This reflection refers to the readings for Sunday, October 20, 2013. For last week’s reflection, click here.
EX 17: 8-13; PS 121: 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8; 2 TM 3:14-4:2; LK 18: 1-8
This Sunday’s readings are about grace – or, more to the point, our devotion to God’s grace.
From Exodus we have the great, almost comical picture of Moses holding his hands up while Israel fights against Amalek: “As long as Moses kept his hands raised up, Israel had the better of the fight, but when he let his hands rest, Amalek had the better.” When Moses gets tired, he sits down and has his friends hold his hands up. Comical! But sometimes these vivid images stick with us.
The point, of course, is that victory comes not through strength, but through prayer. The Psalms say this over and over again: “You, by your hand, expelling the nations, have planted them . . . Nor was it by their sword that they occupied the land, nor did their arm save them, but your right hand and your arm, and the serenity of your face, for you loved them” (Psalm 44).
The constant military imagery of the Psalms might be disturbing. But it makes two points: first, there is a war, a real battle of faithfulness. God really does save us. Second, it is social: God saves “a holy nation, a royal priesthood, a people set apart” – not just scattered individuals. In addition, of course, it shows that grace works in us: “Joshua mowed down Amalek and his people.” God makes it happen: but he makes it happen in us.
But the reading from Exodus adds something to this teaching about grace: something about how we experience grace. It is not Moses’s friends who win the war. And yet leaning on his friends is a sign to him of God’s Providence. Trusting in others is a way we can experience and express devotion to our trust in God.
The reading from Second Timothy gives us another way to express devotion to God’s grace: through trust in Scripture. It is not exactly the case that God can speak to us no other way than through Scripture. His Spirit can also inspire us “for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” In fact, people often do these things without Scripture.
But Scripture is awfully useful. The greatest “wisdom for salvation” it gives us is precisely an increased trust in God. The more we lean on Scripture, the more we learn to lean on God, its author. Leaning on Scripture is a form of devotion to God’s grace.
So, incidentally, is leaning on the Church. To pit Scripture against the Church is again to trust in yourself. But always to listen to the wisdom of God: this is to realize that our help is in the name of the Lord. “The Lord is your guardian; the Lord is your shade; he is beside you at your right hand.”
But as usual, the Gospel makes it most simple. In this week’s Gospel, we express our trust in God by storming heaven with prayer – like the widow, who wouldn’t leave the judge alone. God wants us to act. He works through us. But we lean on his grace by always begging for it, begging for his assistance.
The saints are a great way to do this. Asking the saints to pray for us intensifies the sense that it is God who acts in and through us. We can be tempted, in our prayer, to think we’re just pumping ourselves up. “Lord, help me speak words of truth to this brother,” in our constant temptation to rely only on ourselves, can gradually fade into, “Come on, self, you can do this!” But no, we beg his grace. The battle belongs to the Lord! And so we ask others to pray for us, especially those most close to the Lord. Somehow that triangulation – bouncing our prayers off of someone else – helps us see more clearly that what we must rely on is his strength, not ours.
Finally, both the Gospel and the Epistle teach us to look to his final coming. Again, meditation on the last day is a way to intensify for ourselves the reality of God. He will come! “He will judge the living and the dead, by his appearing and his kingly power!” The Lord lives!
How do you experience this? Do you find yourself tempted to rely too much on your own strength? Do you have devotions that help you remind yourself to trust in him? We are getting to have a pretty big group of readers. Would anyone like to share in the comment section?