“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” The author of this quote, Thomas Edison, is the man who made the light bulb commercially successful after 2,774 failed attempts.
Have there been times we have given up? Times when we just could not continue. pause
Have there been times when we have continued and overcame obstacles as well as failures to reach our desired goal? pause
The one thing that Thomas Edison and we who have reached some of our goals have in common with our biblical accounts today is perseverance. Perseverance is a gift that we keep believing, hoping, and trusting no matter what. We keep on keepin’ on.
Moses does just that. We heard how he and his two assistants Aaron and Hur climbed a hill. In actuality, scripture scholars believe that with a closer reading of the Hebrew, the more accurate translation is that Moses climbed a mountain. Moses was getting along in years, so climbing a mountain would take more perseverance than a hill.
Once he reached the summit, he stood. As long as he held his staff and kept his arms up, Joshua and the Israelites “had the better of the fight.” When he lowered his arms, they started to lose ground.
Moses had the will, but no longer the stamina of his youth, so he accepted a little help from his friends. Aaron and Hur set up a rock seat and held his arms up, on until sundown. The Israelites persevered.
Now you may be wondering, as I did for a long time. Great story of perseverance, but how was Moses holding up his arms helpful to the winning or losing of a battle. Holding his arms up was a posture of prayer for ancient Israelites. This was not only a feat of physical perseverance for Moses but an exercise in prayerful perseverance. Moses was interceding on behalf of his Israelite warriors, and he persevered, even when he was no longer physically able. Moses, Aaron, Hur, and the Israelite soldiers faced their challenges, trusted in God, and God helped them to win the battle.
Luke’s Gospel gives us another account of perseverance with the unjust judge and the persistent widow. We can tell the judge is both unjust and does not fear God because devout Jews recognized that God commanded that they take care of the vulnerable among them like, widows, orphans, and refugees because they were the most vulnerable.
The judge refused to give the woman the time of day. The widow is only asking for a just decision. She is not trying to bend or twist the law to her advantage. She just wants a fair hearing.
What finally moves him to hear her plea also reveals the wickedness of his heart. Because of her persistence, the judge fears that she will at some point lose it and strike him, or as a more literal rendering of the text reads, give him a black eye!
Her persistence wins out, not because his conscience is moved, but his own unjust nature projects what he might do in the same situation!
Jesus sums up his parable by stating that, “Will not God then not secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out day and night?”
Then he finishes with this zinger, “But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth.”
Will his disciples give up too soon in their prayers? Will they give up when he fails to return. Will they not persevere? In the first century, many believed Jesus’ second coming was imminent.
The good news is that two thousand years later, we are still here. In each generation, there have been those who have been faithful and persistent despite the many distractions, diversion, trials and tribulations that have arisen. We who gather together tonight continue to say yes to God and continue to come to say thank you as we celebrate the Eucharist yet again.
What might be a goal you have or a struggle that you have been tangling with? Don’t give up. If you can’t do it alone, you have friends and family like Aaron and Hur who can pray with you and help where needed.
God is also with us. He has not abandoned us in our moment of trial. Even if he has not answered our prayers in the way we had hoped, he is with us. Let us keep our eyes on Jesus and not the wind and the waves of the storm that threaten to undo us.
Don’t look left or right. Know without a doubt that we are not alone, that Jesus will give us the strength to persevere as he did on the Cross. He suffered and died for us that we might have life and life to the full. He died for us so that he could be with us at this exact moment in time to lead us forward to victory. The battle has already been won. We just need to keep trusting in Jesus, keep praying, and keep on, keepin’ on.
Photo: St. Vincent de Paul Chapel, St. Vincent De Paul Regional Seminary, Boynton Beach, FL