I found myself having to turn off the news on the radio this week as I drove my 12-year-old to school. I didn’t do it because I wanted to shield him from the stark realities of Putin’s depravities in Ukraine, or from the increasingly oppressive brutality of the regimes in Iran, or China, or Myanmar or countless other places around the world; nor was it to shield him from learning of the intolerable strain that many thousands of families now face as income is reduced, energy bills go through the roof, inflation on an upward trajectory and families struggle to feed their children and keep them warm. He is sadly all too familiar with this. So why did I turn off the news bulletin? Well, partly because it was just so depressing, and made even more so by the awful tragedy that took place in Creeslough a few short days ago. But I had another reason to turn it off: I was mindful that on Monday of this week we marked Mental Health Day and as a parent nothing is more precious than the mental well-being of our young people.
Unfortunately, our first reading today from the Book of Exodus gives us no respite from the ravages of war as Moses with the staff of God in his hand and his arms raised enables Joshua to cut down Amalek and his people with his sword. There was probably a little bit of cheating going on as Moses’ arms are propped up: for as long as he keeps his arms raised, the Israelites do well, but when his arms fall, his army seems to follow suit. Perseverance does win the day however and it spells the first military victory for Israel. In the gospel the victory is far less dramatic, but the widow’s perseverance likewise wins the day. In the tradition of Israel, a Judge is expected to be impartial except to widows, orphans and strangers. But this Judge seems to be influenced neither by religious principle nor public opinion; justice and compassion are both absent. As for the widow, she has no advocate, no money with which to bribe, all she has is the justness of her cause and her perseverance. A war of nerves ensues, and the judge is the first to crack, it is his nerves that give in, and no doubt for the sake of his own mental well-being.
So, should we pester God as we talk to him in prayer? Well, yes, but not because he is a God who answers prayers simply to avoid being bothered further. We are being encouraged to be consistent in prayer and not to lose heart. The values we cherish like peace and justice and fairness and decency and truth telling and hope for the future are not, alas, instantly achievable. That is just how things are. The American storyteller and theologian John Shea has this to say: ‘As a literary character the widow herself is a powerless figure [but]] when the powerless who seek justice take down the powerful who refuse to give it, a careful investigation will uncover the hidden agency of God.’ It is just as well then for all of us that the Creator doesn’t turn off the radio when bad news is broadcast.