Reflections on the readings for Sunday 20 October 2013
(Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
Exodus 17:8-13; Psalm 121; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:2; Luke 18:1-8 Find the readings here.
Jesus’ question at the end of the Gospel reading is sobering: “When the Child of the Human (Son of Man) comes, will faith be found on the earth?” Faith is not something that we can take for granted. This week’s readings give us some food for thought on the topic of faith, what it is and how to cultivate it.
If I may sidestep issues of holy war and a warrior God in the Old Testament reading, Moses’ actions in the battle against the Amalekites, the quintessential enemy, contain some profound lessons. Why should Moses’ arms being raised affect the battle? Doesn’t that smack of superstition? It is not the action per se, but what is in his hands that matters. Moses is holding aloft the staff of God with which he parted the Red Sea and brought water from the rock, actions which were not done in the power of Moses but by God acting through Moses. So the raised staff symbolises the power of God giving the victory to Joshua’s army. Protecting God’s people against their enemies is ultimately God’s work, but it is work that God’s people must share in – Joshua and his men by fighting, Moses by keeping the staff raised, and Aaron and Hur by propping up Moses’ arms. Their down-to-earth assistance is just as important to the final outcome as is the fighting going on below them. The fact that the victory comes from God does not mean that God’s people can sit back and allow God to do it for them. If they try to do it without the help of God they fail. They also fail if they do not play their part. Trusting in God and working hard to the point of exhaustion and beyond are not mutually exclusive. Nor is it just a matter of individual effort. We can be a Hur to someone else in their God-given task, and when we are flagging others can come alongside us. Faith is often a group effort.
Psalm 121 is a psalm of pilgrimage which proclaims our confidence in God as our help and protection on the journey. Here faith is trust that gives us the courage to keep going. But coming as it does as the response to the Old Testament story, we are reminded that to affirm that our help comes from the Lord does not preclude the involvement of human intermediaries. Joshua’s help came from God through the dogged perseverance of Moses, and Moses’ help came through the practical efforts of Aaron and Hur. We are not isolated on the journey of and toward faith.
Timothy’s faith has to be expressed through persisting in his calling. Whether he feels like it or not, he has responsibility for the church in his care. His faith is to be expressed in faithfulness to his duty. Paul reminds him that he has been blessed with an upbringing which grounded him in the Scriptures. To nurture his own faith and that of others, he should drink deeply from the tradition which has formed and shaped him.
Jesus tells the parable of the scoundrel judge and the nagging widow to encourage his disciples to keep on praying. If persistence wrests justice out of the unjust judge, how much more will it bear fruit with God. But why should we keep on praying? Doesn’t God hear us the first time? After all, Jesus said elsewhere that we mustn’t think we’ll be heard just because of our many words. I don’t think it is God who needs to be softened up to answer our prayer. It is our own faith that needs to grow through wrestling in prayer and through not giving up.
(I originally posted this on my blog in October 2010).