October 20, 2013
Luke 18: 1-8
Today’s first reading from the Book of Exodus is problematic in several ways. First of all, it associates God with violence. God seems to be party to Joshua’s military campaign that mows down his enemies, the Amalekites, with the edge of the sword. The text also carries a magical component. As long as Moses keeps his hands raised, the Israelites have the better part of the battle. But, when Moses drops his hands the Israelites begin to lose. These characteristics of violence and magic are best explained by the primitive culture that created this story. But, if we could for a moment set these aspects aside, we can find in this passage from Exodus an important message for us today, because this passage speaks of our trust in God and of the importance of community.
The position of Moses’ hands in the story is not accidental. Holding one’s hands aloft is the traditional Jewish gesture for prayer. We use this gesture at mass during the Lord’s Prayer. So, Moses’ prayerful position is an indication that our ultimate trust must always be placed in God. When we have to face any kind of evil, when we have to prepare ourselves for any kind of battle, we need to believe that God is with us. But this is not always easy. There are times where we simply cannot understand why bad things happen to us. There are times where we try over and over again to break a habit of sin, to forgive someone who has hurt us, to become less judgmental and more patient. And yet, despite all our efforts, we do not succeed. We can grow disillusioned. We can tire of believing. Our hands, lifted in prayer, fall.
When this happens to Moses in the story, he calls upon Aaron and Hur to hold up his hands. When Moses’ faith is too weak, he calls upon the strength of others. We need to follow his example. Often, we are not able to believe on our own. When we experience trouble in our marriage, we need to reach out and seek counseling from someone who has wisdom. When we discover that we have an addiction, we have to find a twelve-step program. When we receive a frightening medical diagnosis, we need to depend on family and friends for support. When our faith is too weak, we need to depend upon the faith of others. This is why we have a faith community. We do not always have the strength to keep our hands raised in prayer by ourselves. So at times we must depend upon other believers to hold up our hands for us.
Whenever we come to Mass, we celebrate our connection to one another in a faith community. What we celebrate today is the way that our faith, one with another, gives us the strength to trust and to believe. We do not come here every weekend to pray in the presence of others. We come to pray with others, as part of the same community. We are, in fact, sacraments to one another, signs of the presence of Christ among us. The people sitting around us are not just the atmosphere of our prayer. We are connected to one another as members of the same community. Together, we form the body of Christ. It is when we join with one another that we can display our faith and raise our hands in praise of God.