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Enduring the Meantime…

October 22, 2007

The Backseat Homilist

Readings for the twenty-ninth Sunday in ordinary time

When I think of the call to be faithful without growing weary, I think of a friend of mine in Cleveland who has a long history of social protest. Over the years he has stood countless vigils with hand-made signs in cold public squares and sidewalks; he has walked a multitude of marches on issues ranging from protecting life to fostering peace.

I stood numerous vigils with him shortly after 911, joining the few people in our community who were calling for a response that would not plunge us into war. I recall him saying that he did not do this to be effective. He did it because it was right.

At the time, I really wanted to be effective. But our signs and songs, our marches and street theater did not stop the invasion of Afghanistan or of Iraq. It did not thwart a first-strike foreign policy or bring soldiers home.

Six years later the group is still working for peace and nonviolence, and my friend is among them.

Why have they not given up the effort? It’s not that my friends in Cleveland haven’t grown weary.

Today’s readings give a clue.

In Exodus a battle between Israel and Amelek rests on Moses’ ability to keep his arms raised and the staff of God extended. But even Moses, the friend of Yahweh, the one who could look upon the face of God and not die, could not sustain this physical demand alone. When he grew weary and dropped his hands, the battle took a turn for the worse. It took the assistance of Aaron and Hur, holding up Moses arms and keeping them steady through the day, to assure the victory. Tucked among the series of tests that God places upon the Israelites in their sojourn in the desert, this one seems to be not a test of faith in God, but a test of Israel’s faith in one another. Would they support their leader if he grew weary? Would their leader accept the help?

In the Gospel, Luke provides advice on the need to pray always without growing weary. This suggests that his audience may have been struggling with the fact that their prayers weren’t being answered very quickly. Luke uses as his example a widow, one of ancient Palestine’s most powerless people, in her tenacious quest to get an unjust judge to decide her case favorably. If persistence can wear down the resolve of such a man, Luke argues, how much more will it move God who already loves us and hears our prayers?

In both stories, the faithful who would do the will of God struggle not so much with God’s distance, but with humanity’s limits. In our efforts to serve we run up against the limits of our strength, the limits of our goodness, even the limits of time itself. The results we seek do not happen in the blink of an eye. The meantime is exhausting.

That image of Aaron and Hur holding up the arms of a weary Moses remind us why we have church. We need communities of faith because we can’t do the will and the work of God all by ourselves. It takes a miraculous amount of energy to resist participating in the injustices all around us today and to bring our case for a better world time after time before unjust and disinterested judges. We need people to hold us up with their stories and their laughter and their songs and their example and their presence. When Jesus walked the earth, he was no one’s personal savior. Instead time and again he drew people into the community that he traveled in — diverse, broken and repentant though that communion was.

And he drew them into communion with God. Herein lies our need to pray constantly — not to badger God into changing the divine mind, but to articulate over and over again our desire for God’s Kingdom to come, God’s will to be done. Human time is the meantime. God chose to dwell with us here, respecting its laws and limits. And so God waits with us, and does not grow weary.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. chrisrochester permalink
    October 22, 2007 10:46 pm

    My son and I attended a showing Sunday of “Ten Questions for the Dalai Lama” at a church in Rochester, NY. (The movie is also available for rent now on DVD.) The documentary by filmmaker and explorer Rick Ray addresses some interesting questions, including: How do you reconcile a commitment to non-violence when faced with violence? Why do the poor often seem happier than the rich? The title comes from the fact that Ray was granted an interview with three months notice and told he could only ask 10 questions and would have 45 minutes total with the Dalai Lama. It’s amazing to see video of how the Chinese army attacked the Dalai Lama’s followers in Tibet, yet his long-time message of nonviolence persists.
    I was also outraged to see how Yahoo.com agreed to censor its Internet listings in China in order to gain access to the Chinese market. If you are in China and type Dalai Lama in the search window at yahoo.com, you get only government-approved results — in other words, lies.

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