Father Donald Senior, CP

Oct. 20: 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Prayer without weariness

Ex 17:8-13; Ps 121:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8; 2 Tm 3:14-4:2; Lk 18:1-8

St. Augustine, who already in the fourth century seems to have said everything worth saying, described prayer “as lifting your mind and heart to God.” The readings for this Sunday invite us to focus on the meaning of prayer.

The first reading from Exodus describes one of the most unusual scenes in the Bible. It begins with the threat posed by Amalek, the king of a fierce tribe who apparently inhabited the southern desert region of the Negev and stood in the way of the people Moses was leading from Egypt to the promised land. 

In the Bible, the Amalekites take on a larger than life role as the epitome of implacable and ferocious foes of God’s people. When Moses learns they are on the prowl, he orders Joshua to form an army to “engage Amalek in battle.” 

Realizing the terrible struggle that is ahead, Moses goes to the top of a hill, along with his brother Aaron and a trusted companion, Hur. Once there, Moses lifts up his hands in prayer.

As long as he keeps his hands raised, the Israelites make ground against their enemies. When Moses gets tired and lowers his hands, the tide of battle turns. To keep those hands raised in prayer, Aaron and Hur put a rock in place for Moses to sit on and the two of them keep his arms lifted up. 

With Moses remaining in this position of prayer until sunset, Israel triumphs over the Amalekites.

This enticing biblical story seems to anticipate Augustine’s definition of prayer in a very vivid way — Moses’s arms lifted up in prayer seem to be heard by God. But this story also adds a note that echoes our Gospel reading today — namely that of weariness in prayer. 

If Moses lets fatigue overcome him and lowers his arms, his prayer weakens. This is also the point of Jesus’ instructions to his disciples, a parable “about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary.” 

The parable is another of Jesus’ stories that seems, like that of many good storytellers, to find some wisdom even in the actions of less than savory people (a few Sundays ago, we had Jesus’ parable praising the foresight of the unjust steward who reduces the debt people owed his master in order to assure a soft landing when he is dismissed from his job). A dishonest judge who doesn’t care about the plight of a poor widow finally takes up her case because she is persistent and he is afraid she might even attack him. 

A frequent device used in Jewish stories such as Jesus’ parables is what in Hebrew is called “kal va homer” — “all the more so.” In other words, if a dishonest judge finally gives in because the widow is persistent in her request, “all the more so” will God attend to the needs of “his chosen ones who call out to him day and night.”

There are many forms of prayer. Prayers of pure praise for God. Prayers of intercession that ask God’s help in our need. Prayers for forgiveness from our sins. As Jesus himself did in Gethsemane, we cry out to God in anguish and lament when sorrow, loss and confusion flood our life. We pray trusting that God hears us and will assist us, even though the outcome of our prayers is not always as clear as in case of Moses and the Amalekites. 

Above all, as St. Augustine’s description of prayer affirms, prayer is an expression of our faith and trust in God. We lift our minds and hearts to the mysterious beauty and overwhelming power of the God we cannot see. We strive to communicate with God, sometimes in words, sometimes in silence. Fragile creatures that we are, we dare to reach out to the author of all life, trusting, as our Scriptures tells us, we are “made in the image and likeness of God.”  

Because we believe in God’s love and because, as in the words of Jesus today, we are “God’s chosen ones,” we persevere in prayer and do not let weariness overcome us.



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