Gospel Reflection for Sunday the 16th of October 2022

Gospel Reflection for  Sunday the 16th of October 2022

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Luke 18:1-8

This Sunday’s First Reading from Exodus 17: 8-13 expresses the necessity of prayer, the power of God, the assurance of God’s victory, and dovetails with the Gospel (Luke 18:1-8) which focuses on persistence in prayer. Prayer can feel like a battle and very often it feels like it’s a failure; we feel disappointment with unanswered prayers. Sometimes our prayers are answered; other times we have to wait patiently for our prayers to be answered; and then there are times we feel our prayers are unanswered and we accept that God has something better in mind for us. Also, we experience discouragement during periods of dryness; with the constant clamour of social media and entertainment around us we are easily distracted in prayer, and at times we lack faith and question the productivity of prayer (c.f. CCC 2728-2733). However, the battle of prayer involves overcoming these obstacles by gaining humility, trust and perseverance. The invitation to “pray constantly” (1 Thessalonians 5:16) leads us to a humble, trusting and persevering love (c.f. CCC 2742). Prayer a vital necessity as it is inseparable from the Christian life; it is the foundation of our relationship with God and sustains us in our struggle against temptation and sin (c.f. CCC 2744-2745).

In our First Reading from Exodus, the Israelites, newly freed from Egypt, face their first military activity, led by Joshua against a strong enemy, the Amalekites, who controlled the caravan routes between Arabia and Egypt. They resent the intrusion of these Hebrews. Victory is hard fought. Moses, as mediator between the people and God, intercedes on a hilltop overlooking the battle throughout the day from morning until sunset. Despite moments of physical weakness, he stretches his arms out with the staff of God (c.f. Exodus 17: 9), aided either side by Aaron and Hur. The battle between the Israelites and Amalekites offers us an analogy for the battle of prayer (c.f. CCC 2725) and the requirement of patience, persistence and perseverance. Widows, in the androcentric society of the time, who had lost a husband and had no near relative to see to their protection and welfare were socially, economically and emotionally vulnerable. However, the widow in the parable in this Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 18:1-8) is vigorous and stands up, alone, without an advocate, to plead her case against an obstinate judge for some injustice against her. Her persistence leads to her case being finally heard and compensation granted, despite the judge, comfortable in his own powerful position, thinking he could dismiss this powerless widow. The widow gives a powerful example of persistent prayer. Jesus teaches that if an unjust judge “who had neither fear of God nor respect for anyone”, can be convinced by a powerless widow to grant her request, surely God, our loving Father, will see “justice done to his elect if they keep calling to him day and night even though he still delays to help them” (Luke 18:7).

The image of prayer as “crying day and night to God” is a strong image and makes us raise the questions: Why does God want this? Doesn’t he already know what we need? God invites us to pray insistently but that does not mean he needs to be convinced of our requests or that praying is a form of negotiating with God. Pope Francis explains the battle of prayer: “On our daily journey, especially in times of difficulty, in the battle against the evil that is outside and within us, the Lord is not far away, he is by our side. We battle with him beside us, and our weapon is prayer which makes us feel his presence beside us … the battle against evil is a long and hard one; it requires patience and endurance … there is a battle to be waged each day, but God is our ally, faith in him is our strength and prayer is the expression of this faith” (Pope Francis, 20 Oct 2013). While Jesus refers to “crying day and night to God”, day can represent the bright dawning faith of the Resurrection – when we experience joy and peace through prayer and we receive clarity and confirmation about our direction in life; and night could symbolize those times of darkness when we feel alone and confused.

St John of Cross used the image of night as an analogy for the battle of prayer (Iain Matthew, The Impact of God, p. 51-58). The night is a period of darkness; we cannot stop the sun setting or hasten the sun rising to shorten the period of night; we are not in control of the night. Night is a time when things quieten down and there is silence. St John of the Cross uses the journey through the night as an image to illustrate the journey of faith, when at times we cannot see clearly; when we rely on the light of faith and when we need silence to listen to God and allow the hiddenness of his love to enter our hearts. This journey becomes a journey into truth, when realize we cannot rely solely on our own resources but on grace; we need to empty the ego; hence prayer is a process of purification and healing.

Fundamentally, prayer is a meeting of our thirst for God with his thirst for us (c.f. CCC 2560); it is a living communion between God and us where “heart speaks unto heart” (St John Henry Newman, “Cor ad cor loquitur”). However, our experience of prayer cannot be based solely on how it makes us feel or how productive it feels. Whether our prayer life involves praying the Rosary, doing Eucharistic Adoration, or meditating on the daily scriptures, we are encouraged to persevere, so as not to change God, but to change ourselves, to increase our desire for God and create more space for intimacy with him.

– Fr Barry White