October 18, 2013

Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe Book of Exodus is the source of this weekend’s first reading. One of the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, its concepts are attributed to Moses himself. As such, it is part of the Torah, or fundamental document of Judaism.

As its title implies, its focus is upon the flight of the Hebrew people from Egypt, where they had been enslaved, to the land promised them by God as a haven and as their own homeland, a land “flowing with milk and honey” (Ex 33:3).

The journey from Egypt to the Promised Land was not at all easy. First, the natural elements themselves seemed often to assail the refugees. Then, the fleeing Hebrews encountered hostile human forces. Dissidents among them sowed seeds of confusion and alarm. Armies pursued them.

This weekend’s reading is about one such encounter. The Hebrews had to fight. Only when Moses held aloft the staff given him by God did the people prevail. After a while, Moses, by this time old and weary, could no longer lift his hands. So his brother, Aaron, the first high priest, and Hur, another faithful disciple, held up his arms with the staff.

For the second reading, the Church turns to St. Paul’s Second Epistle to Timothy. As was the case in past readings, Paul in this weekend’s selection reassures Timothy, and challenges him, in his task of discipleship and of serving as a bishop. The reading stresses that Jesus alone is the hope of the redeemed, indeed of all people.

St. Luke’s Gospel furnishes the last reading. Widows were very vulnerable in the first century in Palestine. Poverty was rampant. There was no “social safety net.” Since women could not inherit from husbands under the law, they had to rely upon their children to survive. Virtually nothing was available to a woman to make her own living.

Therefore, the woman in this story surely was desperate. It is easy to assume that, frantic before her circumstances, she boldly confronted this judge. It also was a time when women were not expected to speak, indeed rarely to be seen.

The judge is hardly admirable. Evidently, he was a minor judge, and not a very observant Jew. The Torah would have required him to be particularly solicitous about widows, yet he was not at all interested in this widow. He was more interested in polishing his own image than in responding to her plight.

Jesus uses the story to illustrate a lesson about God. Constant, loud pleas will not finally weary God. Unlike the judge, God is merciful. To ask God for mercy, anyone must believe in God and in his power of supplying mercy to those in need.

Reflection

The readings from Exodus and St. Luke’s Gospel this weekend easily can create several rather simplistic, childish, and incorrect views of God. Exodus might give the impression that some seemingly foolish and unrelated gesture, such as holding arms aloft, will guarantee God’s help in a crisis.

It smacks of magic, instead of illustrating a trusting relationship with Almighty God. At times, devotion to God requires us to act in ways not understood by our world.

St. Luke’s Gospel then can be construed to suggest that people must flood the kingdom of heaven with thundering calls to obtain God’s mercy.

Instead, these two readings call us to develop an attitude about prayer that is both humble and trusting. In humility, we realize we can do little on our own. We can do some things, but we cannot fully control our destiny. As did Moses, we must depend on God.

Sustaining this trust, come what may, always is difficult for humans. We trust ourselves too much.

We must rely on God in moments of great concern. Human reasoning well may have no solution. †

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