Kevin DePrinzio, O.S.A.
Ex 17: 8-13
Ps 121: 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8
2 Tim 3:14-4:2
Lk 18: 1-8
I have a distinct memory forever etched in my mind of my brother and I helping my father renovate our kitchen when we were teenagers. I use the word “helping” very loosely here, since it was rare that we actually helped him all that much. We probably slowed him down and certainly tried his patience. But this one memory, my dad was installing recessed lighting which also required dropping the ceiling. This is where our “helping” came in. We had to hold up sheets of drywall completely level as he fastened them to the joints. I’m not quite sure what my dad was thinking. As we stood there on ladders it didn’t take much before one of our arms would give out due to our position and the heaviness of the drywall. Come to think of it, it was more often my brother’s, since he was always the weaker of the two of us. The drywall seemed heavier and heavier as we stood there, and our arms would get weaker and weaker, until my dad would say, “Hold up those arms.” My arms are still sore just thinking about it.
We do not need to be holding up drywall for our arms to feel weak. We don’t need to be holding up much of anything actually. Any prolonged length of time of holding our arms outstretched causes weakness such that our arms feel heavy and eventually give out.
Today as we gather for Eucharist, Scripture invites us to consider the challenge of keeping our arms outstretched, to consider what it is we might be holding, maybe even what we are trying to hold up. And at the same time, it challenges us to consider the pain, the weakness, even the trembling it sometimes causes in our lives.
In the gospel we have both the judge and the widow presented to us for reflection. The widow is labeled persistent – and likely to be annoying by the judge; the judge is unjust, appearing pre-occupied and bothered by the widow’s presence. It is not an ideal relationship. It is antagonistic.
Luke tells us that it is not how we should have to interact in our relationship with God. God is not pre-occupied nor bothered by our presence. And we are to feel free to be in God’s company, to be persistent in our prayer and persistence, to pray, as Jesus says, “without becoming weary.” Yet, admittedly, there are times when we are, in fact, quite weary. There are times when our arms are weak, even sore, from holding them outstretched with all that we might be carrying and holding up in our lives, that it is hard and takes every effort to persist in prayer. We may feel so burdened that we might not want to come across as a burden to God.
Just as the relationship of the judge and the widow is not a reflection of our relationship with God, nor should it reflect our relationship with one another. Oftentimes, however, it does. Like the judge, we send out signals that we couldn’t be bothered by or couldn’t care less about what another might be carrying, because, like the widow, we have our own stuff to carry, our own feelings of being wronged or slighted and simply couldn’t possibly take on another’s concerns; and we only eventually give in, well, because we made the other pester us.
Yet, as Paul reminds Timothy in our second reading, by virtue of our baptism, we belong to God and to one another. By virtue of what we do together in Eucharist, we pledge to one another and to the world that we rest and lean on one another, no matter the burden. Just as the arms of Moses were held up by others, so are we to hold one another up, and help hold one another’s arms outstretched in prayer before God. In fact, that’s the only way to “do” Eucharist, is to be outstretched together in Christ before God. In doing so, we help carry whatever it is we are holding, whatever may pain us, whatever or whomever has wronged us, and place all of it on the Table for transformation. And that also means challenging one another, whether convenient or inconvenient, as Paul says on how we have wronged one another or have sent out signals that we don’t care. No, even with what we carry, we are to be ready for any good work.
In that posture of our arms outstretched, we stretch out in the direction of God and one another, taking on the posture of Jesus, which keeps us from being closed off and merely self-focused and pre-occupied by our own stuff, closed off from one another and the needs of the world.
“Through Him, with Him, in Him,” we pray at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer, “O God Almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,” we pledge to stay open to a life of ongoing transformation, to a life of Real Presence, the Presence of Christ that ultimately is about unity and our salvation. And that’s hard work. None of us are to do it alone. In fact, none of us can.