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17th Sunday of Ordinary Time

“Ask and you shall receive.”  These are the words Jesus teaches us in this Sunday’s Gospel.  Yet far too often we let our “Catholic guilt” get in the way of this teaching.  We’re so attuned to serving God and others that we sometimes forget that God also owes a duty to us, as our readings this week will show:

Genesis 18:20-32
Psalm 138:1-2, 2-3, 6-7, 7-8
Colossians 2:12-14
Luke 11:1-13

We open with a passage from the book of Genesis.  Here Abraham is on his way to the city of Sodom (most likely because his nephew Lot and his family are living there).  As God is walking with them he asks Abraham if he has heard of the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah.  He has heard and fears the Lord will “sweep away” the cities as punishment for their sins.  So he confronts the Lord, most humbly, if he will destroy the city if he can find 50 innocent people.  The Lord relents, saying the city will be spared.  So Abraham presses the Lord further… if he can find 40 people, 30, people, 20 people, all the way down to 10 people, and each time the Lord says he will relent.

So what is this supposed to teach us?  To our Catholic ears this dialog seems dangerous.  Who are we to challenge God?  Well… that is the point.  This is, after all, a “covenant” relationship:  “You will be my people and I will be your God,” says the Lord.  We Christians sometimes forget that this is a two-way relationship, that for all we owe God, God also owes us.  We’re very good at remembering what God expects of us (loving him and loving our neighbor), but what are God’s expectations in this relationship?  In this case, Abraham is asking that the city be spared, and with just cause.  It teaches us that we have a duty to question authority, even our Lord, if the cause is just.  The rules that bind us also bind the Lord.  This idea is not lost on our Psalm as we sing, “Lord, on the day I called for help, you answered me.”

These ideas are more fully revealed in our Gospel from Luke.  Here our story continues a little ways from where we left off last week as Jesus continues his long trek to Jerusalem.  The disciples ask Jesus to teach them how to pray.  Jesus then recites what we know as the Lord’s prayer (the Our Father).  But as is typical for Jesus, he wants to make sure they understand what he is teaching, so he gives us the Parable of the Friend at Night (unique to Luke’s Gospel).  He asks them to imagine a friend coming to their house at midnight asking for 3 loaves of bread.  Of course, you would be reluctant, but the friend is persistent and so you comply, even at the late hour.  Jesus then teaches, “Ask and you shall receive; seek and you will find.”  Like the friend who provided the 3 loaves of bread, the Father will certainly hear your cry and answer with blessings befitting his children.

Our second reading continues our study of Paul’s letter to the Colossians.  Here we are reminded that our Baptism links us with Christ… not only to his death, but to his resurrection.  Through Christ we are forgiven our transgressions.  Looking back at the Lord’s prayer, where we petition for God’s forgiveness, Paul tell us that through Christ, that prayer is answered.

Final thoughts:

As Catholics we’re good at praising God and giving thanks to God, but we sometimes feel bad about the idea of asking God for something, especially for when it is for ourselves.  Through our history we Christians have developed this sense of “unworthiness” in the eyes of the Lord.. an unworthiness that grew out of the late middle ages with the heresy of Jansenism which grew through the Reformation.  This heresy took our idea of a “sense of wonder and awe of the Lord” (what we used to call the gift of “fear of the Lord”) to a dangerous extreme, completely diminishing the innate grace within us and the mercy our God shows to his beloved children.  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.  Just like the prayers of the faithful during Mass (and aptly placed after the Creed).  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…”.  In other words, “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.


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