Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time: 10-16-16
Peace be with You,
Last week, we were exhorted to live with an attitude of gratitude, being always thankful for the gift of life that our God bestows upon us (Acts 17:28). We found examples of this attitude of gratitude in Naaman the leper in our first reading from the Second Book of Kings and in the Samaritan leper in the gospel story. This Sunday, we are given some direction as to how it is that we can live with this type of outlook on life, which assures us of staying close to our very source of life.
Communication is the foundation of relationship. Companies like Hallmark, AT&T, Twitter and Facebook, have all built their companies based on this fundamental aspect of human life. In short, we realize that if we want to maintain the relationships with one another, communication needs to take place. The boom of social media gives evidence to the fact that as human persons, we feel the need to communicate, to share everything from ideas (some good, some not so good) to feelings. This is a good thing, as communication leads to greater mutual understanding. Consider the friendships we develop with one another, they build over time and grow as we come to know one another more deeply. In short, to communicate is a function of our humanity, a humanity which can only be lived to its fullest in communion with God. This understanding of what we are is the basis of our readings for today.
In our first reading for today we find the people of Israel journeying to the promise land, and as they do, they encounter the armies of Amalek, who attempt to impede them on their journey. This is a good metaphor for our journeys of faith. At times, we will come upon things that may keep us from journeying closer to God; sometimes these impediments are larger, sometimes smaller. However, whatever the degree of difficulty, Moses provides us with a good response. We find Moses go to the top of a hill as the army of Israel sets out to do battle (Exodus 17:10). Biblically speaking, encounters with God quite often take place on locations with high altitude, e.g. the episode of the burning bush (Exodus 3); Isaiah’s prophecy regarding the nations all coming together to worship on God’s holy mountain (Isaiah 2:2-4); and the transfiguration (Matt 17:1-9, Mark 9:2-8, Luke 9:28-36) to name a few. The basic idea being that to encounter God, we must raise ourselves to a plane that is “higher” than our normal everyday experience. Next, notice the action of Moses. Whenever the arms of Moses are raised, Israel is successful in battle, but whenever his arms are lowered, Israel experiences set back. The idea being expressed here is that when Moses raises himself to God, symbolic of prayer, Israel is able to move forward, but when that prayer is stopped, Israel is overwhelmed. So it goes with us.
In our relationships, it is crucial that we keep the lines of communication open. If those lines of communication become closed, we experience a setback in the relationship. This is the same thing that happens in our relationship with God. If we keep the lines of communication open in prayer, we move ever closer to him, but if prayer stops, we experience a setback in the relationship. It is this same idea that Jesus communicates to us in the gospel for today.
In today’s gospel, Jesus tells us a parable about a widow who continually goes before an unrighteous judge asking him to render a just decision for her against an enemy (Luke 18:2-3). The fact that the woman is a widow in the parable is very significant. In those days, being a widow meant that your very life was in danger as women were largely not able to provide for themselves. We are not told what wrong has been done to the widow; we only know that she faces some sort of trial in her life brought on by someone who has done her wrong. Thus, the widow pleads with the judge that he bring a just decision on her case. In other words, the widow is pleading for her welfare, knowing that her welfare is dependent upon the judgment of this judge. Moreover, she does so with intense persistence, to the point where the judge gives in to her request. In short, the widow recognizes her precarious situation; she recognizes that without the help of this judge, her life is in danger. This is the example Jesus sets before us as a paradigm of how it is that we are to pray.
In his famous Letter to Proba, a wealthy widow, St. Augustine exhorts her to pray always as “one who is desolate.” In other words, as someone who is radically dependent upon God for all things, which could have been difficult given that Proba was wealthy and able to care for her temporal wellbeing just fine on her own. This is a danger that we quite often are tempted to fall into in our lives. We look around and see that our basic necessities are taken care of and make the false assumption, even unintentionally, that we are somehow self-dependent. What our readings for today and what St. Augustine wrote to Proba reminds us of is that nothing could be further from the truth.
My friends, the beauty of the human person is that we have been stamped with the very image and likeness of the God Who created us. This means many things but at bottom what it means is that to live a fully human life means to be in perfect communion with God; conversely, apart from God, we cannot live fully human lives. This is the great lesson of the Incarnation, Jesus Christ, perfect God and perfect man, united hypostatically in one person. This is the life we were meant to live. Sadly, however, this is not the situation we find ourselves in. Unfortunately, we live in a world that is plagued by sin. Look around, the violence, the hatred, the division, sickness and even death itself tells us that things are not as they should be. As Christians, we believe that the only anecdote to our situation is the salvation which we find in Jesus Christ, and so we live day to day trying to grow ever closer to him. In order to do this, we must keep the lines of communication between us and God open at all times by praying unceasingly (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). In doing so, we will have the peace that surpasses understanding (Philippians 4:7), for we will know that the God who allowed the people of Israel to overcome the obstacles they faced will help us to do the same, all the time realizing the truth of what he told us; that apart from him, we can do nothing (John 15:5), but united to him, we will bear much fruit and our joy will be complete (John 15:8 &11).
Your servant in Christ,
Tony Crescio is the founder of FRESHImage Ministries. He holds an MTS from the University of Notre Dame and is currently a PhD candidate in Christian Theology at Saint Louis University. His research focuses on the intersection between moral and sacramental theology. His dissertation is entitled, Presencing the Divine: Augustine, the Eucharist and the Ethics of Exemplarity.
Tony’s academic publications can be found here.