29th. Sunday, Year (C)
(Exodus 17:8-13; 2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:2; Luke 18:1-8)
As Moses was guiding Israel to the Promised Land, we heard that Amalek came and attacked Israel at Rephidim. Now, it is important that we notice what followed, for Moses said to Joshua:
Pick men for us, and march out tomorrow to fight against Amalek; and I shall stand on the hilltop with the staff of God in my hand.
Moses was, as Scripture tells us (Numbers 12:3-4):
A man of great humility, the most humble man on earth;
and yet, as you heard, he went -- as leader with the staff of God in his hand -- to intercede for the army of Israel fighting in battle at his behest:
Whenever Moses raised his hands Israel had the advantage, and when he lowered his hands the advantage passed to Amalek.
Ultimately, it was thanks to Moses' intercession that:
Joshua defeated Amalek and put its people to the sword.
And so, despite being the most humble of men, Moses led his people into war believing it to be in accordance with the will of the Lord, the God of Israel. Now, Moses was also the holiest of men (Exodus 33:11), and as such we are told that:
The Lord used to speak with Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.
The full significance of this is explained to us in the following words of the Lord God:
If he were a prophet and nothing more, I would make Myself known to him in a vision, I would speak with him in a dream. But My servant Moses is not such a prophet; of all My house he alone is faithful. With him I speak face to face, openly and not in riddles. He sees the very form of the Lord. (Numbers 12:6-8)
Because Moses was thus totally dedicated to God in holiness and humility, he could not – of himself, for himself -- be directly involved in the bloody struggle against Amalek taking place in the valley below him. Nevertheless, for the sake of God's People, he would share in the battle, in the manner best suited to his particular vocational calling and character, that is, by his prayers.
From this we can see that war is not, of itself evil; but, in our fallen world, it can only become an acceptable weapon for the People of God when used with an intention and for a purpose acceptable to God. However, as the centuries have passed and human society has developed so much, in its wealth (tempting to pleasure and plenty) and technical ability (tempting to pride and self-sufficiency), the somewhat simple issues over which wars were fought formerly have become, politically, much more involved and uncertain, while the effects of war have become ever more disastrous. Therefore the Christian spirit – note, I am not speaking of that worldly wisdom and political self-seeking of non-worshipping unbelievers or active dis-believers -- is now increasingly inclined to withhold, as far as possible, from the exercise of earthly weapons of war, and to devote itself more insistently to the God-given weapons mentioned in the Gospel and second reading.
Timothy was a man totally dedicated to God in his life, but, as with Moses, that did not mean that he could not, should not, fight. His ministry was indeed to be a fight, and the words of St. Paul in the second reading were preparing and encouraging him to be a fighter in the best Christian sense, for God’s glory, the well-being of God’s People, and for mankind's salvation:
All Scripture is inspired by God, and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness. Proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage, with all patience and teaching.
Worldly weapons of destruction are readily, almost inevitably, backed by worldly passions, and too often they result in hatred, violence, and ruthlessness being directed against our fellow men. St. Paul, on the other hand, explains that the real Christian fight is against the devil:
We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)
Therefore, the Christian must learn to fight not only against evil in the world around, but also against the evil, the weakness and the ignorance, ensconced within his own heart and mind; and for such a campaign -- one that has to be fought throughout life -- only faith and prayer can enable him to endure and ultimately receive the promised crown:
Take up the armour of God that you will be able to withstand on the evil day. Stand fast; fasten on the belt of truth, for a breastplate put on integrity; let the shoes on your feet be the gospel of peace, to give you firm footing. And with all these, take up the great shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the burning arrows of the evil one. Accept salvation as your helmet, and the sword which the Spirit gives you, the word of God. Constantly ask God’s help, praying always in power of the Spirit. (Ephesians 6:13-18.)
In armed conflicts here on earth emotions arise naturally in the combatants; and being instinctive, they can soon develop, becoming so powerful and imperious as to be indeed passions: forces we cannot simply use, but which rather seek to use us and from which we suffer greatly: impulses and drives blinding and hardening us to such an extent that they can easily overwhelm our judgement and override our conscience. From indulged and sated passions of that sort there can arise not only human tragedies and great suffering, but also retaliatory crimes of blindly revengeful and explicitly vindictive passion, which serve to spread human misery over an ever longer time and wider field.
The virtue of faith, however, being a supernatural gift of God which only develops through our deliberate and persevering faithfulness and humility before God, never becomes an overwhelming passion; for faith, of its very nature, exercises its power against all that provokes and promotes passions and their accompanying excesses, that is, against the multitude of irritations and antagonisms, injuries and vanities, lusts and longings -- not to mention anxieties and fears -- that can so easily fill the lives and stir the hearts and minds of men and women today.
Therefore, our Gospel passage ended on a very sombre note to which we should give at least some thought here:
When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?
