Readings for 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time: EX 17: 8-13; PS 121: 1-8; 2 TM 3:14-4:2; LK 18: 1-8; http://usccb.org/bible/readings/102013.cfm
Our readings today raise the issue of prayer, and what it means (in Jesus' words) to "pray always without ceasing." Today's selections contrast what might be termed "men's way of praying" with women's. At least in today's readings, men in power pray that God might intervene to slaughter their enemies. And they're convinced that the God they believe in hears them!
In contrast, the widow in today's gospel "prays" by confronting the power structure of her day in the name of justice. She exemplifies the way women in Jesus' day and our own confront men in power. They simply wear them down. That's the way of courageous, hard-working activists today like Medea Benjamin, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Goodman.
Begin with this morning's first selection from Exodus. It exemplifies the way men in power pray -- and it's scandalous.
Exodus 17: 8-13 is about God facilitating mass slaughter. It tells the story of Moses praying during a battle against the King of Amalek. It's a classic etiology evidently meant to explain a chair-like rock formation near a site remembered as an early Hebrew battleground.
"What means this formation?" would have been the question inspiring this explanatory folk tale. "Well," came the answer, "Long ago when our enemy Amelek attacked our people, Moses told Joshua to raise an elite corps of fighters. During the course of the ensuing battle, Moses watched from this very place where we are standing. Moses was accompanied by his brother Aaron and another friend called Hur.
Moses raised his hands in prayer during the day-long battle. And as long as he did so, Joshua's troops got the better of Amalek's. But Moses would get tired from time to time; so he'd lower his hands. When he did so, Amalek's troops got the better of Joshua's.
"To solve the problem, Aaron and Hur sat Moses down on this stone you see before us. They held up his arms during the entire battle. That strategy saved the day. Joshua won his battle "mowing down Amelek and his people.'"
So here we have a God who responds to ad hoc prayers and reverses history so that one group of his children might "mow down" another group of people he supposedly loves. Hmmm. . . .
In today's gospel, Jesus has another approach to prayer. For him, prayer is not an ad hoc affair -- about changing God's mind in favor of powerful men.
Rather, praying represents the adoption of a constant attitude that seeks justice for the oppressed. "Praying always" means refusing to let go of justice concerns like those that drive Medea Benjamin, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Goodman.
To illustrate that point for his own time, Jesus tells a comic parable about a persistent woman. (Remember, he's speaking to people who have no power in a legal system, which, like ours favors the wealthy and powerful.)
"Imagine a judge," Jesus said. "He's like most of the judges we know. He doesn't give a damn about the God of the poor, and he doesn't care what people like us think of him." (Already Jesus' audience is smiling seeing a funny story coming.)
"But then along comes this widow-woman. Like all of us, she's poor, and as usual, the judge pays no attention to her." (Jesus' audience recognizes the syndrome; they nod to each other.)
"But this woman's a nagger," Jesus says. (Now his audience is snickering and chuckling.)