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February 24, 2017

Pushing the Amalekites

The story is told of an old donkey whose owner considered stubborn and stupid. One day the owner heard the donkey crying desperately for help from the bottom of an old abandoned well. Having had enough of the “stupid” animal, the owner decided to bury him alive. So he invited his neighbours who arrived with shovels, and everyone began to scoop dirt into the well. Initially the donkey protested loudly and cried for mercy, but after a while he was quiet. The people kept shovelling but after a while someone chose to look into the well to see what had become of the donkey. Amazingly, he was dodging the incoming dirt, and standing on the ever-increasing mound. The stubborn donkey was using the obstacle as a stepping stone. This changed the mission of his enemies from a live burial to a rescue operation. They kept shovelling more dirt into the well until he jumped out of the top unharmed. Everyone applauded the old stubborn beast with a newfound admiration. How many time have we felt like that old donkey in our own lives?
Today we are reminded of the need for a faith-inspired persistence in prayer, coupled with the confidence that Our Father listens to all our cries and will deliver us from all our afflictions according to His will and riches in glory. Our God never sleeps, never rests, never goes on vacation, and is never too busy for us. He is eagerly searching for hearts that will trust him enough to ask him unceasingly for everything they need. He always attends to our cries, even when it seems like the line is engaged.
In the First Reading Moses’s persistent prayer of faith wins for the people of God a decisive battle against the Amalekites. So long as Moses kept his arms raised, Israel prevailed. But when he got weary and lowered his arms, they began to lose. In the end Moses was made to sit on a stone while Aaron and Hur supported his arms until sunset, and Israel ultimately triumphed. The hands of Moses represent our holy perseverance, raised up to God in prayer; it is a divine standard against all the Amalekites in our life. Daily we face the Amalekites of sinful inclinations, we face the Amalekites of spiritual laziness, we face the Amalekites of excessive consumption, we face the Amalekites of insensitivity to the needs of those around us, we face the Amalekites of self-centredness and intolerance; these forces strive to take our gaze off Jesus, and hence the need to constantly keep our arms raised like Moses.
Just like the weary arms of Moses needed to be rested on a stone, so we too, wearied by the challenges of life, need to be anchored on the rock that is Christ. Our Lord Jesus is the new Moses raised on the Cross with arms outstretched in constant intercession to the Father on our behalf. Aaron the priest represents the sacramental support we get from the Church, while Hur represents the solidarity of our brothers and sisters in faith. The point here is that anchored on Christ the rock, our persistent prayer of faith, girded with the support of the Church and her members, is a sure fortification against the forces of sin and evil. As the arms of Moses stayed up until sunset (end of the working day), so we are called to persist till the very end.
The Israelites were not very prepared for that war, but Moses’ faith led him to invoke the power of the Most High by raising his arms to heaven. When we are faced with spiritual struggles or temptations to sin, let us learn to raise our hearts and minds to the Lord in prayer, and to raise our hands in total surrender to His will. Through the prophet Jeremiah (33:3) the Lord says: “Call unto me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things which you do not know”.
In the Gospel, an unjust judge who feared neither God nor man grants the widow her request because her persistence was going to worry him to death. If the persistence of a poor, lowly, marginalized, and hopeless widow could move the heart of a powerful, unjust judge, how much more will the persistent prayer of the poor in spirit move the heart of our God, the Almighty, Father of Mercies! The unjust judge was a man of earthly authority but Jesus has “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:18). And just as the widow’s persistence pushed the unjust judge into doing good, so will our persistent prayer of faith unleash graces from the bounty of our just and loving God.
Winston Churchill was a great British statesman and war-time Prime Minister, but he was very bright from the beginning. It took him three years to cross the eighth grade at school because he could not pass – wait for it- English Language! Ironically, years later, he was invited to give the commencement speech at Oxford University, and his entire speech consisted of only three words: “Never give up!”
So, do you feel like you are currently at the bottom of the well? Are you having all kinds of mud thrown at you to drown your spirit? Is it that sickness that has swallowed your family finances and deprived you of the joys of life? Is it the death of a loved one and all hope now seems lost? Is it the business problems or the cost of living pressures? Is it your relationship, marriage or family that is falling apart? Is it that sinful habit or addiction that seems to have no solution?  Whatever it is, beloved friends, we have a Father who never fails. We have come to the sanctuary of mercy; we have come to the foot of the Cross; we have come to the throne of the living God, who is “able to do immeasurable more than we could ask or imagine, according to his power that is working with us” (Eph.3:20).
Therefore, let us take a cue from the old stubborn donkey and learn to turn our obstacles into stepping stones. Let us emulate Moses by keeping our arms raised to God in prayer, and our hearts and minds turned to Him in faith. And let us learn from the poor, lonely widow to PUSH – that is, pray until something happens. Amen!

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Readings: –Exodus 17:8-13; Psalms 121:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8; Second Timothy 3:144:2; Luke 18:1-8



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