An important answer to the question of what distances people from religious practices is undoubtedly the violence caused by religion. It is based on the idea that religion is irrational and, therefore, violent. They can set many examples from history to prove this argument. Influenced by this view, they find many examples of violence from the Bible and propagate that God commands all kinds of horrible things. In fact, even for a lot of people inside the Church, this is a serious problem.
There are repeated questions: when we read the Old Testament, we don’t understand anything. Is there a need to read it which is full of war and murder? Such a problem can be seen when we go through today’s 1st reading. Having been liberated from the slavery of Egypt, the people of Israel crossed the Red Sea and travelled through the Sinai desert to reach Rephidim, where they were to face an attack from the Amalekites without any reason. Then Moses sends Joshua and his men to battle. Then he ascends the mountain and raises his hands in prayer, and when his hands are up, Israel was winning, and when his hands are down, so are the Amalekites. Hur and Aaron hold up Moses’ hands. The verse ends thus: Joshua cut down Amalek and his men with the sword. That is something horrible to hear. How do we need to understand these words?
The first thing to understand is that the Bible was not written to teach history but to teach spirituality. So, is fighting and killing spiritual? No, never. To understand spirituality, the Bible must be read in the light of Christ, the perfect Word of God, because every word in the Bible points to Christ. So, let’s see how to read this verse.
The Amalekites were a constant enemy of the people of Israel. When they entered the Promised Land, the first king Saul was asked to completely destroy the Amalekites. So the Amalekites represent all those powers of darkness, all those powers of sin, stupidity, cruelty, hatred, violence, racism etc. everything that stands opposed to God would be symbolised by these enemies of Israel. So it represents a culture of death, opposed to the will of God, filled with the power of hatred, murder, racism, and all kinds of evil. We read in the book of Deuteronomy what was done at Raphidim: “when you were faint and weary, and cut off at your rear all who lagged behind you; and he did not fear God” (Dt 25:18).
There are still Amalekites who attack the weak among the people from behind. Yes, we live in a world full of many Amalekites who are still stabbing in the back without any fear of God, attacking those who walk in God’s path. So if you are ready to live with God, be ready for any attack. There is a beautiful quote by Vincent Churchill: “never trust a man who has no enemies”. What he said is right in the political world but is also true in the spiritual world. If you live a good life, you will indeed have an enemy. If there is no enemy, it means you are on the enemy’s side! So, if you stand up for the righteous, the weak, the poor, the marginalised and the immigrants, you will surely encounter opposition.
What we have talked till now is the external attack of the Amalekites. Apart from the external attack, there is an internal attack from the Amalekites. The hatred, enmity, jealousy, selfish desires and wrong thinking patterns that can come into our hearts are all the attacks of the Amalekites. What is their method of attack? They attack you from behind silently. The scripture says they attacked the weaker and the tired ones in the back row. What is the greatest weakness of the human being? Foremost among man’s weaknesses are his physical desires. Look what we see today: Smoking, alcoholism, sex, drugs and other intoxicants attack silently and destroy them completely.
And then, who are the weakest and most tired in the back row? Naturally, it is the elderly, sick and children. The Amalekite culture, a culture of death, a self-seeking society that kills the sick and the elderly through euthanasia, enslaves children with drugs, kills the innocent even in the womb and leaves other groups of men and women (immigrants) in the sea. So God is asking us to destroy the Amalekites in society and within ourselves. It means exterminating the enemy who sows hatred, jealousy, enmity and death.
How can we eliminate them? With prayer and action. Look what Moses does, he sends Joshua into battle, and then he goes to pray on the mountain with his arms outstretched. It is a symbol. Moses praying on the mountaintop with hands outstretched foreshadows the cross on Calvary. Israel won not only because Moses prayed but also because Joshua fought from the front. Here is something that surprises us. The name Jesus is the Greek version of the name Joshua. So it is Jesus who is battling for them, and thus, it foreshadows the saving work of Jesus. The lesson is that it is ultimately through Christ and His cross we win the spiritual battle.
Look again when Moses’ hands got tired, they put a stone to sit on, and Hur and Aaron held his hands. It is a symbol of the Church. No one will win the battle against Amalek alone. We need teamwork. We need the monks and nuns who pray closed doors, the bishops who fight on the battlefield, and we need to support them through our prayers. That is why we pray for the Pope and the bishops by saying their names in the Eucharistic prayer. And there is one thing Pope Francis constantly asks everyone to do: “do not forget to pray for me.”
Dear ones, I told you that this battle is symbolic of the fight of the Church. If it is a symbol of the Church, it is also a symbol of the family. Because the family is the domestic Church, then in that congregation, there must be a father who fights against the Amalekites, a mother who spreads her hands in prayer, and children who help them. The best thing children can have in their families today is to have parents who pray and fight against the Amalekites who spread the culture of death in society. Only with such families can we ultimately succeed as a society.
Finally, the scripture says that this battle against the Amalekites lasted until sunset. That means our fight against evil lasts until the end of our life. But what comforts us is the foreknowledge that, in the end, victory belongs to the one who stands with God. Because the battle against evil is won through Christ and His cross, so let’s stay close to Him. Let’s pray and work with perseverance like the widow we see in today’s gospel to overcome the power of external and internal evils.