17th SUNDAY -C- JULY 24, 2022

Genesis 18: 20-32; Psalm 138; Colossians 2: 12-14; Luke 11: 1-13

by Jude Siciliano, OP

Dear Preachers:

When we go shopping in a store we are used to seeing the price of clothing, or produce, clearly marked for the customer. We decide if we want the item and are willing to pay the price marked. It is as direct as that. But in some countries and cultures, where there are open-air markets, prices for items are not fixed. The potential customer asks, "How much for this?" The vendor quotes the price and then the bargaining begins, with the customer hoping to get a lower price and the seller a higher one.

The bargaining process comes to mind as I hear today’s Genesis reading of the "bargaining"between Abraham and God over the fate of Sodom. Isn’t it a charming and even humorous story? A human being doing "deal-making" with God over the fate of humans caught in a sinful city! God hears about the evils done in Sodom and Gomorrah and decides to "go down" for a closer look, ready to wipe out Sodom because of its sinful behavior. That’s when Abraham begins to bargain with God.

No one takes the story literally. But we get the point of the negotiations between the two. The author of Genesis is showing Abraham’s hope to save innocent lives. Through this seeming-folktale a biblical theme emerges. What concerns Abraham should concern all believers – innocent life should be saved from destruction. While we look forward to eternal life, we cannot ignore what is before us now: people suffering violence and destruction, as they are experiencing today in Ukraine and on our gun-proliferated streets.

The narrative negotiations between Abraham and God also reminds us that, while God values the survival of the good, God also withholds punishment for the guilty. God’s character is revealed in this passage and anticipates the mercy and compassion that will come to all Abraham’s descendants in faith through the mission of Jesus.

God seems to have lost the haggling with Abraham. Maybe God "loses" the bargaining because the humans of Sodom and Gomorrah, though sinful, were of more concern to God than they were to Abraham bargaining on their behalf. God seems to want to lose this debate; is ready and willing to give in to Abraham’s haggling, "For the sake of ten I will not destroy." Our ancestors not only chuckled as they told this story, their jaws must have dropped in awe... "What a God we have, so ready to be merciful to the entire population of two sinful cities for the sake of a few!" This is the God the Jews worship in awe and reverence, with passionate commitment and trust, the God of mercy whose ear is turned towards those who address God. At today’s Eucharist we might let our jaws drop too as we worship our merciful God in awe and gratitude.

We will see fulfilled in the gospel what was revealed through our ancestor Abraham: through Christ we have an intimacy with God that drives out fear and hesitation as we turn to God in prayer. Jesus encourages this when he says, "When you pray say, ‘Abba.’" He teaches us to pray with perseverance, trusting that God will open the door to our prayer; boldness, as we pray in situations that seem hopeless.

I sat behind a couple with an infant son on a recent three-hour flight. The baby was a charmer and as the boarding passengers came past the family’s seats they would wave and flirt with the child. When we took off and for a good portion of the flight, the young parents did everything they could to occupy, distract and care for their child. They fed the boy several times; entertained him with toys; past him back and forth between them when he fussed; walked him up and down the aisle to occupy him, etc. None of what that mom and dad did for the child would surprise us. Parents do that and infinitely more for their children. Still, we humans are imperfect and Jesus tells us today, "How much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him." If a parent… how much more God?

The disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray after they observed him praying. Perhaps they wanted a share in what they observed about Jesus’ union with God. He welcomes them into his experience of God and teaches them to pray as individuals and as a community, as beloved children of a loving and caring God.

Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer is shorter and has different language than the one we commonly pray from Matthew. The difference in its language and length demonstrate that prayer is not an exercise in getting the exact words, or a prescribed formula in order that we "pray properly." A parent doesn’t require an infant to always ask for what they need in correct grammar and words. So, to quote Jesus again, "How much more,"... will God hear our prayer?"

Along with the Our Father are Jesus’s teachings on prayer. In his parables he encourages persistence in prayer. In fact, the text in the original language invites us to "shamelessness" in our prayer. It is like the person who comes to a neighbor and friend asking for bread at midnight and will stop knocking until his friend fulfills his request. How embarrassing for the persistent petitioner. In a small village everyone must have heard about his lack of bread for a visitor. That would be shameless in a culture that put such a high price on hospitality. And so, Jesus implies, if even we would respond to a persistent friend in need, "How much more will God" ...respond to our prayer?

Jesus wraps up his teachings about prayer telling his disciples that God’s desire is to do good for us even when we feel we are pestering God. Or, when God seems to have turned a cold shoulder to our urgent requests. The good news he reveals to us is that we are to feel secure and not doubt God’s love, even when life mounts hardships against us. We must ask, seek and knock, knowing that a loving God is ready to respond in some way.

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings: