“Conduits to God”
All believers need God’s power to persevere in faith and live it out, and that power comes through contact with God. Today’s liturgy offers several suggestions on how this contact can be established and sustained.
On the way to the promised land, the Israelites had to pass through the territories controlled by the Amalekites, a nomadic tribe living in the deserts of Sinai. Since the Amalekites did not want the Israelites in their lands, military confrontation became inevitable. Today’s reading describes the battle between the two groups, showing how God yet again intervened and saved his people from destruction.
Joshua and his soldiers alone could do little against the superior Amalekite military power. Knowing this, Moses extended his hand towards heaven in a gesture of prayer and supplication. While his hands remained extended, the Israelite soldiers prevailed in battle. When Moses’ hands dropped down from exhaustion, the Israelite soldiers lost strength in the field. Moses acted like a channel or a conduit through which divine strength flowed to the soldiers. To aid the weakening Moses, Aaron and Hur stood by his sides and held up his arms to ensure that they remained stretched up to heaven. This strategy worked and, after a full-day’s battle, Joshua and his soldiers defeated the Amalekites. The Israelites were safe and the way to the promised land stood opened.
This story delivers an instructive message. Only God can save and protect his people from a superior enemy. However, God’s power descends and empowers the community when its members work together. Today’s reading shows a conduit built of people through whom God’s power worked. It flowed down from God through Moses’ extended hands supported by two other Israelites, finally reaching Joshua and his soldiers on the battlefield. The story teaches that the life of the nation depends on its members working together to establish and maintain a connection to God. National well-being and survival never depend on a lone individual effort but on the community. For the Israelites, their conduit to God was their community.
The second reading contains Paul’s further instructions to Timothy. In the preceding verses, Paul alludes to the tremendous challenges and sufferings he endured in his long apostolic service. In this context, Paul’s admonitions to Timothy are a form of sharing on what gave Paul the courage and strength to persevere in apostleship against overwhelming odds. First, Paul pointed to the sacred Scripture which was his guide for life. Training as a Pharisee in his youth, Paul would have memorized vast parts of the Old Testament and been trained to interpret and explain them. He knew that these sacred books were written under God’s guidance; they were inspired by God and given to the Israelites as instruction to shape every aspect of their life. Paul reminded Timothy that his faith in Christ was shaped by the Old Testament Scriptures where Christians found prophecies and passages that allowed them to understand Jesus and his work of salvation. Therefore, Timothy ought to look to the Scriptures for guidance, to enable him to teach and correct errors that kept creeping into his community. He also ought to look to the Scriptures for “training for righteousness”, that is for nourishing his own faith and growth in the apostolic zeal. Paul sees the Scriptures as an essential part of Timothy’s life and leadership. These sacred writings are to serve him as a conduit that would link him to God, so that he may understand God’s purposes and the manner of guiding others in the life of faith.
In the second part of the reading, Paul solemnly charges Timothy with teaching and proclaiming the good news in all circumstances, as he himself did. Again, the power and guidance for such courageous and zealous missionary endeavour will come from the Scriptures. For Paul, the God-inspired Scriptures serve as a conduit through which God inspires believers and guides them on the way to salvation.
The Gospel story of the persistent widow is located in the context of Jesus’ promise of the coming of God’s kingdom in its fulness when he returns to earth at the end of times (Luke 17:20-37). At the end of that story, Jesus’ returns to the theme of his return with a question, “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Jesus apparently wonders whether his disciples and the subsequent generations of Christians would lose their faith in his absence. How many true believers will there be on earth when he returns? He considers the loss of faith a real possibility and tells the story of the widow to address this danger.
In the story we find an arrogant and godless judge. He respects neither God nor people, which means he feels no obligations towards anyone, including God and God’s law. This individual will not be forced to do anything he does not want. True to his character and negligent of his duties, the judge is indifferent to the widow’s calls for justice and for protection against her opponent. Finally, bothered by her persistence, the judge yields to the woman’s requests and grants her justice.
Jesus explained the meaning of the story. It teaches that if this godless and indifferent judge finally granted the woman her request, how much more a good and caring God will listen to the pleas and prayers of the people he loves.
The situation of believers in the world after Jesus’ departure can be likened to the situation of the widow. She was not only a widow but was also alone, otherwise a male relative would have defended her and come to see the judge on her behalf. She requests justice, which means that she was probably stripped of property and possessions by heartless relatives of the deceased husband. She is alone in the world and, if justice is not done, she will suffer utter destitution and helplessness. Her persistent prayer brought her justice and probably saved her life.
Telling this story, Jesus shows the disciples what they need to do to maintain their faith in his absence – they need persistent prayer to stay connected to him and to God. Without prayer they will be helpless and alone in this world. Prayer will serve as a conduit uniting the disciples to Jesus. Through prayer they will preserve their faith until he returns.
Today’s liturgy identifies three conduits which channel God’s power to believers, to sustain their faith. The first channel is the community which, as for the Israelites in the desert, provides that power which believers need to sustain their faith against challenges and enemies. The second channel is the sacred Scripture which Paul identified as a source of guidance, inspiration and apostolic zeal for Timothy, and for all other Christians. Lastly, Jesus presents persistent prayer as the means to sustain faith while believers wait for Jesus’ return. Through these three conduits God’s grace and power pours down upon believers so that they can exclaim with the Psalmist, “our help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”
This Sunday’s liturgy makes us keenly aware how blessed we are because of God’s willingness to communicate with us. He sustains us consistently on our journey through life by giving us his strength and power. He also communicates with us to help us to navigate the twists and turns of daily life. His guidance helps us to avoid pitfalls and traps that we encounter on the way. For reasons unknown to us, God chose to give us life and to draw us to himself, so that we can enjoy ever fuller life on earth, and eternal life in the future. This great perspective, that we as Christians have, is a true blessing in a world where so many struggle to find sense and meaning in life.
Our times have been called by many “the secular age”. It is true that this is a time when religious indifference takes hold of many areas of the world. Never in world’s history have there been so many atheists or people who have no religious association. This is the case because of the loss of contact with God. We live in this age and are exposed to this same temptation. Today’s liturgy helps us to face this challenge, identifying three main ways in which we can draw on God’s power and seek his guidance.
Christianity has developed as a community-based religion. From the start, the apostles, such as St. Paul, established Christian communities where faith could be practiced and protected. They knew that individual Christians surrounded by the powerful and attractive pagan culture of that time cannot survive in isolation. They knew that faith can develop and thrive only in community. Our age has also been called the age of individualism. This is certainly true as the focus of life in the modern world shifted from families and communities to individuals. Yet, it is precisely in the community where we are stimulated to build up our faith through sharing it with others. Like Moses, we “keep our hands extended to heaven” when we join together, so that our faith can survive those aspects of modern culture which threaten to destroy it.
The Scriptures keep the Christian community alive. In God’s word we find inspiration and guidance in our journey through life. God chose to reveal his thoughts and plans through the Scriptures. By reading Scripture, studying Scripture and meditating on Scripture we come into contact with the divine mind and with the divine person. This contact is our education. It can be likened to being taken by the hand and guided in the right direction by a caring and concerned parent.
Prayer is the food of the soul. In the beautiful story of the persistent widow Jesus correctly wondered whether anyone can survive as a Christian immersed in this world without prayer. Realizing what they will face, and what we face today, Jesus admonishes his disciples to be persistent in prayer, knowing that only through prayer and the connection with God can faith be maintained. While the community supports us and the Scriptures direct us, prayer brings us before God. The crisis of faith for many of us begins when we cease to pray regularly. May this Sunday’s powerful message help us to maintain our faith and direct us to walk in the right direction together with others, until we reach that goal which God has set for our life.