We are not a patient people. We want immediate results. We depend on “fast” food; we are used to instant communication. This disposition is particularly obvious in the popularity of quick weight-loss programs. Perseverance is not high on our list of cultural values. We hardly ever hear it discussed in religious circles either.
This is strange, because we know that we will get nowhere in life without it. A marriage will not endure if there is no willingness to persevere in hard times. We must keep on practicing if we hope to become accomplished musicians. We will never advance in any profession or business or sport if we do not “hang in there.” All the readings for today talk about perseverance. The first reading recounts an example of perseverance in prayer; Paul admonishes Timothy to persevere in proclaiming the word; the woman in the Gospel exemplifies perseverance in the quest for justice. Perhaps we all can find a lesson or two here.
The militant character of the reading from Exodus and the notion that God determines success in war trouble many people today, and rightly so. But since we do not share ancient Israel’s perception of divine intervention in war, we should not understand their stories as they did. The point to be made here is the need for persistence in prayer, despite the hardship we might encounter in the effort.
A second feature of this story that is pertinent for us is the notion of communal support. There are times in life when we cannot do without the support of others. The burden may be ours, but we need not be alone as we bear it. This requires humility on our part, for we will have to admit that we really cannot go it alone. The same is true when the shoe is on the other foot. There will be times when, like Aaron and Hur, we might be called upon to support someone else. The need for perseverance in prayer and the importance of communal support are lessons we can derive from this first reading.
The woman in the Gospel is not the stereotypical old shrew. She is someone who suffers threefold prejudice. As a woman in a patriarchal society, she is severely restricted. As a widow in that society, she has no male advocate and so is readily deprived of legal protection. Added to this, the judge is not rendering a just judgment. Yet she stands up bravely against the system that repeatedly discriminates against her. And she is held up as an example of one who will not capitulate in the face of opposition.
Paul, acting as a kind of mentor to Timothy, admonishes him to persevere in proclaiming the word. Anyone committed to such a ministry knows the struggles involved. Trying to convince people who are skeptical is not easy; having to reprimand those who have made mistakes is not pleasant; and constantly encouraging people who do not respond can become disheartening. Proclaiming the word is not always convenient.
The psalm may have been chosen because it picks up the imagery of the mountain, found in the first reading. But it actually serves as an appropriate prayer of confidence for any situation that calls for perseverance. The mountain is a metaphor for the dwelling place of God, and it is to God that we look for the help we need to persevere. God is characterized as a guardian who will keep us from harm, a place of shade where we are safe from the burning sun. Such a God will surely grant us the strength we need.
Details of each of the readings may be far from our own experience, but the messages that they hold are all relevant. We live in times of great distress. Wars, large and small, are being waged all over the world. People are often faced with a serious decision: Do they want to win the war? Or do they want to win real peace? It seems that today they can seldom achieve both, because peace requires some form of reconciliation, not merely conquest. This is a time when we must turn to God and persevere in prayer. It is a time when we must support one another in our efforts toward such commitment.
The Gospel story should encourage all of us who experience injustice of any kind. Like the woman who bore the burden of discrimination, we must not waver in demanding rights. Though not included in this passage, the notion of communal support is a theme for our consideration this Sunday. It prompts us to ask ourselves what we do to support those who suffer discrimination.
Finally, as baptized Christians, we are all called to proclaim the word. We do this primarily by the character of our lives: our honesty, our generosity, our willingness to forgive often serves to convince, reprimand or encourage others. Paul’s words can speak to all of us: “Be persistent, whether it is convenient or inconvenient.”