It always sad when people use the name of God to justify war. It seems that for centuries people have been justifying war by saying that God is on their side. I believe that in the last war, the belt of a German soldier carried the words on the buckle Gott mit uns – God with us. Bearing this in mind, I read Exodus 17.8-13 with mixed feelings. Moses with his arms being held up so that he can continue interceding for his people is a beautiful image of prayer. At the same time, it is intercession for a military victory and the end result is victory for Moses’s people and defeat for their enemies. Perhaps we can return to the thought of God with us. It does not mean that God blesses everything we do. It does mean there is no time or no place where we are without God. To remember this might challenge us to exercise all our powers with more discretion and compassion. We must stand up for what is right, and seek to overturn that which is wrong, but we do so remembering the example that Christ gave us.
We should be aware, too, of the fierce conflicts in our world, not least of the conflict between good and evil, love and hate. We are like Moses on the hilltop, able to pray and pray yet more, only this time instead of being on the hill above we are in front of our television sets, watching the events of the world unfold. And there is much to pray for. Part of the beauty of our world is that sometimes you get a sense of a wave of prayer around the world. Many people pray for the victims of disaster or catastrophic events.
The parable of the widow and the unjust judge (Luke 18.1-8) is also challenging. At first glance it can make prayer seem like nagging God. But I am indebted to Kenneth Bailey’s book Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes for some interesting insights. In the time of the woman in the parable, it would have been expected that a male relative would have gone to court to plead for her. The fact that she does so herself shows that she must plead her case alone, and we should conclude that she needed great courage. As Bailey notes, unlike the woman, we are bringing our case before a loving father, not a capricious judge. Even so, life brings its anxieties, its stresses, its fears and worries. We are like her in that we have to have courage.
Sometimes we have a human response in that we would like to flee or try to forget the tensions around us or within us. To pray about them is to confront your fear, and sometimes to begin to pray is the first step towards conquering fear. Not only should we pray, but we should persist in prayer. It is often the women around Jesus who demonstrate courage and persistence. As Bailey says, ‘Women were faithful to the end at the cross ... In like manner the hero of this parable is a woman, a woman with persistence and courage – the very virtues that his female disciples so nobly exhibited all through Holy Week.’