First reading: Exodus 17:8-13 Responsorial: Psalm 121:1-2; 3-4, 5-6, 7-8 Second reading: 2 Timothy 3:14-4:2 Gospel passage: Luke 18:1-8
Prayer Works by Msgr. Richard Henning
Prayer is at the heart of Christian identity. It begins and ends our day. We pray in gratitude in moments of joy and in desperation in moments of fear or loss. We pray alone and we pray together. We pray with words, with song, and with silence. In prayer, we worship, we thank, we ask, we intercede, and we listen.
Having said all this, we must acknowledge that questions remain. Does prayer work? Why do some prayers get answered while others appear unfulfilled? Do we really need to pray if God already knows the deepest recesses of our hearts? How dare we pray – how can sinful creatures presume upon the all-powerful Lord and Creator? How can we make demands or second guess God’s will?
For this Sunday, the lectionary pairs two passages that provide images of persistence in prayer. The first passage comes from the book of Exodus and relates a battle between Israel and Amalek. The people of Israel were travelling their pilgrimage from slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land. As they neared their inheritances after decades, Amalek attempted to thwart them. In this part of the story, Moses prays during the battle to assure Israelite victory. As he did at the parting of the waters, he raises his arms in supplication and intercession. Although the now elderly Moses tires and must be assisted by Aaron and Hur.
The passage that we hear ends with the troubling news that, in victory, the Israelites put Amalek and his people to the sword. This piece of the story may scandalize us, but we need to remember the nature of tribal warfare in the ancient world. This was not gratuitous slaughter, but a matter of the survival of the people.
As far as the text is concerned, the focus is on the role of the Lord as protector of His people. The Lord is guiding the people towards the longed for Promised Land and God’s providence overcomes every obstacle. Exodus makes it clear that Israel’s martial prowess has nothing to do with the matter of the land. As the book of Judges will make clear, they to not “take” the Promised Land, it will be given to them. The account of Moses intercession emphasizes the importance of Divine Providence in the battle with Amalek. And it gives us a powerful image of intercessory prayer. Moses prays with more than words – his intercession is literally a whole-body experience. It is so exhausting that he needs assistance to sustain it.
The parable from Luke takes up a common feature of ancient society – corrupt, self-interested officials – and uses a comparison to teach His disciples about the importance of prayer and persistence in prayer. In this part of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus’ journey to His Passion is nearing its end. He continues to teach His disciples and prepare them for the day when He will no longer walk physically in their midst. After His resurrection/ascension, they will relate to Him as Israel related to the Lord. They will look to Jesus’ providential care and offer Him prayers of praise and petition. Here, Jesus teaches them that prayer is related to the maintenance of faith and faithfulness. They must persist in their prayer and their faith until the return of the Lord.
The second reading continues our lessons from Paul’s correspondence with Timothy, a young Church leader. While the letter does not address the specific question of prayer, it does call for persistence in the faith. Here the focus is upon God’s Word as the source of and guarantee of faith. The demand that Timothy cling to the scriptures is consistent with the previous messages about remaining united to Christ. It all forms part of a larger reality of authentic Christian faith and leadership.
Prayer takes so many forms in our lives. It remains the lifeline of the disciple and the community. And like those first disciples, we need to learn persistence in prayer – not because God needs our words, but because we need God and God’s Word. I am especially moved by the image of Aaron and Hur assisting Moses in his intercession and I think of the many people who have given me the help of their prayers. As these readings teach us persistence, they also reveal the truth at the heart of prayer – that God has entered into a loving relationship with us. God reaches into our hearts and lives and invites us to respond – to speak our hopes and fears, to vent our pain, to sing our gratitude. While particular prayers may not always receive the answer we wish, every prayer will have a response. Prayer is our presumption that the universe is governed by love. Prayer works because God works for our well-being and salvation.