We all know the story. The Israelites, children of Abraham, are slaves in Egypt. God has Moses lead them out of captivity to the land God had promised to Abraham. But there is a catch, isn’t there always a catch? The road from captivity to the promise is long, difficult and dangerous.
Around 2000 BC the Amalekites were a nomadic people in the Negev, what is now the southern part of Israel, a boundary between the Sinai Peninsula and Jordan. The path the Israelites traveled from Egypt to Israel went right across Amalekite territory and they fought. The Israelites, coming out of slavery, were not yet seasoned warriors. However, as we hear in the Book of Exodus (17:8 – 13), if Moses held his staff in the air God gave the Israelites advantage in battle. When Moses got tired and lowered his hands, the Amalekites dominated.
What kind of message is this? Does God support his people or not? The point here, the point for you and me, is that we can’t do this alone. Moses needed Aaron and Hur to hold his arms in the air for the Israelites to win. Moses could not do this by himself. As well, in the background, Moses needed Israelite warriors in the field to face the Amalekites. Here God is providing an object lesson for the Israelites 4000 years ago, and you and me today.
The fundamental message of life is that human beings are hard-wired to need community. We can easily lose track of that and believe, sadly, that we are self-sufficient. Our experience is that we gain support, strength, and help from community. However, very often our human community, as members of a family, a neighborhood, a nation, is not enough. Should there not be something more, something greater?
Jesus wants to call our attention to the shortcomings of purely human community and point to Himself as that something greater, “Behold, something greater than Solomon [wisdom] is here.” (Matthew 12:42). St Luke records for us a parable about a widow who is denied justice in court by a dishonest judge. Jesus uses the image of a widow to represent someone without resources. Her human community fails to support her, in the person of the unjust judge, but Christ wants to make the point that this powerless woman knows where her true strength resides, with God. The central message of this parable implies that the widow does not take her relationship with God for granted. We should imagine her turning to God in prayer persistently and with confidence. One weakness of human community is we take it for granted. Strong relationships, family, friendship, neighborhood, require our active engagement. If our relationship with God is our greatest strength, that relationship calls for our strongest engagement. We need to remember that the communion of believers, the Church, is a central element of our communion with God (Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church #4 and 11, Eph. 1:4-5, 10).
Christ, who promised to be with us to the end of time (Matthew 28:20) keeps that promise in the Eucharist, the enduring presence of Christ in the world. God designed the human person to need community, the companionship of others. The Mass, where Christ becomes present in the Eucharist, is our communion with God and with the community of the Church. As the Second Vatican Counsel tells us, the Eucharist is the source of all of the ministerial activity of the Church (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy #10). Our active participation in our relationship with God means praying persistently and being a part of the ministerial activity of the Church. Being a Catholic, being able to receive Communion at Mass, is a great privilege, but also a great responsibility.
Like the Israelites on the journey from Egypt to Israel, we are on a path of life given by God. Like the Israelites, our path can be difficult and uncertain, We, each one of us, needs to pray continuously, like the widow of the parable, to be aware of our unity with Christ in the Church, the mission He has given us, and live lives that reflect and strengthen that unity.