Opening reflection (taken from Magnificat magazine, www.magnificat.com): “Will not God secure the rights of His chosen ones who call out to Him day and night?” The Lord loves in us the kind of persistence that characterizes the widow who “keeps bothering” the judge until he delivers a just decision – because such persistence testifies to a promise that we have been given. “Remain faithful to what you have learned and believed” – namely, tot he promise God has planted in you. “Be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient.” Moses witnesses to this: As long as he remains with his arms in the form of a cross, the promises of God come true.
(This weekend’s Scripture readings are available in the New American Bible translation at the Vatican’s English website at http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0839/_INDEX.HTM.)
First Reading: Exodus 17:8-13 (Revised Standard Version)
A reading from the book of Exodus.
In those days, Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim. And Moses said to Joshua, “Choose for us men, and go out, fight with Amalek; tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in my hand.” So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek; and Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed; and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands grew weary; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat upon it, and Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side; so his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. And Joshua mowed down Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.
The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Meditation: This series’ often-repeated observation that the Old Testament and Gospel readings usually are related may seem strained here. What do a bloody battle with a wicked foe and a parable about a dishonest judge have in common with each other? The common thread, though, is the theme of perseverance in prayer even when the stresses and persecutions weighing upon us seem insurmountable.
Moses and the Israelites are making their way through the desert beyond the Red Sea, headed for their nation-building direct encounter with God at Mount Sinai. But they come under attack by the Amalekites, a violent, nomadic people that would prey upon Israel time and again in the Old Testament (all the way through to the Book of Esther, in which Haman, the evil Persian prime minister Haman who secures a royal decree for the Jews’ destruction, is identified as an “Agagite,” the name of a later Amalekite monarch executed by the prophet Samuel).
Moses sends his faithful young aide and eventual successor Joshua to command the Israelites in their defense. As at the Red Sea, he raises his hands in supplication to God, who rewards Moses’ prayer by enabling his people to prevail. But people cannot keep their hands raised indefinitely without fatigue, and despite Moses’ strong faith, he’s even less able to do so in his advanced age (roughly 80 years old at the time of the Exodus). So his brother Aaron and another aide, Hur, physically support Moses in his prayer until Joshua and the Israelites have successfully driven off the foe.
Moses is not being faulted here for any lack of faith. (That would come later, in the Book of Numbers, when he disobeyed God’s command to speak to a rock to produce water and struck it instead.) But the lesson for God’s people can be seen in Aaron and Hur helping Moses to lift up their people in prayer. God hears every individual’s prayer, but when we support each other in prayer for grace, mercy and the ability to prevail over physical and spiritual foes, all the more does God answer those prayers. Is there someone who needs you to help lift them up today?
Second Reading: 2 Timothy 3:14-4:2
A reading from the second letter of St. Paul to Timothy.
Beloved: But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching.
The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Meditation: Paul continues his final instructions to Timothy here, focusing on a subject on which Protestants and Catholics both agree and disagree. For one will never find a faithful Catholic teacher who disagrees with Paul’s ringing declaration that “all Scripture is inspired by God.” Indeed it is. Even though humans did the writing and thus were subject to their human limitations, the Holy Spirit nonetheless guided their thoughts and writings. And the entirety of the Scriptures, essentially finalized by the Church in the fourth century and confirmed at the 16th-century Council of Trent, should be our prime resource for all the purposes Paul outlines here. The prophetic and apostolic Scriptures, the Old and New Testaments, are truly – as soon-to-be St. John Paul II declared in his 1995 encyclical Ut Unum Sint – “the highest authority in matters of faith.”
But this passage is not a defense for Martin Luther’s notion that “Scripture alone” (sola Scriptura) defines divine teaching and authority in the Church. How could it be when, at the time Paul wrote these words to Timothy, several books of the New Testament had yet to be written and the teaching authority of the Church was three centuries away from defining which books were canonical? At the time of Pentecost, the apostles had none of the eventual 27 books to work with or to appeal to in their preaching. Paul was indeed right to cite the authority of the Scriptures to Timothy – but he could only be referring to the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament), known to Greek-speaking Jews through the Greek Septuagint translation prepared by Jewish scholars in Alexandria, Egypt, some two centuries before Christ. (The Septuagint included the seven “deuterocanonical” books of the Old Testament that were rejected by Protestants.)
The Church’s teaching authority, its “Magisterium,” has never been confined to the written word. Oral traditions were passed on for centuries in Israel before they were reduced to paper in the Old Testament – but they were no less authoritative when merely spoken. So too was it in the early Church, as reflected in recent weeks by Paul’s command to Timothy to heed “the sound words which you heard from me” (2 Timothy 1:13). Even after the Biblical canon was finalized, and even to this day, the Church’s Sacred Tradition remains indispensable to the correct interpretation of the Scriptures which drawn from them – another point made by John Paul II to non-Catholic Christians in Ut Unum Sint (the Latin rendering of Jesus’ prayer in John 17:11 that His people may all be one).
So when Paul tells Timothy to be eternally faithful and urgent in his preaching, he’s calling upon his young protege to always wear what the “apostle to the Gentiles” called the “full armor of God” in his letter to the Ephesians. Appeal to the Scriptures; remember the “sound words” of Sacred Tradition; heed the teachers who rightly have received the authority Jesus first gave to the apostles (regardless of those teachers’ personal sins and failings); partake of the sacraments that our Lord left behind to shower His grace upon us. From what we know of Timothy, who eventually died a martyr, he did all these things indeed.
Gospel: Luke 18:1-8
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke. Glory to You, O Lord.
Jesus told the disciples a parable, to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor regarded man; and there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, `Vindicate me against my adversary.’ For a while he refused; but afterward he said to himself, `Though I neither fear God nor regard man,yet because this widow bothers me, I will vindicate her, or she will wear me out by her continual coming.'” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God vindicate his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will vindicate them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ.
Meditation: Surely our God cannot be compared with any “unrighteous judge”! And this is not Jesus’ intention in telling this parable. But He certainly is reminding His disciples that God will most definitely hear and answer our prayers for grace, mercy and justice if even an earthly judge who personally embodies the opposite of justice will do the right thing when persistently hounded by the widow with right on her side. Moses could have lost heart against Amalek, but he persevered in prayer even though he needed physical help to do it. All too many of God’s people lose heart far too quickly when injustice and disaster seems to prevail without end – and, sadly, some use this excuse to walk away entirely from their faith. So Jesus ends with a rhetorical question, one that He sadly knew would never be unanimously answered by those claiming to follow Him: “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?”
May we be numbered always among those who answer “yes” – even though we can do so only with the help of our fellow believers and, above all, by our Messiah, Brother and Friend who lifted up His hands to heaven on the cross and died in the once-for-all-time answer to our prayer and need for salvation.
Close with individual prayer, followed by Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be