Urgency and Eternity

Urgency and Eternity

Twenty-Ninth Sunday of the Year. Fr John O’Connor invites us to commit to our prayers, and to try to see things from God’s perspective.

In the readings this weekend we are given some insight into how our requests to God relate to time, our time and God’s time.

In both the reading from Exodus and the Gospel passage from Luke we encounter urgent need. In the first reading the urgency is more obvious, for if there is not a speedy resolution, then there is defeat. Amalek has come to wage war against Israel, and Israel must defend itself then and there. To wait is simply to allow oneself to be slaughtered. There also seems to be a degree of urgency in the widow’s plea for a just decision against her adversary. She does not seem to be able or willing to wait for the judge to take action in his time. She wants resolution now.

But if they want resolution now, then both Moses and the widow cannot be passive onlookers. They have to be willing to play their part. Our actions, what we actually choose to do, show something of what our desires really are. If we want something badly enough we usually can muster up the necessary energy. In Moses’ case, keeping his hands up is beyond human endurance, but he uses not only his body, but also his intelligence by getting Aaron and Hur to support his hands when he is no longer able to keep them up. The widow, it would seem, also uses both body and mind. She figures out that her persistence will eventually get the better of the judge. And she is right.

When we ask God for things in prayer, we need to be involved, our bodies, our minds, our all. To ask God for something we desperately need and to do so in a lazy fashion is to use God, treating God as there simply to sort out our problems, and so not letting God be God. It may also indicate that our need is not really as great as we think it is. To be fair, it can also be due to lethargy or a depression that we may not have full control over. But, all other things being equal, when we ask God for help, even though we put our needs in God’s hands, we show that we are engaged by our perseverance, our praying to God without giving up, our active trust in God.

Yet in the readings we have this weekend there is another perspective on the relationship between our asking God for things and time, even if it is less obvious. As well as the perspective of our needs right now, there is the perspective sometimes called sub specie aeternitatis, that is, seen from the perspective of eternity. We may think of this perspective as how time is seen from God’s viewpoint. From the perspective of eternity all of our cares and concerns are seen in a much bigger context.

We are reminded of this perspective in this Sunday’s Gospel where Christ speaks of final judgement, to judge the living and the dead, as the second reading puts it. It is interesting that it is after he speaks of the persistent widow that Christ then moves on to speak of the coming of the Son of Man, the great event of the end times, the establishment of an everlasting kingdom where the rule of God orders all things.

If we are to understand properly the perspective of urgency, we need to set it in the perspective of eternity. It is in this perspective that we can help make some sense of those times when we plead with God, and yet what we ask for does not happen. We pray for loved ones that they may get better, that relationships may improve, that situations change, and yet they don’t. From the perspective of the urgent, of the short-term, it seems that prayer fails. It can seem as if God has not heard, perhaps that God does not care. But, as the scriptures remind us again and again, and as Christ reminds us today, even as he tells us of the judge and the widow’s urgent needs, there is another perspective, another way of looking at things.

To enter into this perspective is not to ignore the issues that face us right now, but to see them in a new light. If we fail in this, we should not be too hard on ourselves. The scriptures show us that the Lord never abandons us, not even in our greatest moments of doubt. To enter into the perspective of eternity is an invitation to enter into a deeper relationship with the God who ‘stepped out’ from eternity into the vulnerability of time and space in Jesus Christ. It is also to situate our problems into a bigger picture, a bigger picture that can be a great source of consolation, especially when our problems seem to be getting the upper hand. The perspective of eternity reminds us that these difficulties will not have the last word, that our lives are infinitely precious and that God is Lord of all.

Readings: Exodus 17:8-13 | 2 Timothy 3:14-4:2 | Luke 18:1-8

Fr John O'Connor is Regent of Studies of the English Province and Regent of Blackfriars, Oxford.