The last verse of today's II Timothy pericope has played an essential role in our Christian examination of conscience for almost 2,000 years. "Proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching."
Those who dare follow Jesus of Nazareth must be as committed to proclaiming God's word as he was. No excuses, no "I don't feel like it right now." Whether received or rejected, God's word is at the center of a disciple's life.
But, as we hear in our three liturgical passages, God's word is multi-faceted. We're always surfacing new dimensions, constantly discovering aspects we've never before noticed.
On one hand, for instance, our sacred authors tell us God answers our prayers. That's certainly the message behind our Exodus reading. "As long as Moses kept his hands raised up, Israel had the better of the fight, but when he let his hands rest, Amalek had the better of the fight."
The Exodus author isn't describing some esoteric, magical gesture in telling us about Moses' raised hands. In the biblical period, one normally prayed with one's hands extended, as eucharistic presiders do today. The practice of "folding" hands in prayer developed long after the biblical period. So the sacred author is telling us that as long as Moses prayed, Israel was winning; Yahweh was answering his prayer.
Jesus' gospel word assures us of the same effect. "Will not God . . . secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night? Will he be slow to answer them?"
But on the other hand, God's word also informs us that our prayers must be accompanied by actions. Instead of just praying that other people change their behavior, we're expected to pray for the courage and strength to change our own.
Moses not only prays that the Amalekites stop harassing the Israelites, he tells Joshua, "Pick out certain men, and tomorrow go out and engage Amalek in battle." Neither does Jesus teach that the wronged widow should only pray that the judge render her a favorable decision. He praises her for bugging the daylights out of the judge, forcing him to act.
In a recent issue of Celebration, Gabe Huck shares a deep insight into Jesus' example. "The churches to whom Luke was telling these stories . . . likely had plenty of people who could identify with this widow who had suffered injustice. Most had learned, as poor people everywhere learn, that if you set yourself out to be too loud, too outspoken, to call too much attention to injustice in the city, you're in for a lot of grief and maybe worse. But always there are a few like this widow who keep on pestering the authorities, the regime, the powers-that-be."
Throughout his gospel, Luke describes the ideal Christian as someone who "hears God's word and carries it out." Though he usually employs Mary, Jesus' mother, to exemplify such behavior, here the wronged widow takes on that task.
All who make the Scriptures a focal point of their faith lives revel in the II Timothy statement, ". . . You have known the Sacred Scriptures, which are capable of giving you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus." Yet we can easily fall into the trap of becoming experts in finding a specific Bible verse, explaining the "sitz im leben" of an individual pericope, or giving the correct chronology of a series of writings, but never make the word we study a factor in how we live our lives.
God's word, in all its complexity, isn't just a subject to be read, studied and proclaimed. God's word is a force which gives life to how we live the faith Jesus expects to find "when he comes."