SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (2022)
Psalms 138:1-3, 6-8
I have always been told that when in Mexico or the Caribbean you never pay full price for anything – you always try to barter them down to see just how much they will actually sell something for. I was never very good at bartering, as any car salesman will tell you. But some people are so good at bartering, that when they begin to walk away the seller comes calling for them to purchase an item at the last lowest price.
Since last weekend’s reading from Genesis, Abraham has discovered that his mystery guests included the Lord (Yahweh), and when they returned after a year they had good news and bad news. The good news was that Abraham’s elderly wife was indeed expecting a child. The bad news was their presence on earth was to check on just how misbehaving the the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were, for God intended to destroy the two cities for their behavior. Now this might have been of little consequence to Abraham had not his nephew Lot and his wife lived in Sodom.
The Yahwist tradition in the Older Testament anthropomorphizes Yahweh/God and we see that God walking around the Garden of Eden, and we find Him today an approachable God who Abraham can barter with (quite an opposite view of the God from the Priestly source/tradition who Moses cannot even lay eyes on).
There is something almost humorous about Abraham’s back-and-forth with God. It’s not unlike a child with one’s parent seeing just how much a parent is willing to give up. In Genesis, while we don’t know the total number of people living in Sodom and Gomorrah, all Abraham wanted was for God to give up His plan to destroy the cities if God could find fifty good people. As if to say, “I started too high!,” Abraham makes an additional four interjections moving the number of good people needed to thwart God’s plan down to ten, eight if you subtract Lot and his wife. We know the rest of the story, and we are reminded that our focus should not be distracted by God’s Old Testament wrath. Rather, the focus, given our gospel passage for this day, is meant to be on prayer.
The responsorial psalm leads us gently into the gospel by reminding us that “on the day I called for help, the Lord answered me.” The gospel begins with the disciples asking Jesus to “teach us to pray,” and Jesus responds with the abbreviated version of the Lord’s Prayer found in Luke, perfectly complete in its simplicity.
Jesus then supports His prayer with a parable of sorts, asking His disciples to imagine having a friend that they go to late in the night to borrow bread for unexpected company. The bread would of course save the person from the embarrassment of having nothing to offer the guest, a middle eastern faux pas! The imaginary scene has the disciple’s imaginary friend resisting for various imaginary reasons, but Jesus assures the disciples that if the friend “does not give the visitor the loaves because of their friendship, he will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence.”
This persistence in prayer is not only an important concept for Jesus, it is an important concept for our own spiritual lives. Speaking to His disciples Jesus says, “if you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” At the root of all our prayers should be the notion that what we should always be praying for is that God’s will be done, “Thy will be done.” When we pray the Lord’s Prayer we pray for that gift of the Spirit that God is eager to bestow on us. We can be as persistent and bold in our prayer as Abraham, or as the disciple in today’s gospel, but what we need is an infusion of the Holy Spirit who helps us to see things the way God sees them, and who helps us to accept whatever God’s will in the matter is. God is not unmoved by our prayers, but because God knows what is best for us, His timetable may be different than ours.