I must admit even though today’s readings are clearly about prayer I had a moment of wondering what God wants us to learn from them. In the first reading, we see Moses with his hands raised seemingly in prayer for the Israelites to overcome Amalek and his forces.
In the gospel we hear God seemingly praising the widow for her constant berating the judge for a decision. This parable does not tell us anything about the merit of her case. It would seem that since the judge ignored her first requests, her case was unjustified. This parable seems to go against all the lessons God has taught us. We all should remember the scripture passage that says, “when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure” (Jas. 4:3).
It would seem to me the motives of Moses prayer were in line with God’s plan and the widow’s motives were on her own plan.
Moses’ interaction with God in the scriptures up to this point was always a conversation with God. In the Book of Exodus we see God in conversation with Moses giving him tasks to perform. We never see Moses in the scriptures praying for God to perform a miracle in order to overcome the problem of the day. In fact after his encounter with God in the burning bush Moses would simply talk and listen to God in a matter only people intimate with one another would talk.
In one instance, God told Moses to throw a piece of wood into a pool of contaminated water in order to make the water drinkable. God told Moses to lift his staff by the shores of the Red Sea as Pharaoh’s army was coming to re-enslave them. When the people cried in hunger, God told Moses about manna and that God would send quail for the Israelites to eat. This day Moses knew he should lift that staff and pray in order that victory would once again be with the Israelites.
Why on this day was he inspired to climb that hill and hold up his staff while Joshua fought the forces of Amalek? Paul tells us in his letter to Timothy “the word of God is useful in helping us become competent.” I believe that Moses was growing comfortable and competent with his relationship with God because of his conversations with God. Up to this point he just listened to God and did what God instructed him to do but on this day he was stepping out by invoking the power of God to overcome the obstacle before them. Moses simply had grown in trust of God’s plan for him and the Israelites because of their relationship of intimacy.
The first part of the plan was that God had chosen Moses to lead the Israelites to freedom. God says he has heard his peoples cry and has witnessed their affliction at the hands of Pharaoh. Therefore God says, he will come down and rescue them and lead them to a good and spacious land flowing with milk and honey. This land God identifies as the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites and other tribes (Ex. 3:8).
That is what puzzles me about Moses climbing that hill; why did he not trust God’s promise that the land was theirs as God promised. I believe the answer was not a lack of trust by Moses. The answer to why he prayed that day lies in the weakness of the human heart. His action answers the question of why we must give voice to our desires and needs in prayer. Prayer is a necessary component of building an intimate relationship with God.
Moses shows us something about prayer by his action on the hill that day. He prayed after first building an intimate relationship with God. You know instinctively we can easily request something big from people we have a relationship with and we would definitely hesitate to ask strangers for that same thing.
God has clearly told us he knows our every need before we ask him. The scriptures tell us that very fact in Mark 6:8. So why must we give voice to our desires and our need for God to act if he already knows? It is simply because we need that assurance over and over again that God will never abandon us. It is not that we do not trust God as we encounter great forces that seem overwhelming. It is more that by connecting with God in prayer we gain confidence to call on the power of God.
The common thread between these two readings today is belief and persistence. Moses trusted in God’s promises and his prayer flowed from his heart because of their intimate relationship. The widow believed that her persistence would influence the dishonest judge. God praises her persistence just as in the gospel weeks ago he praised the action of dishonest steward. Like the widow, we know exactly how to survive in the world.
Today we also hear from Paul in his letter to Timothy telling us to remain faithful to the things we have learned and believed. Here is the key for us as we apply these readings to our lives – do we believe in God’s promises or do we doubt those promises. On one hand we see Moses growing intimacy with God increasing his ability to call on the power of God knowing God would act. On the other hand we see the widow taking matters into her own hands because she is uncertain her case will be resolved in her favor.
The difference between the two was not their knowledge of God and his promises. No the difference was one grew past the intellectual knowledge of God and into an intimate relationship with God. I believe these scriptures challenge us to examine ourselves in the manner Paul questions us in the Epistle – are we being trained in righteousness by the Word of God or are we being trained in an intellectual pursuit of knowledge. One of those leads to intimacy with God and the other to religious piety.