Wednesday, October 12, 2016

29th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Persistence.  The Oxford Dictionary defines this as “firm or obstinate continuance in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition.”  Persistence is an important part of our faith tradition, as our readings this week will teach us:

Exodus 17:8-13
Psalm 121:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8
2 Timothy 3:14-4:2
Luke 18:1-8

Our first reading is a story from the book of Exodus.  Here Moses and the Israelites, not long after their flight from Egypt, are pushing forward into Southern Canaan where they are experiencing resistance from the nation of Amalek (named for the grandson of Esau, Abraham’s other son… though this may just be a literary device).  As they engage in battle, Moses holds out his hands (as he would in a prayer position) and the battle goes in favor of Israel, but as Moses grows tired and lowers his hands, the tide of battle shifts.  With the help of Aaron and Hur, Moses is able to keep his arms up so that Israel wins the day.  So what does this story about an ancient battle teach us?  There are actually two important points:  First is the need for persistence:  As long a Moses persevered in his prayer, the Lord responded in kind.  Second is seeking help from others.  As Moses began to tire, Aaron and Hur were there to hold up his arms, acting as intercessors in his prayer, and reinforcing the idea that we all need the help of others from time to time.  Our Psalm reminds us that when we need help, it is the Lord to whom we should call as we sing, “Our help is from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” 

This idea of persistence is also carried through to our second reading.  As we continue our study of Paul’s second letter to Timothy, Paul is reminding him to stay faithful to what he has learned because he can trust the source of that learning… the Sacred Scriptures and  his faith in Christ.  One can imagine that Timothy feels unsure of himself in his priestly ministry without having his mentor at his side.  Paul reassures him that within the scriptures, inspired by God, he can find the wisdom he needs to be persistent in his ministry.  An interesting sidebar to this passage is the recognition of those elements that form the two pillars of the Church:  Scripture and Tradition.

Our Gospel from Luke, continues with this theme of persistence.  Picking up the narrative from where we left off last week we hear another parable unique to Luke’s Gospel:  The Parable of the Persistent Widow (sometimes also called the Parable of the Unjust Judge).  Here a widow (part of the underclass) keeps pressing her case with a dishonest judge.  Her perseverance ultimately leads the judge to rule in her favor, if for no other reason than to get her out of his hair.  Jesus’ approach is a little unusual here (typical of Luke), but he uses the widow as an example of how we need to be persistent in our prayers to God, the just judge, if we are to be heard.

Final thoughts:
Persistence, whether in prayer or action, only works when you have a goal.  For Moses, the goal was the defeat of Amalek.  For Timothy, it was the successful shepherding of his community and spreading the Gospel.  For the woman in Jesus’ parable, it was to get a judgment in her favor.  As Christians, as followers of the Lord, our goal is eternal life.  Yet our persistence to attaining this goal can seem, at times, very lackluster.  Take for example going regularly to Sunday Mass.  Why do we go to Mass every week?  Most will answer, “because the Church says so.”  While that’s not an incorrect answer, it most certainly is an incomplete one.  Do you ever stop to ask why the Church wants us to attend Mass every week?  It’s an important question… both for Catholics and those who want to become Catholic.

Suffice to say, there are many reasons the Church wants us to attend Mass regularly, but I will not go into those here, except to say that our persistence in attending Mass regularly is one of those elements that can lead us to our goal of eternal life.  To building a relationship with God that can spread to those around us.  Persistence requires a goal.  What are your goals?  They can be short term, like simply getting through the week, or long term, like finishing your college degree, or advancing in your profession.  As the saying goes, “No pain, no gain.”  To get what we want, it often means putting in the time and effort it takes to get there.  We have to want it, and it has to be worthy of our persistence.  Our Lord offers us grace and everlasting life.  Isn’t that a worthy goal?

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