OCTOBER 16TH, 2016: TWENTY-NINTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
In those days, Amalek came and waged war against Israel.
Moses, therefore, said to Joshua,
“Pick out certain men,
and tomorrow go out and engage Amalek in battle.
I will be standing on top of the hill
with the staff of God in my hand.”
So Joshua did as Moses told him:
he engaged Amalek in battle
after Moses had climbed to the top of the hill with Aaron and Hur.
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.
Moses’hands, however, grew tired;
so they put a rock in place for him to sit on.
Meanwhile Aaron and Hur supported his hands,
one on one side and one on the other,
so that his hands remained steady till sunset.
And Joshua mowed down Amalek and his people
with the edge of the sword.
Remain faithful to what you have learned and believed,
because you know from whom you learned it,
and that from infancy you have known the sacred Scriptures,
which are capable of giving you wisdom for salvation
through faith in Christ Jesus.
All Scripture is inspired by God
and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction,
and for training in righteousness,
so that one who belongs to God may be competent,
equipped for every good work.
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus,
who will judge the living and the dead,
and by his appearing and his kingly power:
proclaim the word;
be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient;
convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching.
Jesus told his disciples a parable
about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary.
He said, “There was a judge in a certain town
who neither feared God nor respected any human being.
And a widow in that town used to come to him and say,
‘Render a just decision for me against my adversary.’
For a long time the judge was unwilling, but eventually he thought,
‘While it is true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being,
because this widow keeps bothering me
I shall deliver a just decision for her
lest she finally come and strike me.’”
The Lord said, “Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says.
Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones
who call out to him day and night?
Will he be slow to answer them?
I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily.
But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
We have to be careful how we interpret today’s Exodus reading. One of my Catholic grade school teachers once encouraged us to pray with upraised hands, like Moses, if we wanted to make certain God would hear our prayers and grant our requests.
I’m afraid that teacher never heard of ancient “fertility cults.” The biblical prophets certainly did; they constantly warned their people against employing such religious practices. One of my Scripture profs once defined fertility cults as simple answers to complicated questions, comparing them to modern TV commercials. Having trouble getting a date? Just change your toothpaste! Is your life boring? You’re probably driving the wrong car!
The goal of fertility cults is simple: if you use special words or employ special actions the proper amount to times, you can tie God’s hands behind God’s back. He’s forced to give you whatever you ask, even if he doesn’t want to. God has no choice. It’s akin to holding a piece of kryptonite in front of Superman.
That’s why biblical Jews were forbidden to do anything that even smacked of fertility cults: to plow a field with a donkey and ox yoked together, wear garments made from two different kinds of material, or even boil a kid goat to death in its mother’s milk. The prophets were convinced that no one should engage in any rituals which attempted to control Yahweh’s actions in their lives. The Chosen People were expected to relate to their God, not control God.
Though Scripture scholars can’t agree on the meaning of Moses’ raised hands in our first reading, they’re certain his gestures have nothing to do with controlling Yahweh’s actions during the battle.
Luke’s Jesus enters the fertility cult fray by insisting that those who have a proper relationship with God shouldn’t have to worry about using gimmicks to have their prayers answered. God isn’t a judge who will cave in under pressure. On the contrary, God is always interested in “securing the rights of his/her chosen ones.” The question doesn’t revolve around God’s response to our prayers. It’s about the frame of mind with which we say those prayers. “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
Serious students of Scripture couldn’t agree more with the emphasis put on the importance of Scripture in today’s II Timothy pericope. The unknown author is certain “all Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” Of course, the author is referring only to the Hebrew Scriptures. (The Christian Scriptures wouldn’t be regarded as “inspired” for another 150 years!) And she/he is certainly not thinking about using those writings just as a source of “proof texts.” The sacred writer obviously wants us to imitate the faith of those who composed them. Their faith is the word we should be “proclaiming, whether convenient or inconvenient.”
I’ve discovered after almost 50 years of teaching Scripture that such a proclamation is often “inconvenient” in a church which has traditionally emphasized its own fertility cults. As a child, I used to worry about my non-Catholic cousins’ eternal salvation. They knew nothing about receiving communion on nine straight First Fridays, making novenas to the Blessed Virgin, or the requirements for gaining plenary indulgences.
My mother once received a prayer card from a well-meaning friend. The novena to St. Joseph which it touted came with a warning: “You had better want what you’re praying for to St. Joseph. You’re going to receive it whether you want it or not.”
We Catholics obviously are notorious for cornering the kryptonite market.