18 October 2013

Arms Raised: But Whose?

But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth? – A question asked by Jesus near the end of his public ministry, many generations ago.

And many more generations before that, Moses and Joshua are confronted with a situation that would try anyone’s faith.  The People of God have already escaped Pharaoh, crossed through the Red Sea and are wandering in the dessert.  The people complain: we have no water.  Moses strikes the rock and water flows for them.  The people complain: we have no food.  Moses makes a plea to God and manna and quail appear in the camp.  Every time the Israelites appear on the edge of ruin, Moses prays on behalf of the people and their needs are met. 

Until today: until the Amelekites.  You see, they resided in Southern Palestine, right off of the Sinai Peninsula.  In other words, Amalek and his people were directly in front of the People of God as they searched out the Promised Land.  And they aren’t going to move out of the way.  Even more, they aren’t going to let the Israelites pass around them.  Rather, the Amelekites have only one thing on their mind: destroy this rag-tag band of exiles as soon as possible; prevent them from taking the land they seek.

And so again, as time and time before, Moses raises his arms to God, asking hope against hope for a miracle.  And as long as his arms are raised, the Israelites have the better of the fight; yet when Moses’ arms get tired, they sag, and so do the fortunes of the people. 

There doesn’t seem to be a more natural thing for us to do when we are in need: raising our arms to God.  We may not do it in public and we may not actually use our arms, but we’re all familiar with this posture in our lives.  Raising our arms in need or in desperation.  How many times I’ve raised my arms as a friar!  I’ve raised my arms for the healing of those I’ve met in the hospital, the easing of grief for those who’ve lost loved ones, the intercession of God in a dispute, for the guidance of the Holy Spirit when I simply don’t know what to say.  Even in my own vocation, I’ve raised my arms to God, praying that the battle against my own pride, my own weakness, and my own doubts in whether I ought commit to this life.  This isn’t something, of course, that’s reserved for me: I think all of us here now that feeling of raising arms ourselves, when it seems as if all of our options are spent and the only thing left to do is beg for help.

Yet, I wonder what God’s arms have been doing this entire time in our lives.  In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells a story about a widow that keeps pestering a corrupt judge, asking for her due.  She keeps bothering him, until, at the point of exhaustion, the judge gives in to her request, giving the widow her due.  The easiest way to read this is to think of ourselves as the widows, persevering in prayer, keeping our arms raised to God, and, God, as the judge, finally getting tired and giving in. 

But what if it is actually the opposite way.  What if, when Jesus told this parable, he meant that we are the judges and God is actually the widow?  What if it is God who consistently calls upon us?  What if it’s God who has arms raised today – arms raised in the persons of the poor we meet on the street, arms raised in our husband or wife, arms raised in the person who sits next to us at school – and what if those arms are getting tired because their prayers are being heard by God, but aren’t being answered by you or by me?

In all of this, we too are called to be rocks, to hold up arms, and to answer the call of God to give to those what is rightfully theirs.  I know, of course, that all this sounds like a lot.  And, of course, it is.  The Gospel never asks us for just a little bit, but rather makes a claim on all that we have and all that we could ever offer.

When we see someone losing the battle against illness, depression, addiction, will we hold up their arms this week?  When we see our loved ones getting tired of being on their feet, battling against the reality of their lives, will we be rocks for them to sit on? Or, perhaps most difficultly, when someone comes to us this week to ask for what is theirs: mercy, forgiveness, compassion, or justice, will we give it to them, or be like the judge, who ignores pleas for help until the last moment?   

The great tasks to which God calls us this week will not be easy, yet we all know already the first step which we can take to accomplish them.  Prayer.  Prayer in this place and in this mass.

When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?  Let’s raise our hands in prayer this week.  And there will be faith.  

1 comment:

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