided to fight. He said to his lieutenant, Joshua, “Organize a group of men to engage Amalek in battle.” Moses’ role in this fight? “I will be standing on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.” Staff of God? The staff of God began as a simple shepherd’s staff. Moses was a former shepherd. God endowed this staff with extraordinary power. Think of a bishop’s crozier, but without the magical powers of Moses’ staff. His staff had served well up to now in the parting of the waters of the sea and in striking the rock at God’s command to being forth water. Now, it had a new job.
As the battle began, when Moses held the staff high, the Israelites prevailed. When he let his hands rest, thus lowering the staff, Amalek prevailed. Solution – Moses’ two accomplices, Aaron and Hur, sat him on a rock, and supported his tired arms, one on each side. This continued until sunset. Our reading ends with this pious sentence, “Joshua mowed down Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.” Devout Catholics, without any idea of their catechism’s teaching about war, and without any thought of the mayhem and killing on both sides, will respond, “Thanks be to God!”
Why was this story selected as our first reading of the day? The perseverance of Moses’ intercession reflects the nagging perseverance of the oppressed widow in today’s gospel. That, in turn, encourages Christians to persevere in prayer to God.
Perhaps in reference to Israelite success in the battle with the Amalekites in the first reading, Psalm 121 responds, “Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” This short prayer is also a good way to start any good work. How does the Lord help? He will not allow your foot to slip, will not fall asleep while guarding us, since he neither takes naps nor sleeps at all. The Lord will be our shade, (our sunscreen?), to guard us from harmful rays of the sun. The psalmist includes protection from moonlight (reflected sunlight). There exists some folklore about harmful effects of moonlight. Finally, the Lord will guard from all evil, guard our life, our going out and coming back in always.
Our second reading, from 2 Timothy, reminds Paul’s young trainee, “Remain faithful to what you have learned and believed, because you know from whom you have learned it.” The author may first have in mind Paul himself. In 1:13, “Follow the pattern in the sound words you have heard from me….” But there were others. In 1:5, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, that lived first in your grandmother Lois, and your mother Eunice….” What did these two maternal figures teach Timothy? “From infancy, you have known the Sacred Scriptures.” Moms and grandmas were usually the first to instill religion, but modern Christian dads are joining them in this sacred work. The reference to Scripture reminds the author of God’s inspiration of the Scriptures and details its usefulness in training Christians. The reading concludes with a final charge to a timid Timothy to show confidence in his ministry.
The gospel begins with an introduction to a parable of Jesus, telling us in advance what the parable will teach: “…about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary.”
The parable: There was a judge, obviously corrupt, “who neither feared God nor respected any human being.” Judges are warned in Deuteronomy 16:18-20. First the headline: “You shall appoint judges … and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment.” Then, the Torah speaks directly to the judges: “You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality. You shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous. Justice, and only justice, you shall follow” (See also Exodus 23:6-8). A widow approaches the corrupt judge to take her case. She says, “Render a just decision for me against my adversary.” He was unwilling to take her case, kept putting it off. She kept nagging. Finally, he gave in, musing to himself, “It’s true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being. But since this widow keeps nagging me, I shall deliver a just judgment, or she will approach me and give me a black eye.” The Greek verb Luke uses here means “to hit under the eye,” and is associated with boxing. A tough widow! Widows, however, had little protection from swindlers. A major theme in Luke’s gospel is God’s protection of the oppressed. That includes widows, and that protection had to be extended through human judges.
The parable ends at this point. Either Jesus himself or Luke added a homiletic direction to the parable. Luke attributes the extension to Jesus, “The Lord said….” The gist of what the Lord said is in the form of two questions. “Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him night and day? Will he be slow to answer them?” Jesus assures his hearers, and Luke assures his readers, “I tell you, that he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily.” The conclusion of our reading seems disconnected to the preceding. “But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Exactly what Luke intends by inserting this Jesus saying here is not clear. It is a sudden switch to the end times and the return of Jesus. Luke could have used an editor. As to the application of the parable attributed to Jesus by Luke, what can be said of prayers for justice that seem never to be heard or answered? We could follow the Letter of James, proposing that the reason our prayers are not granted is that we waver too much when asking. Another approach: God hears all prayers, and may answer them in ways unknown to us. Or do we have to keep nagging like the widow in the parable. Luke gave us that option in 11:5-10.