Reflection on the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Exodus, 2 Timothy, Luke 18
Pray always, we hear today. Be patient and constant, don’t get weary, keep at it, don’t give up, don’t lose heart. These commands or urgings are threads throughout the three readings. None of these expressions is new or surprising to us. Probably every one of us prays or tries to pray or wonders if she prays or he prays. We have known those words of Paul from his writings: Pray always. Now we hear the same words from Luke, talking about what Jesus said.
The section from Exodus we just heard happens right after the Israelites have escaped from Egypt, have crossed the Red Sea, and are in the desert. They don’t like the food, they can’t find water, and they are ready to stone Moses. God leads Moses to the rock and the people get water and life is better for a while. Then Amalek appears. He’s resentful that this new tribe has come in where he and his tribe have been in control. After all, water and grazing land is already scarce. Amalek’s solution: wage war on Israel. The Israelites’ solution: Kill off Amalek and his army.
I find myself resisting the Exodus reading. I put it in today’s context of Russia and Ukraine and say, “Joshua, stop fighting. Moses, find a way to talk with Amalek.” Yet the threats and dangers seem so large and overwhelming. What appears to be lack of sanity in Putin is frightening. Zelensky it seems would talk with Putin. But diplomacy
seems far off. The metaphor for constancy in our own prayer, Moses with his arms lifted high, does not seem large enough to do anything. But maybe it is all we have.
Amid all this, we may find ourselves saying that we have to pray. In desperation, we can find ourselves thrown back into prayer. We see ourselves falling into the mercy and the embrace of God or else into despair and hopelessness. In times like these, we need to hold up one another’s arms so that we pray always, so that we are constant and patient in prayer. Prayer seems so little, so futile. We do not have the results right in front of us as quickly as Moses did. And maybe he wasn’t sure either. Maybe the story about fighting Amalek and his army was shortened as it was told again and again so that victory seemed certain if Moses’ arms were raised. Maybe Moses was struggling with God about the future of the people—even as he wearied of keeping his arms up.
Then there is the parable that Jesus told about the woman and the judge. It’s not one of my favorites. I don’t like the image of God as one whom we have to badger and bother until we get what we want—or until justice is done. But, again, the story probably says more about us and not much about God. We must be like the widow. We have to be patient and constant, we have to keep at it, we must not give up, we cannot lose heart. We need to ask God to keep us patient and constant, to hold our arms up for us—even as we ask for peace and for justice in this world we live in.