HOMILY FOR THE 29TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR C (OCT 16)
Ronald Stephens , Bishop of Holy Trinity
Diocese and pastor of St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish
The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)
The main message for us as Catholics and Christians today is “perseverance”, the idea that we steadfastly continue doing what we are doing until we get it right or until we get what we want.
Let’s start with St. Paul’s exhortation to us today. It is unusual that all three readings have the same theme but today they certainly do. Paul tells Timothy to be persistent in proclaiming the Good News. He tells Timothy he has the tools to be persistent – Scriptures (which was the Old Testament since the New hadn’t been written yet), tradition, and his faith. His job in preaching the Good News as missionary to the Gentiles was to convince, to rebuke and to encourage – but always with patience and persistence. I am not sure we can take this as advice to all of us, since it was specifically directed to Timothy, an “ordained” missionary, but it certainly has implications for all of us.
The Psalm celebrates the persistence of God who will not rest nor sleep but do everything God can to protect us and keep us from evil – the true shepherd of Israel!
In the first reading from Exodus, we also celebrate persistence, and I take this story as a metaphor for how we ought to pray to God. Moses prayed to God by holding up his staff on a mountain overlooking the battlefield. If he let the staff down, the people began to lose the fight, but as long as he kept it up, the Israelites were victorious. I like this image. Many times during our Prayer of the Faithful, I have been tempted to hold my staff up to God, while we asked for miraculous cures. Maybe some day I will try it. Jesus did say with faith we could move mountains!
I see this story though as a way of describing prayer – first of all that it must be persistent. We must never stop praying. But secondly, we have to realize that we can’t do it alone. It takes a community, all persistent, to batter the gates of heaven. When Moses got tired, they sat him down first, but then held up his arms for him, so that he could be always persistent. And it was that perseverance that won the battle and the war!
And, because this is a story from the Old Testament, how do we know it still applies to us today? Because – as we see in the Gospel – Jesus tells us so.
The Gospel today is the first of two parables that Jesus tells which illustrate to Luke’s mind, a specific point. Lest we don’t get the message, Luke tells us the message from the start. “Jesus told his disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.” Maybe that is the difference between stating a message and telling a parable. The parable is much more interesting and intriguing, leaving itself open to a number of interpretations.
In this parable, God is certainly not this corrupt judge, but the point of the story is that if even a corrupt judge gives in to persistence, how much more will our God do so?
Luke, who wrote this many years after Christ’s death could also have in mind that the early Christians were still waiting for Christ to come again as judge. In the meantime, they were being persecuted and some were giving up on waiting. Such a parable could seek to strengthen their resolve and be persistent in their faith.
How many times have we prayed to God, hopefully expecting an answer to our prayers and have heard nothing? Have we given up in our prayers? What Jesus seems to be saying to us is that we must continue to pray for God’s justice in any situation, singly and in community. We may have to wait a long time, but we keep on – tis the ‘judge gives in’.
The Gospel ends with Jesus posing a question to his disciples: “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth.?” We have been waiting a long time for the second coming. The earliest Christians expected it in their lifetime. Ten thousand generations later, we are still waiting. Is there still faith on earth?
I am aware as Catholics that unlike the fundamentalists we don’t talk as much about the second coming – we kind of brush it aside as something that is an article of faith but it probably doesn’t influence our daily actions or thoughts. If it does, because of the persistence of fundamental emphasis on “end of the world” horror stories, it may simply scare us and we avoid it. But it is very much a part of our faith that we proclaim at every Mass: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again! Death will be the first reckoning for most of us, but Christ is returning to merge the kingdom of heaven and earth. It may not be now. It may be much later. We don’t know, but we must have faith and belief that our lives will be judged – our attention to the great commandments noted – and justice will be meted out with mercy. That is a tenet of our faith. So be persistent, not just in your faith, but in your prayer life, and make sure the community is part of your prayer life as well.
This is the Good News we can draw from all four readings today and that I ask you ponder in the following week.