Readings for the Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Today, after Jesus tells His disciples a parable about prayer, He asks one of the most haunting questions ever to leave His lips. What was it?
Gospel (Read Lk 18:1-8)
As Jesus continued His journey toward Jerusalem and the fulfillment of His earthly mission, St. Luke tells us He wanted His disciples to understand “the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary.” The parable is about a “dishonest judge,” who “neither feared God nor respected any human being.” As an example of his dishonesty, the judge refused to render a just decision for a widow against her adversary. The judge’s indifference to the widow’s distress was a violation of Jewish law (see Deut 27:19). This is what made him “dishonest.” Ultimately, however, the judge realizes it is in his own best interest to deliver a decision, because the widow’s insistent perseverance will give him no rest and might even bring harm to him. Jesus says, “Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says.” The point of the parable, therefore, is not so much the widow’s perseverance as it is the comparison between the judge and God. If even an unjust judge will do the right thing in the face of such perseverance, how much more will God, the perfectly just Judge of all the universe, “secure the rights of His chosen ones who call out to Him day and night?” (See also Lk 11:13) Jesus says God will not be “slow to answer them … He will see to it that justice is done for them speedily.” Now come the questions.
The first question ought to be ours: If God will answer our cries for justice (reward for goodness, punishment for evil) “speedily,” why did St. Luke describe this parable as being about “the necessity to pray always without becoming weary?” Why would we need the great perseverance of the widow if God will not be “slow to answer” us? If God is more just than the dishonest judge, why would we need to keep praying and waiting for His answer? Why won’t we see it immediately?
The second question is the one Jesus asks, and it actually answers ours: “But when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?” This is the question that penetrates deeply into the mystery of time and into our own souls as well. If we really have ears to hear it, we will recognize that our notion of “speedily” differs dramatically from God’s. By asking this question, Jesus tells us that we cannot decide if God has answered our prayers until “the Son of Man comes,” meaning the Second Coming of Christ. This is seriously important to know, isn’t it? It will only be at the consummation of history that we will recognize definitively that God has kept every promise He has ever made to us to be the just, loving Father that Jesus revealed Him to be. This is why we must persevere in our prayers. When He returns, Jesus will be looking for the kind of faith that never doubted God’s goodness and faithfulness to hear us, no matter how long it takes for Him to prove it. It is for this reason that we confess “the mystery of faith” during the Mass. Over and over again, we acknowledge that ours is an unfolding story: Jesus has died and risen—and He will come again. Until that Return, it is always too soon to conclude that God hasn’t answered our prayers for justice. No wonder Jesus wanted us not to grow weary in them. Something wonderful lies ahead when human history ends. Can we keep the faith?
Possible response: Lord Jesus, help me to grow in confidence that my prayers always reach God’s hearing and call forth His love.
First Reading (Read Ex 17:8-13)
This story from Exodus gives us a living picture of why it is a “necessity” for us to “pray always without becoming weary,” as St. Luke told us in the Gospel. In a battle with the Amalekites on the Israelites’ way to the Promised Land, Moses went high up on a hill to lift up “the staff of God” during the fight. Recall that this staff was what enabled Moses to work many miracles in Egypt and even to part the Red Sea. It was the sign of God’s presence and power. Moses, of course, got tired as the battle raged on. However, whenever he lowered the staff, the battle went against the Israelites. So, Aaron and Hur “put a rock in place for him to sit on … and supported his hands, one on one side and once on the other, so that his hands remained steady.” Their perseverance in publicly trusting the outcome of the battle into God’s strength, not their own, meant the enemies of Israel were “mowed down.”
We have here a foreshadowing of the victory of the Cross over all God’s enemies. Moses must have held the staff in a horizontal position, if Aaron and Hur each supported one arm. This would have created the outline of a cross on the top of that hill. As long as it remained high and visible, all went well. If, through weariness, it was lowered, trouble overcame God’s people. So it is with us. As we make our way through history toward Christ’s Return, it is only the Cross that will keep us strong and safe and full of hope. The victory for which we long has already been won. We have only to keep faith, just as Jesus told us.
Possible response: Lord Jesus, help me keep my eyes on the Cross when battles rage without and within. You are my only, best hope.
Psalm (Read Ps 121:1-8)
If today we are thinking about our need to persevere in our prayers, confident that our trust in God’s goodness will be not be disappointed, we will want to sing this psalm with gusto: “Our help is from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.” See how the psalmist assures us of God’s constant loving attention to our every need: “The Lord is your guardian; the Lord is your shade; He is beside you at your right hand.” When difficulties press in on us, and our prayers seem to be falling on deaf ears, we need to remind ourselves “the Lord will guard your coming and going, both now and forever.” If this psalm becomes the constant song in our hearts, Jesus will find us full of faith when we see Him face to face.
Possible response: The psalm is, itself, a response to our other readings. Read it again prayerfully to make it your own.
Second Reading (Read 2 Tim 3:14-4:2)
St. Paul, in his letter of encouragement to St. Timothy, urges on him exactly what Jesus urged on His disciples in the Gospel: “Remain faithful to what you have learned and believed.” St. Paul reminds him that the Scriptures, which he had “known since infancy,” taught him stories of faith in God’s promises of salvation that were all fulfilled in the First Coming of Christ, although that took thousands of years. See how St. Paul uses the Second Coming of Jesus “in His kingly power” (and we don’t know how long that will take) as motivation to “proclaim the Word; be persistent, whether it is convenient or inconvenient.” St. Timothy, as Bishop of the Church in Ephesus, was to fulfill his vocation in the confidence that Jesus, through His Church, is winning the battle that must be fought until all is accomplished. The Church, like Aaron and Hur in our First Reading, must help to keep the Cross lifted high. This truth will keep us from growing weary. It keeps faith alive until Jesus’ glorious Return. He will not be disappointed when He comes.
Possible response: Lord Jesus, build up Your Church so that we will not grow weary in doing what You have asked us to do until You come back to us.