The Word for the 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Psalm 138:1-2, 2-3, 6-7, 7-8
We open with another story from Genesis about Abraham. In a story that follows shortly after our reading from last week, we meet Abraham traveling to the city of Sodom (most likely because his nephew, Lot, and his family live near there). As he is traveling, the Lord comes to Abraham wanting to know if the “outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah” is as great as he has heard. Abraham fears the Lord will “sweep away” the cities as punishment for their sins, so he queries the Lord, asking if he would spare the city if there were 50 innocent people. The Lord relents, so Abraham ups the ante… if there were only 45 innocent people, only 40 innocent people, and so on. With each request, Abraham fears the wrath of God, but he persists… “what if there were only 10 innocent people?” With each request, God continues to relent.
To most Christians, this reading feels awkward. We are taught to love God. We are given the gift of “wonder and awe of the Lord” (what we used to call “fear of the Lord”) as part of our Confirmation Rite. We’re not taught to question God. God’s will be done… not ours, right? Yet here is Abraham, though very humbly, outright challenging God. What gives? Let’s visit our Gospel…
Jesus is still on his long journey of discovery to Jerusalem. Along the way, the Apostles ask Jesus to teach them to pray, whereupon he gives us what we know as the Lord’s prayer. But Jesus doesn’t stop there… he then gives them a story about a friend who wakes you up at midnight for some bread. The friends persistence nets him what he asks. Jesus continues, explaining to the disciples that even the wicked know how to give good gifts, so how could God, who loves you like children, not give you even better. Jesus knows that God will grant whatever he wishes… just as Abraham learned that with persistent righteousness, God will grant his request. Find a copy of the Lord’s prayer and read it… slowly. “Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses…”… a prayer of petition. It’s not only OK to ask God for things… it’s expected. It’s our right as the children of God. Is there a catch? Of course… continue with the Lord’s prayer, “… as we forgive those who trespass against us…”. Ah, “…do as I do,” says the Lord. In fact, if we meditate on the Lord’s prayer, it’s easy to see that the whole teaching of the Gospels flows through this prayer.