Managing Power in Weakness
October 16, 2016 THE TWENTY-NINTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR C
How much confidence do I have in prayer to actually accomplish anything? How much time do I give to intercessory prayer (the “prayer of asking”)? Do I consider prayer a “last resort” — as when people say, “There’s nothing to do now but pray!”? Would I prefer to act through earthly power or through prayer?
The Entrance Antiphon proclaims that God will answer our prayers: “I call upon you, God, for you will answer me.” It declares that because we are precious to God we are protected: “Guard me as the pupil of your eye; hide me in the shade of your wings” (Psalm 16). The Responsorial Psalm focuses on reliance on God as the theme of the Gospel and Old Testament readings: “Our help is from the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121).
In the Opening Prayer(s) we recognize that if we are afraid of being seen by God, this is because we do not know him as he is: “Remove the blindness that cannot know you.” This is source of the “fear that would hide us from your sight,” that keeps us from being intimate with God and makes us choose at times to forget about his presence. But if we see him as “our source of power and inspiration,” then being conscious of him will “give us strength and joy.” We won’t avoid thinking about God. We will take him with us wherever we go. We will even want him to “search into the depths of our hearts,” knowing that he can and will heal anything shameful he finds there. This is to know God as the “Father of all” who “guards us under the shadow of his wings.”
Prayer is power
Exodus 17: 8-13 makes the point that human power unsupported by God is not power at all. In the story, as long as Moses kept his arms outstretched in prayer, the Jews had the upper hand in their battle. This was a visible sign — a visible proof — of a power and protection that we need to believe in now with or without signs that are visible.
The truth is, when we pray, God helps us — always. It may not be in a way we can see, or in the way we desire or expect, but it will always be happening: “Our help is from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”
The greatest test of our faith and hope in God — and their greatest vindication — came in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. On “that day” God apparently abandoned Jesus to his enemies. He was visibly defeated and destroyed. He was dead. But when he rose up from death it was proven forever that indeed “Our help is from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” No human power prevails over God. God has no more need to prove it by visible signs and wonders.
More precisely, there is an abiding visible sign of God’s power on earth — the only sign Jesus promised: “An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” We are that sign.1
The “sign of Jonah” was Jesus’ resurrection after his three days in the grave that recalled Jonas’ three days in the belly of the fish. But a sign has to be visible. In our day the only visible sign of Jesus’ resurrection is the Church. We don’t see Jesus risen in the body he received from Mary, the body that was put into the grave outside of Jerusalem. We see him in the body he has received from us, the body we gave him at Baptism, when we “presented our bodies as a living sacrifice to God” to be his risen body on earth in our time.2
The visible proof of Jesus’ resurrection is his evident living presence in us — revealed when we act in ways that cannot be explained except by the presence and power of divine faith, divine hope, divine love in our hearts. The victories God is winning today are all contained in the one and final victory Jesus won over sin and death on the cross. By “dying he destroyed our death; by rising he restored our life.” His victory over death was also a victory over sin and the power sin has over us. Through his death and resurrection Jesus was able to “destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.” 3
We who have no fear of death have no need to win battles or riches, or power, or anything else earth has to offer:
Our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.4
Our focus is on the “end time,” when Christ will come again in triumph and glory. Until then, all our concern is to be “faithful stewards,” working to establish his reign over all the earth. And for this we rely on the power of God. Our evident helplessness in the face of human resistance to God’s reign leaves us no choice but to pray. “Our help is from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”5
Power in weakness
In Luke 18: 1-8 the power of the widow who overcame the corrupt judge was precisely in her weakness. Because she had no power to force the judge who “neither feared God nor had respect for people” to give her justice, nor any money to bribe him, she used what actually worked: she just kept asking until he could not stand it any more. Jesus says this same method works with God!
Power — including the power of money — is deceptive, and in the long run ineffective. But if we think we can accomplish our ends through power, we will be tempted to use it. History provides repeated examples of people whose power gave them so much momentum they wrecked their lives. But we don’t learn from history. The fact is, if we have power, we are probably going to use it — and probably in a way that is destructive. Jesus was looking at this side of reality when he said, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” He might have answered, “Very little, among those who think they can get along just fine without him.”
But if we have no power, we are more likely to rely on God. This is the definition of the “poor in spirit.” They are the people who know they haven’t “got it made.” They are open to the kingdom of heaven.
The power at hand
In 2Timothy 3:14 to 4:2 Paul is exhorting Timothy to draw on God’s power through the channels available to him. God’s own wisdom is offered to us in the Scriptures. It is “useful” for many things: “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” Making use of Scripture will enable us to “be competent, equipped for every good work.” But only if we “belong to God.” Paul is not talking about some merely human self-help program.
Through Scripture we seek to share in the mind and heart of God. And we can only do that through the gift of his guiding, enlightening, empowering Spirit:
No one comprehends what is truly God's except the Spirit of God.
Now we have received… the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.
Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God's Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.6
We never just “study” Scripture, as if it were a subject we could “master.” We pray over Scripture, submitting our minds to the word of God in faith, and our hearts in love, begging for light and strength from above. We keep asking for the “mind of Christ,” conscious always that our help is only “from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”
What we learn is truth God entrusts to us as stewards of his kingship, to be used for establishing the reign of his truth and love in every human heart. That is why Paul exhorts Timothy: “I charge you… proclaim the word; be persistent.” He urges Timothy to be a faithful steward in awareness and expectation of Christ’s “appearing and his kingly power.”
Stewardship belongs to the “interim time” until Christ comes again. It is always in preparation for the Parousia. We draw courage and strength to persevere from the certitude that Christ is going to return in triumph and glory to “judge the living and the dead,” and to fulfill God’s “plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” For God “has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”
This gives a concrete image to abiding hope: “Our help is from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”
3Hebrews 2: 14-15.
4Philippians 3: 20-21.
51Corinthians 3:5-13; 4:2; Philippians1:18-26; Luke 12:42-43.
Do I believe my greatest power is in total reliance on God with prayer?
Each time you feel anxious about something, think of 1. God’s power; 2. his presence within you; 3. his love. Then ask him to help you.