Although St Paul tells his young disciple Timothy that “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, refuting error, guiding people’s lives and teaching them to be holy” (2 Tim 3:16) it is hard to see how that can be applied to our first reading today, taken from Exodus 17:8-13. Like so many other passages from the Old Testament it describes a bloody battle that ends with the line “with the edge of the sword Joshua cut down Amalek and his people.” (Ex 17:13) Charming.
The word of the Lord. To which we all replied: Thanks be to God!
Like many other difficult passages the best way to understand and interpret this passage is by reading commentaries written by the Fathers of the Church – those saintly men who lived in the first few centuries after Christ and who spent their days pondering deeply upon the word of God. In addition to Origen, St Augustine and St Justin Martyr, there are wonderful insights by St Gregory Nazianzen, St Gregory the Great and St John Chrysostom. First, they point us to the other places where the Amalekites are mentioned, which give us knowledge of their origins, the meaning of their name – a sinful people – and their battle tactics. They also remind us that the whole of the Christian life is a battle and battle passages like this one speak into the truth of this reality. Let’s face it – there are certainly areas of our lives that we need to deal with. If we have a cancerous tumour, then to be told by the doctors after we have had surgery that they have successfully removed 60% of it would not make us completely happy. Likewise, when our state is faced with bushfires today that are burning on a 500km front, we would not be completely happy to learn that this has been reduced by only a few kilometres.
Sunday 29, Year C. Luke 18:1-8