THE LECTIONARY

Readings give confidence to approach God with our needs

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time C Readings: Genesis 18:20-32 Colossians 2:12-14 Luke 11:1-13

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This Sunday’s readings present graphic examples of the power of prayer. Let us approach our merciful God with reverence and confidence, as we sing this Sunday’s psalm: “Lord, on the day I called for help, you answered me” (Ps 138).

In the Genesis reading, the Lord allows Abraham to boldly bargain for the salvation of Sodom and Gomorrah, two notoriously sinful cities. In the previous section, the Lord deliberates about telling Abraham his intentions: “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, now that he is to become a great and populous nation, and all the nations of the earth are to find blessing in him?” . ... Because of Abraham’s role in the divine plan, the Lord allows the patriarch to hear of his intention to investigate “the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah”:

“Then the Lord said: ‘The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great, and their sin so grave, I must go down and see whether or not their actions fully correspond to the cry against them that comes to me. I mean to find out.’”

Assuming that a guilty verdict is inevitable, Abraham begs the Lord to spare the cities for the sake of the few innocent who may be in them. Significantly, he does not simply ask that God spare the innocent, like the family of his nephew Lot (see Genesis 13-14, 19), but that the whole city be preserved because of the few righteous. Abraham actually intercedes with God for pagan sinners, and his argument is quite clever. He first asks the Lord, “Will you sweep away the innocent with the guilty?” Presumably the Lord would answer, “No.” But before he can respond, Abraham rushes on to add, “Suppose there were 50 innocent people in the city; would you wipe out the place, rather than spare it for the 50 innocent people within it?” . ... Now Abraham has forced the Lord to agree to spare the whole city if he is to preserve his reputation as “the judge of all the earth” who would not “make the innocent die with the guilty.” Abraham's almost Promethean boldness in pushing God to the point of promising to spare the city for the sake of 10 innocent is a lesson to all of us to be courageous in voicing our concerns for justice and mercy to God.

In the second reading Paul continues his attack on those false teachers who want to introduce “circumcision” and certain exotic ascetical and religious practices into the Christian life at Colossae (see 2:16-23). In contrast to the fragmented religiosity of his opponents, Paul presents the simple, straightforward truth that in baptism the Christian was buried with Christ and raised to a new life with him. God does not have some hidden debt against the past sins of a Christian which must be paid by strange penitential practices. Paul asserts:

“He (Christ) pardoned all our sins. He canceled the bond that stood against us with all its claims, snatching it up and nailing it to the cross.”

The importance of prayer for the disciples is a theme that occurs repeatedly in Luke's Gospel. He, more than any other evangelist, presents Jesus himself as one who prays at important events in the Gospel: at his baptism (3:21), when he withdraws into the desert (5:16), when he calls the Twelve to the mountain (6:12), when he begins to teach his disciples about his passion (9:18), at the transfiguration (9:28-29), at the Last Supper when he tells Simon of his denial (22:32), in Gethsemane (22:44), and at his crucifixion as he forgives his executioners and commends his spirit to his Father (23:34,46).

In today's Gospel, Jesus' prayer is the occasion for the disciples' request, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” Jesus goes on to teach them the “Our Father” in a more shortened form than in Matthew (6:9-13) and instructs them to be confident in their prayer through the twin parables of the friend at midnight and the father who gives good gifts to his children.

The argument in both is from the lesser to the greater. If a friend will rouse himself and his whole house because you come at midnight seeking bread for your guests, how much more will the heavenly Father respond when we pray. And, if we, who are evil, give good things to our children when they ask, then “how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” Such teaching should give us the confidence to approach the Father with all of our needs.