29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Christianity in Concrete
Sisters and brothers, do you remember the story of the three little pigs? Each of them built a house to protect themselves from the wicked wolf. The first two pigs were lazy. One built his house out of straw, and the other built his out of sticks. When the wolf came, he easily blew both their houses down. (The wolf had very strong lungs. He probably wasn’t a smoker.) Fortunately, the last pig was more hardworking than the first two. He took the trouble to build his house out of brick. The brick house was too solid to be blown down. It protected all three pigs from the dangerous wolf.
We all know this story well. We know that it teaches us the importance of hard work, of not cutting corners. Although it’s faster and much easier to build with sticks and straw, bricks are much more effective. But doesn’t the story also leave out something? Doesn’t it take something for granted? Was it really the bricks alone that provided the pigs with protection? Can you really build a house only out of bricks? No. In addition -- and just as important -- you also need something to bind the bricks together. You need concrete. Without concrete, the house would have been unstable. The little pigs would have remained exposed to danger from the wicked non-smoking wolf.
And it’s important for us to keep this in mind, because danger is also something that we find in our readings today. In the first reading, the people of Israel are in danger from the fierce army of Amalek. Against the Amalekites, the Israelites have to fight to protect themselves, to preserve their way of life. The woman in the gospel also faces danger. She is a victim of injustice of some sort. We’re not told what it is. Perhaps the rent her landlord is charging her is unreasonably high. Perhaps he has driven her out of her home. Whatever it is, like the Israelites in the first reading, she too has to fight for survival.
And, like the three little pigs, both the Israelites in the first reading and the woman in the gospel are not strong enough to protect themselves. They need a solid house of some kind. Being a widow, the woman in the gospel does not have a husband to fight on her behalf. She needs to rely on the judge for protection. And, in the first reading, the Israelites know that they can’t defeat the Amalekites on their own. They need God’s help. In the words of our responsorial psalm, they are convinced that their help is from the Lord who made heaven and earth.
But, in order to be protected, both the Israelites and the poor widow need something to connect them to their source of protection. They need concrete. In the gospel, this concrete is found in the faith of the poor widow herself. She persistently pesters the judge until he gives in to her demands. And Jesus says that if, like the widow, we were to persistently pester God for help, God will protect us.
Similarly, in the first reading, the Israelites find their concrete in Moses. Standing on a hill, Moses persistently prays to God for help. And, as long as Moses keeps his arms raised, as long as he keeps pestering God for help, the Israelites are protected. It is also important to notice that Moses doesn’t do this on his own. He has help. He is seated on a stone, and his arms are supported by Aaron and Hur. Just as the binding power of concrete is produced by mixing water, sand and cement, so too is the protective power of Moses produced by the blending of the faith of different people.
But is that all there is to it? Is the protective power of Moses and of the widow gained only by their persistence in prayer, their stubbornness in seeking help? Are they effective only because they are connected to heaven? Wouldn’t that be similar to coating only one side of a brick with concrete, and letting that layer dry without placing another brick on top of it? Wouldn’t the concrete be wasted? As with our story of the three little pigs, isn’t there something important that is being taken for granted here? Moses and the widow are effective not only because they pray unceasingly, but also because each of them remains persistently in touch with their respective situations of danger. The widow remains painfully aware of her own victimization by her adversary. And, by standing on a hill, Moses remains in full view of the tide of battle. The prayers of the widow and of Moses are effective because each of them remains in touch not just with the protection of heaven, but also with the dangers of earth.
And it is toward this same persistence in two directions, this same connection between heaven and earth, that Paul is encouraging Timothy to strive in the second reading. On the one hand, Paul tells Timothy to be hardworking in studying the sacred Scriptures, because they will connect him with God. On the other hand, Paul also reminds Timothy of his responsibility to proclaim that same Word of God persistently, whether it is convenient or inconvenient. It is only in this way -- only by being persistent in two directions, toward heaven and toward earth -- that Timothy will remain rooted in faith in Jesus Christ. For this too is what Christ came to do: to be that concrete connection between heaven and earth.
And, as followers of Christ, this too is what we are each called to be. It is in this that our faith consists. Like Moses and the widow, like Paul and Timothy, we too are called to act as concrete. We too are called to offer protection by remaining connected, not just to God in prayer, but also to the many different situations of danger in which our world finds itself.
According to a recent issue of America Magazine, for example, almost 44 million Americans now live below the poverty line... and 21 percent of all U.S. children -- up from 16 percent just 10 years ago -- are growing up poor. If this is the situation in the most advanced country on this earth, what might the situation look like in other less developed lands? And, as faithful Christians, how many of us are persistently trying to connect this situation of danger to the protection that God wishes to provide?
Sisters and brothers, we are all probably quite familiar with that bible verse in which Jesus refers to his followers as salt of the earth and light of the world (Matthew 5:13, 14). Today, perhaps our readings are also inviting us also to be concrete in the House of the Lord. Today, perhaps we are being reminded that it is upon us that the little pigs of this world are depending for their protection from dangerous wolves. But, as Jesus wonders at the end of today’s gospel, the question is: when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?
Sisters and brothers, how are we being called to be concrete Christians today?