The first reading and the Gospel for the 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time focus on the persistence of prayer. The second reading focuses our attention on the values that should guide our prayer.
The first reading starts with Amalek, a tribal leader, who would occasionally engage the Israelites in battle for control over a watering hole for cattle or for pasture lands. The Israelites had a right to defend themselves.
Moses orders his friend Joshua to pick out a number of good soldiers to engage Amalek in battle, while Moses climbs a hill with Aaron and Hur. Moses intercedes with God. As long as Moses held his hands up, Joshua advanced. As soon as his arms got tired, Amalek would move forward. Aaron and Hur got Moses to rest by sitting on a rock while they held his hands high. Then Amalek was defeated. The intercession of Moses, Aaron and Hur was necessary for Joshua to win the battle.
In the Gospel, Jesus tells the story of a poor widow with little legal clout and wanted a just decision from the judge. The judge ignored her, but because of her persistence, he came to realize: “While it is true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being, because this widow keeps bothering me I shall deliver a just decision for her lest she finally come and strike me.”
Jesus says: “Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says. Will not God then secure the rights of His chosen ones who call out to Him day and night? Will he be slow to answer them? I tell you, He will see to it that justice is done for them speedily.”
You may immediately object and say, “That’s not how it works in my life. He never seems to answer my prayer, or if He does, it’s late.”
God is pure goodness and He wants to share that goodness with you and with me. However, we don’t always know what is best in our lives. If what we ask for is good for us, He answers our prayers immediately, but doesn’t reveal His answer until the appropriate time.
It may be that what we are asking for is not in accord with our best interests. I remember telling parishioners that I would pray no one in the parish win the lottery, because so often such sudden wealth wrecks lives!
It may be that there are other priorities in our lives that aren’t in order. As we plead with God that He may grant our request, we gradually see other priorities that need greater attention. For example, we may need to repent of a life of sin. Perhaps family relationships are out of order. Perhaps we have other unresolved issues that we refuse to address.
The more we press our case with God, the more He opens our eyes to much greater gifts He wishes to give us. Perhaps He is holding out Himself as the gift He wishes us to pursue. That is a very wise God!
This is where the second reading comes in. Paul tells Timothy to remain “faithful to what you have learned and believed, because you know from whom you learned it, and that from infancy you have known the sacred Scriptures, which are capable of giving you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”
He says: “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”
Not only is it important for us to daily read the Scriptures, but we need to prayerfully reflect on its passages and see how those passages touch our hearts. If we are really lucky and faithful, we will come across passages that really pinch us —they hurt because they make us aware of how we are offending God.
The more the word of God pinches us, the more we hunger for relief. This is one of God’s greatest desires for us. Prayer for the grace of repentance is a prayer Jesus jumps at. He longs to give us more of His mercy. He longs to give us more of His wisdom.
Here we prayed so hard for a trinket that we thought would make us happy, and Jesus in effect says, “I don’t send trinkets; I come myself.”
When I pray for something and don’t get it, I really get excited, because I now have Him on the line. When He finally reveals His gift, it far surpasses even my wildest expectations.
So I encourage you to pray for things and even for big things and persist in praying. Your persistent prayer will change your desires and bring them more into conformity with God’s desires to bless you.
I also encourage you to daily read a few verses in Scripture and spend a few moments reflecting on these verses, asking Jesus to help you apply them to your life. The Psalms are easy reading. Why not begin there?
Furthermore, you may find the psalmist expressing your frustration with a God who never answers prayers. Stay with that psalmist and discover that in the end God answered his prayer because the psalmist profoundly repented. “What father would hand his son a snake if he asks for a fish?”
Daily faith-filled prayer always changes us for the better. It is a daily investment that pays eternal dividends!