TWENTY-NINTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR C
Exodus 17:8-13; Psalm 121:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:2; Luke 18:1-8
A major theme of the first reading and of the gospel of this Sunday — perseverance in prayer.
The first reading reports that Amalek waged war against Israel. The Amalekites were a wide-ranging tribe in the northern Sinai wilderness and a desert area called the Negeb. The Israelites encountered them in their migration northward from Egypt toward their Promised Land. The Amalekites were afraid of the incursions of this medley of peoples called Israelites. Their decision was military action to prevent the Israelites from entering the territory of Amalek. Moses decides to engage Amalek in a battle led by his lieutenant Joshua. Moses issues a command: “While you engage Amalek, I will be standing at the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.” The staff (rod) of God began as a simple shepherd’s staff, but was endowed by God with preternatural powers. It figured prominently in the wonder-working activities of Moses. Examples: parting the waters of the Sea of Reeds during the escape from Egypt; striking the rock in the desert to produce water. When the staff of God was raised up, it symbolized and mediated God’s presence and power among his people.
Moses was accompanied to the top of the Hill by Aaron and Hur. As the battle began, Moses raised the staff of God over the scene. As long as his hands were raised, the Israelites prevailed over Amalek. When fatigue caused his hands to droop, Amalek prevailed. Solution: Aaron and Hur put a rock in place for Moses to sit down, while they supported his arms holding the staff of God, one on each side until sundown. The authors composed an interesting, warlike ending, “And Joshua,” (leading the Israelite contingent), “mowed down Amalek and its people with the edge of the sword.” To which our pious and peaceful congregations reply, “Thanks be to God!”
The Responsorial Psalm, 121, celebrates the Lord as guardian of Israel. A fitting selection to respond to the reading from Exodus, since the Lord was indeed guardian of Israel during its war with the Amalekites. The Psalm contains the words with which we begin the official prayer of the Church, “Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” How does the Lord help those who call on him? He won’t let their foot slip. He doesn’t fall asleep while on guard duty. The Lord is our shade in the heat. He stands at our right hand. (Of course, for who would describe the Lord being on the left?) The Lord’s guarding presence is pervasive — keeping us from all evil, guarding our life, our coming and going, right now and always.
The second reading continues from last Sunday a series of readings from 2 Timothy. His mentor calls upon Timothy to be faithful to what he has learned and what he believed because of what he learned. We would expect that Paul is thinking about what he had taught Timothy. That may be included but Timothy was being taught long before Paul was part of his life. Paul writes in 1:5, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, that dwelled first in your grandmother Lois, and your mother Eunice,” and “. . . from infancy you have known the sacred Scriptures.” We may not have known the Scriptures from our infancy, but we did learn our prayers and conduct through our pious Christian parents. Thus reminded of Scripture, Paul writes, “All Scripture is inspired by God,” an important statement for our teaching of the inspiration of the Scriptures and their accuracy when sharing with us the truths God reveals through them. Paul ends the reading with a boost to overcome young Timothy’s timidity. “Proclaim the word, whether convenient or inconvenient. Convince, reprimand, encourage with patience and teaching.” Homilists, take note!
The gospel reading begins with a parable that continues a theme of the first reading — perseverance in prayer. Luke tells us at the beginning the purpose of the parable, “about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary.” The story: there was a judge who had no fear of God or humankind. A widow with a just cause for a long time awaited a decision in her favor. The judge kept delaying. She kept nagging. Finally he agreed to help her, “because this widow keeps bothering me, or else she will come up to me and give me a black eye.” An aggressive widow! But giving the black eye is exactly what Luke’s Greek verb hupopiazein means, “to hit under the eye.” The judge certainly would have earned it. Background to this story is the Old Testament condemnation of crooked judges, Deuteronomy 16:18-20, who would respond not to justice but to a bribe. A widow was particularly vulnerable because her husband was gone, a necessary protector and provider in the society of the time. Luke has a special concern for widows in his gospel and in Acts of Apostles.
The widow won her case. Luke ends the parable with Jesus’ call to solve the meaning of the parable, “The Lord said, ‘Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says.’” Luke adds his attempt at applying the parable to life, as he writes, “Will not God secure the rights of his chosen ones, who call out to him night and day? Will he be slow to respond? He will see that they receive justice speedily.” In other words, God is not like the crooked judge who delayed justice. So inquiring minds want to know, why does God not grant or not seem to grant the pleas of the faithful? One New Testament attempt to answer that question — the Letter of James: we waver too much when asking God. Not enough faith. We need to remember that Jesus’ prayer for deliverance in the Garden of Gethsemane was not answered until he had fulfilled his Father’s will by his death on the cross. God surely hears our prayers, but he may answer them differently than expected. Isaiah 55:8-9, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts . . . . For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are . . . my thoughts higher than your thoughts.”