October 21, 2013

The Nagging Widow: A Model for Prayer

M. Rebecca creatively interprets the first reading and the Gospel for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary time.  It boils down to this: what we pray for we must desire passionately and that we must pray.  The nagging woman in the Gospel was passionately seeking justice and truth and she persisted in her prayer.      

                                                                                                                                                                                   M. Rebecca    
                                                                                                                                                                                  October 20, 2013
 Ex 17:8-13; Lk 18:1-8
            Today’s first reading gives a wonderful image of intercessory prayer.  At first glance we can rejoice with how we can support each other in and through our prayers.  But as we look closer we realize that (Hey!) Moses’ prayer is that his enemies be slaughtered and “mowed down”!   We need to be cautious in how we interpret this model that Exodus presents, especially in today’s world with so much violence and terrorism associated with religious beliefs…or more accurately ‘misbeliefs”.  (Unfortunately, even our own Christian heritage has had its periods of violence.)   If taken literally, Moses’ model of prayer is dangerous.  So let us take a further look. 
            In the verses just prior to this reading in Exodus, the people were nagging and complaining to Moses about being thirsty in the desert.  It was attributed to their “lack of faith”.  They saw their own leader as an enemy and wanted to stone him, not realizing that he was an integral part of their salvation.  Moses interceded for them by taking a staff in his hand and striking it on a rock.  Water flowed out of the rock and all drank abundantly.  Now in this next story, Moses intercedes by taking this same staff and siting on a rock with arms uplifted, defeats the Amalekites.   This staff is not some sort of magical wand but symbolizes God’s personal, powerful, and active presence.  And not only is the staff in both stories but the rock as well, which for us is a symbol of Christ. 
            As the Book of Exodus mentioned, we find in this story that the real enemy in all this is not a person, but their own lack of faith.  However, the Book of Numbers (14:43-5) tells us the reason the Amalekites defeated Israel during Moses’ time was because of their disobedience…A lack of faith and disobedience (or following one’s own will).  Are not these the real obstacles and opponents in our pathway to God?   Jesus never prayed to have his enemies “mowed down” or wished death to anyone.   Rather He prayed that his opponents would know how much they are loved – and that they might come to know the Father and thus eternal life.  Jesus’ weapons were obedience to the Father’s will and a prayer of pure faith. 
            It is interesting that Our Blessed Mother’s message at Medjugorje is that our (quote) “armor for battle” is prayer.  Mary’s most frequent message to us is Pray.  This is our armor and our weapon.  All we need is faith.  Then there is St Benedict: “the strong and noble weapons” in battling for Christ, the true king, is obedience.  We are back to Jesus’ weapons of the prayer of faith and obedience.  So we see the key to this story quite different than it first appeared.  The question is really: what are we praying for?  What do we seek passionately?  And who, or what, do we see as our enemy?
            Moses - with drooping arms and weak legs - reveals to everyone on the hilltop his own poverty and weakness.  He cannot stand on his own but sits on the Rock; his arms are unable to remain high so he needs the support of others.  It is clear Moses is not the power behind this victory.
             Then we come to today’s gospel and at first glance it seems a lovely parable of perseverance and persistence in prayer.  But at closer look we realize we are being given a nagging woman as a role model!    What an odd image to use for our spiritual life!  Are we being told to be like nags before God our true judge?  Why persist when God knows what we need before we even ask!   Don’t we find nagging people annoying?...and even try to avoid them.  So what is Jesus telling us in the story to do?
            First of all, I think it is important to know what it is she is demanding.  The story does not specifically say what she pesters him about but I think we get a clue by the fact that her request is to a judge who is dishonest and unjust.  She is pleading and persisting for the cause of justice, truth,…things eternal!  So again we come back to the essential questions from the first reading:  What is she praying for?  What does she seek so passionately?  And is the unjust judge the real enemy?  
            She, like Moses, realizes her poverty and helplessness.  She cannot remedy her situation without the support and help of others.  The woman has great faith – this woman is obedient to the true path that points to the Father.  Persistence is not a virtue in itself but only when it is directed towards what is good, honest, just…things eternal…like love.  As role models, Moses and the nagging woman tell us we cannot seek or persist in these things without the help and prayer of others.  We, too, have weak knees and drooping arms and so often our poverty is right out there on the hilltop for everyone to see…but therefore also to support! 
            So let us take these readings today and apply them to our own life:
First: What is it that we seek passionately?  What do we consistently desire?  What do we most think about when our minds are free?
Second:  Do we have a strong enough faith in our prayer to know we are capable of defeating all evil?   Do we realize that through obedience and dying to our self-will we can bring forth good in the world? Does our prayer include foremost those who oppress us or treat us unkindly?   {Reminds me of some guy that came to see us ??? who said “Of course I pray for my enemies.  It is a short prayer, “May they rest in peace”! That is not the kind of prayer we mean!!}

Third:  Do we know our true enemies?...remembering that our “supposed” enemies from without can actually help to deepen our faith and expand our capacity to love...whereas our enemies within can ONLY hinder our journey to union with Christ.  So who, or what, are our enemies?  And where are we looking?!

Fourth:  Do we see our poverty and helplessness as a positive means to move out of ourselves?  Or do we confuse our weakness, as not an aid, but an enemy! 

            Let us reflect on today’s challenging and probing questions.  What we pray for and seek in our life makes us who we are – what we demand in our life defines us.  So these are by no means trivial questions but perhaps the most important ones we can ask!  The answers can make the difference between our mowing down Amalekites verses the true battle of our own lack of faith and our own disobedience towards charity’s demands.  

            Jesus tells us in the parable “to pray always and not to lose heart”…or faith.  And Moses reminds us to be obedient to God’s will – seek it out persistently, purposely, and passionately.  In this way, by our tiny efforts, we can be assured that “when the Son of Man comes He will find faith on earth”!!

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