Many Christian men and women still lead lives basically dedicated indeed to God; but being involved in the world and living partly for worldly ends, their Christian faith can at times be seriously weakened by the dangers and difficulties they inevitably encounter. There is no doubt that our Western civilization is that of a post-Christian era, indeed a post-religion era, and although there still remain remnants of Christian teachings and occasional examples of Christian attitudes and values -- sometimes publicly acknowledged and appreciated but, more generally, hidden in the intimate and private corridors of men’s minds -- these are only rarely able to do anything more than tug at public heart-strings without moving wills enough to affect public morals or national politics. Moreover, since many of our contemporaries have lost all direct contact with the living Church, our present-day afflictions are largely the result of a catastrophic loss of trust in God which has developed over many years; and not only have morals deteriorated in our society, but reason itself, which might seem -- as judged from our technological advances -- to have been so wonderfully encouraged and empowered has, in fact, been dreadfully distorted. Originally given as a unique blessing for mankind to enable him to subdue and appropriate for his own greater good the powers of nature, and thereby help him to recognize and appreciate something of the glory of God in the ever more wondrous details of creation, the human intellect has, however, been increasingly used by many to glorify themselves whilst seeking to deny any divine power over creation or salutary influence in human affairs.
Moreover, in the Church herself, false and hypocritical piety has gradually led many to use devotions and even the very sacraments themselves wrongly: for, instead of seeking thereby to draw ever closer to their heavenly Father in a personal relationship of loving trust and obedience in and with Jesus, they have used them to build up – by a process of psychological self-abuse -- a personal pseudo-holiness based on things supposedly done for God but rather inspired by a desire to provide themselves with a kind of protecting shield against a God Who, having long been Personally ignored, they now begin to imagine as an ever-more threatening Judge.
And yet, because humankind was and is made for God, we cannot turn away from Him without hurting, bruising, and even, perhaps ultimately, upsetting the harmony and shattering the beauty of our human make-up. The minds and hearts of many have, indeed, been turned away from God, but still, in the depths of their human psychology they continue to feel a need to be justified, to be at one with the Other, which, if not the transcendent God, must then be society itself.
Consequently, in difficulties and disputes of whatever sort today the solution of individual problems and general moral issues is so often sought exclusively at the bar of public opinion and common practice: whatever is popular must be right and acceptable. And so we regularly hear such phrases as: “I’m only doing what lots of others are doing”, while there are yet others for whom it is sufficient to feel at one with the blind forces at work in society, with, that is, their own presumed personal fate; and these will frequently explain and excuse themselves by such words as, ‘There was no other option open to us; we could not have done otherwise’.
When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?
Will He, that is, find some few still willing to create a silence, a peace, within and without themselves that they might be able to listen for the Spirit of Him Who is their Lord and Saviour, wanting to hear and willing to answer His call? And if so, will He find among these any prepared -- in accordance with His word -- to sacrifice themselves, with Him, for His purposes, and for the glory of the Father?
To that end we must remember that Jesus told the parable in today’s Gospel to encourage us to pray continually and never lose heart.
Just look at that parable. Can you imagine what a good film, slap-stick comedy, director could do with it? This criminal justiciar, this unscrupulous magistrate who, despite moving here and there, is beginning to tear his hair out because, wherever he goes, he hears that same voice repeating that same plaint-cum-demand:
Get justice for me from my adversary; give me protection; avenge me!
Why does Jesus use a parable which can easily been regarded as a parody? Could it, indeed, be the case that He wanted His disciples to smile a little at the thought of anyone being able to seriously conceive a doubt about God’s unfailing attentiveness to our prayers or question His willingness and power to answer them? Jesus is talking to His disciples, and there have been some serious and solemn matters under discussion; here, however, Jesus could be understood to be saying, “Give serious matters serious attention; but, as for doubts about the usefulness of prayer to God, treat such imaginations as they deserve: they are laughable for anyone who knows God, as, indeed, you should know Him by now.”
There Jesus hints at the tragic comedy being enacted in modern times among those who allow doubts about God -- most especially with regard to the supremely intimate relationship of filial prayer -- to arise in their mind and linger in their heart, not being aware that it is they themselves who are thereby beginning to lose hold of their end of the bond of faith by taking themselves and their fears, too seriously.
Joyful confidence in the Lord is a supremely important part of the armour of a Christian; and so, People of God, never let any foolish doubts linger at the back of your mind as regards your prayer before God; for, if sincerely made, it is unquestionably acceptable to God, and will, most certainly, be heard and answered by your Father in heaven, for that you have His very own Son’s word:
Will not God give justice to His elect who cry to Him day and night? Indeed, I tell you, He will give justice to them speedily.
So, let us once more imbibe confidence from St. Paul’s personal experience of the truth and trustworthiness of Jesus’ words:
I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38 - 9:1)
And let us always remember that God alone is merciful, essentially merciful and true, He alone knows and bestows divine and definitive mercy, and His chosen ones can at best administer His mercy. Their personal goodness may seek to imitate His mercy; their talk, however, can rightly praise but not affect it, for it is essentially one with His Goodness and Truth, His Holiness and Majesty, as aspects of His Being Love. Divine mercy therefore cannot to be separated from His commands, for His commands – known to us infallibly through Mother Church’s traditional teaching -- are always deliberately willed and supreme expressions of His mercy towards weak and sinful human beings aspiring to walk in the ways of His Son, by His Spirit, as His children.