Have you ever seen a carpenter trying to cut a piece of wood with a handsaw? If you have, you could recall that the handsaw goes several times (back and forth) into the wood before he achieves an excellent cutting. The carpenter would keep his eyes on the wood while pushing the handsaw into the wood with every strength he could muster.
We can apply the above illustration to our interaction with God during prayer. Prayer is not a one-time thing; it is an activity that ought to permeate us in season and out to season. The First Reading and the Gospel invite us to reflect on the need to make our prayer persistent. The First Reading (Exodus 17:8-13), tells us about the warfare engagements between the people of Israel and Amalek, and how the Israelites were able to win the battle through a divine connection with the staff of Moses raised towards heaven.
There is the need for us to understand the function of the staff or rod of Moses, as some translations would say. The first mention of the staff was during the encounter Moses had at the burning bush. During the meeting, God asked Moses, “what is in your hand?” and he said my shepherd’s staff and God asked him to throw it to the ground, and it became a snake. After that, he asked him to pick it by the tail, and it returned to the staff.
Staff is a symbol of authority, and in the context of Moses’ encounter with God, it shows the active presence of God to bring about amazing events. If we read further through the story of Moses, we discover that the staff was used by Aaron (the spokesman of Moses) to compete with Pharaoh’s magicians (Exodus 7:10-12). Aaron used the staff to turn the Nile River into blood at the Lord’s command (Exodus 7:19-21).
During the crossing of the red sea, God reminded Moses to raise his staff over the red sea to divide it for the people to pass through on the dry ground. After crossing, he raised the staff again over the red sea, and the water returned and drowned the Egyptians who were coming after them (Exodus 14:16-26). Moses also struck the rock with his staff on two occasions to get water for the people of Israel to drink after a period of thirst (Exodus 17:1-7; Numbers 20:9-11).
The First Reading today tells us that the people of Amalek attacked the Israelites at Rephidim. Moses gave instructions to Joshua to pick certain men with him to engage Amalek in battle. As the men go to war against Amalek, Moses climbs to the top of the hill with his staff, which he raised to the heavens. As long as his hands were up, the Israelites prevailed, but when he got tired, Amalek began to have the better part of the battle. To ensure that his hands remain upward, Aaron and Hur made him sit and supported his hands. The Israelites won the battle that day, not because of their physical strength but the divine connection with the staff of Moses.
Why does God demand Persistence in Prayer?
The Gospel Reading today (Luke 18:1-8) relates to the First Reading as they share a common denominator, namely, persistence. The victory of the Israelites in the war against Amalek depended on Moses’ persistence by holding up his staff towards the heavens. In the parable we heard from the Gospel, an unnamed woman would not give up asking a wicked judge to give her fair judgment until she gets it.
The introduction to the parable shows that our Lord Jesus Christ wanted to show his disciples the importance of persistence in prayer as opposed to becoming weary and giving up. Surely God wants us to be persistent in our prayers. St Paul writing to the Ephesians (6:18) says, “Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.”
The question we need to address still is why God demands persistence in prayer from us. Does it mean that we need to repeat our prayers countless times before God could open the door for an answer? Do we need to run after God as the widow did to the judge before we could receive a reply from him? The following answers could suffice for the reason why God demands persistence in our prayers.
God wants a relationship with us!
There is a difference between a one-time encounter and an enduring relationship. God would not encourage us to approach Him as a firefighter but as a Father. That is why in the Lord’s prayer, Jesus tells His disciples to begin by calling God “Our Father.” (Matt 6:9). Relationship is significant to God, and without a relationship, we have nothing in common with God (John 15:5).
For any relationship to become worthwhile, there would be a need for attention. Attention is very vital in any relationship. Attention brings focus because we drop every distraction and focus feeds interest and commitment. Furthermore, being in a relationship helps us to learn about ourselves and others.
Persistence in prayer brings spiritual transformation
Praying is like working out in the gym, and the more you work out, the more your body responds to the activities, and this would be evident in your body. When we engage in persistent prayer, we train our spiritual muscles to become strong and resilient in our spiritual journey.
Persistence reduces our worry and increases our faith
Worry is one of the most dangerous obstacles to our spiritual life and development because it diminishes faith. The letter to the Hebrews tells us that it is impossible to please God without faith (Hebrews 11:6). If the widow in the Gospel were overwhelmed with worry, she wouldn’t persist in getting an answer from the wicked judge. Worry cannot change anything, but persistent prayer could.
Moving Forward: God Responds to Every Prayer, Keep Praying
Every prayer gest an answer from God. However, God responds to our prayer in various ways. In whatever situation we may find ourselves, God wants us to be persistent. In the Second Reading (2 Tim. 3:14-4:2), St. Paul tells Timothy to be persistent, whether it is convenient or inconvenient.
Like we pointed out earlier, God answers prayer. Rick Warren thinks that for every prayer, God answers us in on one of these four different ways: No, grow, slow, or go. Let us reflect more on these.
No: God knows the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10). Consequently, God could say no to us when our request would harm us instead of helping us. St. James (4:3) tells us that we ask, and we don’t receive because our motives are wrong. However, when God says no to us, he gives us an alternative yes in a different way.
Grow: Often, we are just so immature to receive answers to our prayers. In such situations, God comes in to tell us to grow. Growing among other things, means that we should differentiate between our wants and needs. Most things we want are not what we need in life. It could also mean that we rise in our faith in God,
Slow: There are sometimes when we think that we are smarter than God, and we love things to turn out in our times and seasons. At those moments, God tells us to slow down by waiting for Him. This is where the virtue of patience comes in. Isaiah (40:31) says that those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength.
Go: This is when we get our answers the way we ask. God tells us, go when He opens the door of blessings following our steadfastness, faith, and persistence. The Book of Psalms (50:51) says “call me on the day of trouble I will deliver you and you will glorify me”.
As we march into the new week, may we pay attention to the invitation for us to pray and to be persistent about it. Our persistent prayers would function in improving our relationship with God, transform us, and reduce our worry level. Have a blessed week, and more graces upon your prayers.
One response to “HOLDING UP THE STAFF OF PRAYER HOMILY FOR THE 29TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR C) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.”
Lord increase my faith