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29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Oct.17, 2010 (Exodus 17:8-13; 2 Tim 3:14-4:2; Lk.

18:1-8) The Amalekites were nomads living in the Sinai and probably Negev desert areas. These areas were south and west of Jerusalem. Periodically they would stage raids and pillage various settlements in these desert regions and were regarded as one of Israel’s historic enemies. What Exodus describes is hardly war. It’s more like a skirmish which engages chosen men from the Hebrews to fight the Amalekites. Joshua succeeded Moses as leader of the Hebrew people after Moses died. He was always regarded in the literature as more of a warrior type. Aaron was the priestly leader and Hur was another aide to Moses. So Joshua goes to do battle while Moses and his assistants pray. The scene is a bit comical with Moses’ arms going up and down. His possession of the “staff of God” would be roughly equivalent to “showing the flag” in military language. It recalled the plagues worked on the Egyptians and the recent passage through the sea in which Pharaoh’s army had drowned. The staff had power. Nonetheless when Moses’ arms got tired and he wavered the staff lost its power and they began to lose. This led some Jewish commentators to observe that it was not the staff, but Moses’ prayer with hands upraised that gave the warriors their strength. When his prayer weakened, symbolized by the lowering of his hands, so too did the warriors. In the end, the prayer is powerful and Amalek is mowed down. Presumably Amalek was praying to the wrong God. On the other hand since there is but One God, the Lord alone, it raises the interesting question of the sides God chooses in war. Since there is only one God, then all warriors belong to the one God, victor as well as vanquished. If we assume that God plays favorites then we wind up in a briar patch. In the end, it is necessary to conclude that war is a human play thing, engineered, planned and executed by humans. Humans spin out their own versions of victory and/or defeat. Fewer people would claim God as their champion if they realized there is only one God of all. The Gospel begins with the injunction to pray always without losing heart (or growing tired). But we have to remember that prayer’s answer comes in God’s good time, not according to our schedule. So we have to keep at it, as the widow trying to get her rights with the unjust judge shows. She was so persistent that the judge eventually granted her wish because he was afraid she would give him a black eye

(which could mean that literally or, as some have suggested, in the sense that it could embarrass him)! Today we would say something like “bust me in the eye.” We don’t have to threaten God with a black eye. But we need to know that God cares for us, especially for the poor and defenseless like this widow and that prayer works. But unlike the judge who is slow to respond, God will do so comparatively quickly. Most commentators struggle trying to translate this sentence, let alone finding its meaning (“Will he be slow to answer them?). It must be said this is an odd combination of readings to demonstrate the need to keep on praying. Moses prays and the Israelites are given the strength to slaughter their enemies. The widow pesters the unjust judge until she gets a fair judgment. The two are radically different in content. Yet the thrust is the same: pray always no matter how long it takes for a satisfactory outcome. Fr. Lawrence L. Hummer