October 20, 2013 – Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
“Be persistent, whether it is convenient or inconvenient.” With those words in the second reading, St. Paul virtually sums up all of the readings for this 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time. The key words of persistence and perseverance capture the scriptural message for us.
The first reading from the Book of Exodus reflects the time-worn statement, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” The image of Moses standing on the hilltop holding his staff in the air is a vivid description of what occurred during the battle being recounted. It is a vision of prayer — while Moses prays, the Israelites are blessed, but if he falters, they are not. Of course, this is an account of persistence, but even more so, it is a strong affirmation of the power of prayer. Moses is not the fighter; he is the intercessor. We, as stewards, are called to consistent and persistent prayer, and we are also called to not hesitate to intercede in behalf of others.
Throughout his letters, Paul is fond of comparing life to a race. He urges us often to keep going and not to give up. In his letter to Timothy, the second reading, he points to the strength and value of Holy Scripture. He cites the fact that children learn the faith by listening to Scripture. He reminds us that listening to, absorbing, and pondering scripture can bring us wisdom. Nevertheless, he cautions us that we must be strong. Growing weary of hearing and meditating upon Scripture may move us away from lives of holiness and stewardship. Scripture is truth, and we must be persistent to find truth and to continue to embrace it.
As is often the case, it is Jesus our Lord who defines and exemplifies best what a persistent prayer life can mean to us. The Parable of the Persistent Widow is a testament to praying constantly and not acquiescing. There is a latent stewardship point in this Gospel which many may miss. In terms of our physical bodies most of us recognize that using muscles and working muscles, even though it may be tiring and even painful, produces a stronger muscle. The same is true of our minds, and the same is true of prayer.
The more we pray, the stronger our prayer lives become, and the more effective our prayers become. Just as we may walk or run to build up our bodies and our hearts, we must be willing to work to reinforce our minds and spiritual lives as well. God is not asking us to be persistent to wear us down, but to strengthen us. Another caution offered in the Gospel is that those who have needs tend to pray, but those who are comfortable and satisfied may not. All of us need to pray, and stewardship reminds us that we need to pray regularly in gratitude and thanksgiving.
We are reminded in Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament that the race does not always go to the swift and the battle to the strong. The means is persistence and perseverance, of striving to live lives of stewardship every day and every minute.