Homily for the Twenty Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C 2019
Prayer is an act of obedience. It is our response to God’s Self-Revelation. When He speaks, we listen. We are moved by His Word and we respond by pouring out our heart and mind to Him. Prayer is bringing of our real selves to the Real God. It is about telling our story as it is to the God who has told us nothing but the Truth about Himself. For Bishop Barron, “Prayer is an act of opening up ourselves consciously to God and keeping a steady relationship with Him.”
Prayer is not just something we say. Prayer is who we become. We become a whole new person. We begin to reflect the behaviour, the attitude and the attributes of the God we encounter in prayer. It is intimate. It is very much like what happens when a couple have been on the track together for a long time. All of a sudden, the both begin to finish each other’s sentences. The both begin to think alike, to like similar things, to feel at ease in each other’s presence.
So, at a deeper level, prayer is intimate. And three things make this intimacy possible. The first is time. We take time to prayer. There is no time that is ever enough for prayer. Our whole life should be a constant conversation with God who is forever conversing with us. The second is honesty. We should be honest with God. True lovers keep it real. There are open to each other. The third is silence. This is important because the fruit of silence is prayer, which births love.
Silence here is not a mischievous silence that ferments bitterness, anger and hatred. It is the silence that draws us in; calls us to wonder, ponder and discern the good that is needed in a given situation. It is a silence that leads us on a journey to seek answers, to seek God, to listen to Him and to respond to Him. It is the silence that helps us to savour what God has done, what He is doing and what He will do. It is a silence that turns our lives upside down, transforms us.
The background story of the First Reading from Exodus 17: 8-13, suggests that Moses had long cultivated the good silence: the silence that leads to prayer, love and service. In verses 1-7, when the Israelites found fault with him, he was silent. He was seeking answers, seeking God. And in silence, he heard God clearly and he did what God asked of Him. In silence, he was able to discern impatience and lack of trust in God as the real problem of the Israelites.
In verses 8-9, there is an interesting detail. When the Amalekites attacked the Israelites, Moses said to Joshua, “Pick out men for yourself, and tomorrow morning march out to engage the Amalek. I, meanwhile, will stand on the hilltop, the staff of God in my hand.” Notice, Moses had to separate himself from the Israelites who at this point had a problem. They were not the problem, but there was a problem. And for him to have the needed solution, he had step out.
Too often, this is where we make big mistakes. We immerse ourselves in our problems, instead of stepping back from them. We get ourselves entangled and we begin to drown in them. The temptation at this point is to give up, to throw in the towel. But Moses challenges us to raise up our heads, look at the mountain and let its reality speak to us. It is a reality that invites us to come out of the sea of our problems and climb the mountain so that we can have a better view.
And when we have a better view of the problem, we can then employ the right solution – to raise our hands to God in prayer. This takes us to another intriguing detail. “As long as Moses kept his arms raised, Israel had the advantage; when he let his arms fall, the advantage went to Amalek.” When we over literalise this text, we end up with two misconceptions. One, it is only when we pray that God knows what is happening. Two, until we pester God, we cannot get answers to our prayers.
This misconception more evident in the Gospel Reading from Luke 18:1-8. “For a long time he refused, but at last he said to himself, ‘Maybe I have neither fear of God nor respect for man, but since she keeps pestering me I must give this widow her just rights, or she will persist in coming and worry me to death.’” This text, and that of the first reading should not be taken literally. They are metaphors, drawing us to something more than we could think or imagine.
For what we know, the Amalekites stand for all the dark forces that stand in our way and militate against us as we journey from the land of slavery to sin to the freedom of the Promised Land. These dark forces are loud, wild and fierce. They range from our weaknesses to our addictions and sins. They come against us, accusing us day and night before our God (Revelation 12:10); making us to feel worthless, not good enough to be loved and to be fathered by God.
In the light of this, C. S. Lewis said, “I pray because I cannot help myself.” For the Amalekites of our lives attack the very core of our being. Thus, prayer gathers us. Prayer bring our wounded and broken being to God, our Creator for healing and restoration. In prayer, we let His Kingdom, which is already with us, manifest and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven. When this happens, we have the advantage like the Israelites had. The Kingdom God prevails over the darkness of evil.
And since the dark forces accuse us day and night, we too have to cry to God day and night. We have to pester the Just Judge, that is, we have to pray. Not because He needs to be pestered before He acts, but because when our relationship with Him is steady; His goodness, His justice, His victory, and His love continually flow through us and affect every area of our lives. This is the power of prayer. Therefore, we should not give up when trials come our way but pray.
Fr. Francis Afu