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Spirituality of the Readings
29th Sunday of Ordinary Time
October 16, 2016
John Foley, SJ
The Everlasting Arms

There are two themes in Sunday’s readings.

One is “Do not get tired when you are praying.”
The other is, “but when you do, there will be support.”

Jesus himself announces the non-tiredness rule. “Pray always without becoming weary,” he says in the Gospel. Yet most of us have experienced at least drowsiness if we are one of those who try to pray.

Let us look.

In the First Reading, Moses’ brother Aaron and a man called Hur stand boldly with Moses on the top of a hill where they can see Israel’s war of resistance against the attacking Amalekites. In order to assure victory in the battle, Moses holds out his arms over the strife, grasping the “staff of God.”* He has to continue holding them straight out until the combat is completely done, because whenever he lowers his arms the enemy starts to win. Well, this battle goes on for a very long time. Aaron and Hur decide to support these arms, one man on each side, and they locate a rock for Moses to sit on.

Jesus opens his arms to you and me today
When I was an altar boy I learned a bit about of this by (thoughtlessly) holding the scripture book out with extended arms for Father to read from. I just wasn’t thinking! “Please, please read faster,” my arms began to scream.

Then in the Gospel, Jesus tells a parable to illustrate why we should never grow tired of praying, but should keep on asking for things. Notice that this is the same Jesus who can be interpreted as giving up on prayer when he went to the cross!

The parable is about an unjust judge and a widow who appears before him and will not stop pleading her cause. With very little to lose, the widow shows up at court every single day and demands justice for herself from the bored judge.** After a while the judge says to himself, if I don’t do something this woman will just keep bothering me. I give up. I will rule in her favor.

The point is clear: won’t God—who certainly is not bored—make sure we have what we need?


But …

As noted above, no one supported Jesus when his arms opened on the cross! He spread them wide, became weary unto death and at one point was no longer able to sense any presence of God whatsoever! Did he still pray without ceasing? How about “Father, why have you abandoned me?” This is perhaps the most riveting prayer in history.

Maybe you and I must pray that prayer in these latter days! After all, Jesus on the cross showed Teresa how to become Saint Mother Teresa even though she went so many years without consolation!

So God’s love was strong enough to bring Jesus through (and Mother), when every assurance had been taken away. Jesus stretched out his arms in the medieval position of prayer (arms lifted wide to God) and won great victory just as Moses and Joshua had.

He opens his arms to you and me today. We can fall into them when we ourselves are so very weary and discouraged, if we will. As Moses foretold,

The eternal God is your refuge. Underneath are the everlasting arms (Dt 33:27).

You can trust these words.

John Foley, SJ
*This is the “Staff of God” that Moses had carried with him ever since God had appeared to him in the burning bush (Exodus 4:1ff). There, God asks what Moses has in his hand, then makes the staff become a snake when Moses throws it on the ground. The staff is a continuing symbol of God when Moses parts the Red Sea for instance (Ex 13:17-14:29), and many other places.
**For an explanation of widows’ very weak status in Israeli society, see John Pilch’s treatment of the culture of these times, Historical Cultural Context, on this week’s website.

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Fr. John Foley, SJ is a composer and scholar at Saint Louis University.
Art by Martin Erspamer, OSB
from Religious Clip Art for the Liturgical Year (A, B, and C).
This art may be reproduced only by parishes who purchase the collection in book or CD-ROM form. For more information go