Preparing for Sunday anticipating this day.Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Psalms 138:1-2, 2-3, 6-7, 7-8
There is a strange kind of Poker Game going on in today’s first reading from Genesis. Abraham accompanies his heavenly visitors, who have promised his wife and him a son, to the district of Sodom and Gomorrah. The game opens with God looking over the table of the world and then hears the great outcry against these cities of sin and their inhabitants. Abraham, somehow sensing the mind of God, represents an ancient question, “Will you sweep away the innocent with the guilty?” So the bidding begins. Abraham lowers the pot and God keeps raising. Abraham pleads with God to save the many by the righteous and just lives of the few. God increases the pot of mercy as the number of the just to be found in Sodom decreases. Abraham wins by being assured that there are at least ten just persons to be found. God wins by showing that forgiveness is God’s trump card.
The question about communal salvation versus individual redemption reoccurs in various writings of the Hebrew Scriptures, but this early writing begins an answer which will have its conclusion in the life death and resurrection of Jesus. Abraham stands as a prefigurement for the pleading which is consummated in the words of Jesus from the cross, "Forgive them, Abba, they do not know what they are doing.”
In today’s Gospel, Jesus is asked by one of His disciples to teach them to pray. As often happened in the lives of the disciples, they got more than they expected or could understand in response. Luke has Jesus lay down five simple statements which characterize the prayerful relating between a human creature and the Creator. First we are given a name or an image to which we address the second statement, “Father, Your name be holy and reverenced every where.” Then three askings or pleadings finish the prayer. Your kingdom and Your will are to be established on earth. Please give us each day all that we need. Please forgive us and protect us from all that is contrary to Your kingdom.
Following this little instruction Jesus presents a parable revealing how persistence in prayer, as that of Abraham, works in the human context as well as with God. He then lays out all His cards with a comparison between how parents give what is good for their children, so wouldn’t God do even more? We all have asked for many things which, as of yet have not been answered. We have knocked and the door leading to our satisfaction, or that of others, has remained shut. We have sought, but not found, yet. Abraham pleaded heartily and changed God's mind on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah. Does the intensity of prayer or the continuousness of our knockings render God into surrender and we get what we want?
I often hear little children in the stores having their minds and hearts and vocal chords set on a particular goody. Recently a small but demanding voice circled up from near the floor of a grocery store, “Bubble gum” repeated with increasing volume and desperateness, “bubble gum!” The first word would be emphasized and then after a deep intake of breath, the second. This continued even as the loving mother exited the store, having decided that what she had bought for her child was better than what the child ached for.
Luke’s verb for “give” in asking for our “daily bread” is more an asking that this “daily bread” continue to be given day after day. In this prayer which Jesus teaches His disciples, this “daily bread” is the most mysterious. Forgiving as we have been forgiven, is easy to understand, and asking that God’s kingdom be on the earth is clear, but what is “daily bread” and why do we want it to be continually given?
Some have taught that it is the Eucharistic Bread. Others that this “bread” is human sustenance. I would offer that it is that which is good for us. Such a trusting and humble request. God, give us not a snake when we ask for a fish. We can search, knock and ask that we can sense or discern just what of life is good for our physical and psychological, as well as spiritual, life.
My father would often holler at my brother Mike and me, when we were doing something we thought was good for us, “If you guys know what’s good for you, you’ll stop that!” We were certain that we did know and that is why we were making the chandelier sway above my father’s head while we were tackling each other upstairs. When we heard his #11 shoes pounding up the stairs we knew we were going to get something we would not think good for us.
“Daily bread” is God’s personal love for each of us and when we ask
for a continuation of it we are presenting our open hands and hearts to
receive whatever form that love takes, even if we cannot figure out all
that it means. We may not like the crust or that it is not whole
wheat, but it is God’s love made livable. Our real prayer is that
we might keep our hands and hearts open and our spirits to wait until the
loaf of “daily bread” is unwrapped sliced, eaten, and digested. We
are quite arrogant if we think we know better than God what is good for
us. Lead us not into that temptation!
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