Prayer, the Path to God

Post Date: July 19, 2022
Author: Ric Cross

A Reflection on the Readings for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 24, 2022

Reading I: Genesis 18:20-32a
Responsorial: Psalm 138:1-2, 2-3, 6-7, 7-8
Reading II: Colossians 2:12-14
Gospel: Luke 11:1-13

This Sunday’s first reading from Genesis follows directly after last Sunday’s first reading and continues the story, this time leading to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. By now, Abraham is fully aware that it is God (Yahweh) that he is conversing with, and we have a very Yahwist story (for the characteristics of the Yahwist interpretation of Israel’s history, see last week’s commentary). The two men who accompanied Yahweh at the beginning of the story, later identified as angels (God + the two men symbolizes the Trinity), walk on ahead toward Sodom while Yahweh converses with Abraham. Notice that Yahweh is presented here with very human characteristics (he walks, he talks, and he can be dissuaded from what he plans concerning Sodom). Abraham essentially talks Yahweh out of destroying the city if he can find any righteous people there.

Yahweh was understood in ancient Israel as supremely just, that everyone would receive their reward or punishment according to their deeds. And Abraham makes a very important statement in interceding on behalf of Sodom, which is probably the point of this passage: “Far be it from you to do such a thing, to make the innocent die with the guilty so that the innocent and the guilty would be treated alike! Should not the judge of all the world act with justice?” In other words, the supremely just Yahweh would not destroy the innocent just because they happened to reside in the same city as the guilty. Doing so would make the innocent and the guilty equal in the eyes of God.

What appears on the surface as Abraham talking Yahweh out of his plan of destruction should be understood as intercessory prayer. Abraham interceded with Yahweh on behalf of the just citizens of Sodom (it turns out that Lot and his family were the only just ones in the city). Our prayers can intercede on behalf of others, as did Abraham’s. Another example of human intercession before Yahweh is found in Exodus 32, when Moses interceded with Yahweh on behalf of the people when Yahweh intended to destroy the people during the “Golden Calf” incident. The author of these passages and those who first read them would certainly have understood them as reaffirming the justice of God and the power of intercessory prayer.

With a little imagination, we can find the same theme of intercessory prayer in our second reading from Colossians. St. Paul reminds us that even when we were dead in sin, the sacrifice (intercession) of Christ obliterated the bond against us and nailed it to the cross.

In our gospel reading, the apostles ask Jesus to teach them to pray, and Jesus responds with the Lord’s Prayer. It is a simple prayer, and we are all familiar with the petitions found in this simple prayer. But in reflecting on those petitions, we see that Jesus, as one-third of the Holy Trinity, is revealing who he is and is also revealing who we are as the Body of Christ.

“Hallowed be Thy name:” God’s name is holy, and Jesus, as the Son of God, is holy, and our prayer does not make God’s name any holier. But our praying for this petition reminds us of God’s holiness.

“Thy Kingdom come:” God’s kingdom will come whether we will it or not and will be established on earth as it is in heaven. God’s holiness has established that kingdom, and on earth, that kingdom is found in the church.

“Give us this day our daily bread:” Is a reflection on the Eucharist and a reflection on our total dependence on God. In the Eucharist, we can receive that daily bread every day in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. As a reflection of our total dependence on God, it is a petition to take care of us today; we do not ask for an abundance of bread, wealth, earthly possessions, etc. We ask only that God take care of us today; we will be back tomorrow to ask again.

“Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us:”  In this petition, we ask for God’s forgiveness and remind ourselves that only God can forgive sins. But it also challenges us to forgive others; if we fail to do so, we will not receive God’s forgiveness.

“And do not subject us to the final test:” Temptation is a fact of life for us in this world, but in this petition, we acknowledge that we need God’s help through the power of the Holy Spirit to resist those temptations.

Then in the parables that follow, we are reminded to pray with persistence: “Ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you.  We pray the Lord’s prayer every day (or certainly should), and in doing so our prayer is persistent.

The golden thread this week appears to be prayer, particularly intercessory prayer on behalf of others. If we make time daily for prayer and the enrichment of our relationship with God, then “the Father in heaven will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”

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