17th Sunday Ordinary Time
24 July 2016
Deacon Les Ruhrmund
The dialogue between Abraham and God that we heard in the first reading is a rather enjoyable example of Oriental bargaining at its best but the underlying concerns are serious. The question of justice is at stake: Is it just to destroy the innocent, as few as they may be, along with the majority who are guilty? Is God unfair in threatening to destroy the whole town of Sodom? If we read on further we get a vivid glimpse of the wretched wickedness of the people of Sodom that initiated the outcry against them. Two messengers are sent to Sodom by God to access the situation for themselves and after being welcomed by Lot, Abraham’s nephew, and invited into his home, we’re told that all the townspeople, young and old alike without exception, gather at Lot’s house and demanded that the two visitors be handed over to them for their sexual pleasure. Read chapter 19 of the Book of Genesis to find out what happened next.
And so is God unfair?
Philip Yancey, the widely read contemporary Christian author, suggests that “We seem to have an instinctive expectation that life ought to be fair and that God should somehow do a better job of running the world.”We are living in a particularly difficult and unfair world at the moment. Wherever one looks the ugly spectre of evil is visible instilling fear and hatred; not only on the battle fields of war but in the very heart of civil society; shopping centres, promenades and places where people meet to have fun and enjoy themselves.
Commonly Christians respond to life’s unfairness not by denying it but by watering it done. They search for some hidden motive or reason behind the ugliness of suffering in the world. We say things like “God is trying to teach us something and we should welcome this opportunity to lean on him and deepen our faith” And as you’ve heard me say before – I think statements like this are just unhelpful and nonsense. God is not a puppet master.
We have to see beyond the physical reality of this world to the spiritual reality that is God. While Jesus was in the world he was not of the world. And while God is in the world, he is not of the world. If we confuse God with the physical reality of life on earth – by expecting constant good health or good fortune for example- we’re setting ourselves up for huge disappointment. If we can develop a relationship with God apart from our life circumstances then we’ll truly learn to trust God despite all the unfairness of life.
We know well the story of Jesus. Was life ‘fair’ to him? The Cross demonstrates vividly that life is not always fair. The Cross revealed what kind of world we have and what kind of God we have: a world of gross unfairness, a God of sacrificial love.
Throughout his life on earth, Jesus maintained a close, trusting and loving relationship with God the Father. A relationship that was nurtured and sustained by prayer.All through the Gospels we have references to Jesus praying. He prayed alone and in public; he prayed before meals and before important decisions; before healing and after; and he prayed to do the Father’s will.
In the Gospel reading, Jesus teaches us how to pray. Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer is only 38 words and is shorter than Matthew’s, but teaches us all we need to know about how to pray and what to pray for.
The very first word is the essence of all prayer: “Father”, “Abba”, “Daddy”, “Papa”.
In a recent homily Pope Francis said: “Without speaking, without feeling this word ‘Father’, praying is not possible. To whom do I pray? The almighty God? He is too far away. I don’t feel him; neither did Jesus feel him. To whom do I pray? The God of the cosmos? This is quite frequent nowadays, isn’t it? Praying to the cosmic God. This polytheistic model comes with a superficial culture. Rather, we must pray to the Father, who begot us. But this is not all: we must pray “our” Father,that is, not the Father of a generic and too anonymous ‘all’, but the One who begot you, who gave you life, who gave life to you and me.
“It’s through this Father” he says “that we receive our identity as children. And when I say ‘Father’ this goes right to the roots of my identity: my Christian identity is to be his child and this is a grace of the Holy Spirit. Nobody can say ‘Father’ without the grace of the Spirit. ‘Father’ is the word that Jesus used in the most important moments: when he was full of joy, or emotion: ‘Father, I bless you for revealing these things to little children.’ Or weeping, in front of the tomb of his friend Lazarus: ‘Father, I thank you for hearing my prayer,’ or else at the end, in the final moments of his life, right at the very end ‘Father (Abba, Dad, Papa) into your hands I commend my spirit.’ Unless we feel that we are his children, without considering ourselves as his children, without saying ‘Father,’ our prayer is a pagan one, it’s just a prayer of words. If we are not able to begin our prayer with this word, our prayer will go nowhere.”
I think the brevity of the Lord’s Prayer is also very relevant. There is no need to fill our prayers with hundreds of words and noise; sometimes even trying to tell God what to do. The Lord knows what is in our hearts and what we want to say.
The Lord’s Prayer is a perfect formula and covers all our needs in life.
We should start prayer always addressing our loving Father in intimacy, awe, reverence, love and trust. Then we pray for our daily needs; not the needs of an unknown, uncertain future but our needs for today. We then pray for forgiveness of our past sins for surely every one of us has failed somewhere along the way to love God and love our neighbour. And finally we pray for the strength and the gifts of the Holy Spirit to resist the many temptations and seductions in a secular world that leads us away from God; away from love.
We cannot escape the evils of an unfair world but trusting in“Our Father”we can make the world a better place.