John Craghan begins the Collegeville Bible Commentary's exegesis of Sunday's first reading (Ex 17:8-13) with the remark, "It is refreshing to come upon a narrative extolling a great human accomplishment in the midst of the awesome display of divine power."
Though we presume Yahweh ultimately brings about the Israelite victory, the Sacred Author never mentions Yahweh in this reading. Moses alone tells Joshua to engage Amalke in battle, and Moses alone keep his hands raised (with the help of Aaron and Hur) to assure his people's triumph.
The writer seems to be reminding us that even Yahweh needs the faithful, determined involved of His people in order for those people to achieve the goals He sets for them. "For all his failings," Craghan writes, "Moses retains his image as hero and superman."
It's not enough for God's followers simply to presume God alone will always take care of things. We also must develop a holy grit and determination. That's why Luke's Jesus tells His disciples the well-known parable which comprises Sunday's Gospel (Lk 18: 1-8). As the evangelist reminds his readers, Jesus narrates this story in order to stress "the necessity of praying always and not losing heart." It's a parable for heroes and superpersons.
Jesus never teaches that our God is a "corrupt judge." remember, a parable has only one pont. A parable isn't an allegory - a story in which every person, name and situation represents a person, name and situation known to the listener. The one point Jesus is trying to convey in this parable is that those who refuse to give up, even in the face of impossible odds, almost always succeed in reaching their objectives.
Of course, it doesn't hurt, Jesus reminds us, to be praying to a God who continually does justice for those who call out to Him, day and night. But here, the question isn't what we can count on God for, the question is what we can count on ourselves for. Or, as Jesus puts it, "When the Son of Man comes, will He find any faith on the earth?"
For Jesus, faith is the determination to follow Him, no matter what, and the resolve to imitate Him in whatever we do. The author of the second reading, writing as Paul's "alter ego," zeroes in on one aspect of that imitation: preaching God's word (2 Tim 3:14-4:2). "I charge you," he writes, "to preach the word, to stay with this task whether convenient or inconvenient - correcting, reproving, appealing - constantly teaching and never losing patience."
God's guidance
Those who preach God's word are essential to God's plan We can only follow God correctly if we know the direction in which God wishes us to go. Though we could eventually hit-and-miss our way to discovering God's way, He has arranged for our faith-ancestors to pass His word down to us in Sacred Scripture. We don't have to reinvent the "faith-wheel" every day.
Or as the author of II Timothy expresses it: "All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction and for training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work."
Though the Scriptures which the author praises are the Hebrew Scriptures and not the Christian, by the third and fourth century Christians started to regard some of their own writings as equally inspired and helpful, writings which helped them understand and appreciate their unique imitation of Jesus.
The recent death of Father Raymond Brown, a terrific teacher and preacher of God's Christian Scriptures, leads me to reflect on one line of our II Timothy reaching more deeply this year than when it was last proclaimed three years ago. "Remain faithful," the author writes, "to what you have learned and believed, because you know from whom you learned it."
The person who proclaims God's word can be as much God's word as the Scriptures he or she teaches and preaches. Ray Brown's persistence, whether the time, audience or circumstance was "convenient or inconvenient," has meant as much to me through the years as the actual words he conveyed. He was "hero and superman," but I also find that whenever I think of him, I'm also thinking of God's words. If the preacher doesn't become God's word, God's word is never preached.