By Father Donald Dilger
First Reading: Genesis 18:20-32; Response: Psalm 138:1-2, 2-3, 6-7, 7-8; Second Reading: Colossians 2:12-14; Gospel: Luke 11:1-13
Last Sunday’s first reading narrated the Lord’s visit to the encampment of Abraham and Sarah at Mamre in the Hebron area south of Jerusalem. That visit ended with the Lord’s revelation that Abraham and Sarah, ninety-nine and ninety respectively, would have their first child, a son. Seems the Lord had other business on his mind, a business revealed in this Sunday’s first reading. Before our first reading begins, the Lord is musing to himself whether he could possibly hide from his friend Abraham the divine plans for the nearby cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. The Lord recalls that Abraham’s future is so great that it might not be wise to conceal divine plans from him. Finally he decides, “No, I can’t hide my plans from him.” It’s interesting how human the author(s) of this story depict the Lord God. At this point our reading begins, as the Lord continues his conversation with himself. The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah had an abominable reputation for moral corruption. Here the human-like depiction of the Lord gets more interesting, as he says, “I’ll go down and see whether things are as bad as the complaints that have been reported to me. If not, I will at least know (the truth).”
Though the story does not tell us how Abraham found out about the Lord’s plan for the two wicked cities, he knows and goes into action. The rest of this reading is a superb literary example of a Semitic bargaining session. The Lord vs. Abraham. Something like bargaining about a price at a flea market in our time. Abraham wants the Lord to spare the cities. He makes an offer that he thinks the Lord cannot refuse. First a bit of reasoning. Abraham appeals to the Lord’s self-esteem. Surely the Lord will not destroy the good with the bad in the cities. His reputation as a just judge would suffer. What if 50 righteous could be found? OK says the Lord. Abraham is not satisfied. What about 45? OK. How about 40? And so it went, as Abraham sprinkled his appeals with flattery, softening the Lord’s determination. The Lord finally agreed to spare the cities if only 10 righteous could be found. Here our reading ends. This reading was selected to correspond to the gospel reading in which a nagging neighbor begs his next-door friend in the middle of the night for three loaves of bread because of unexpected visitors. The catechesis: perseverance in prayer.
The Responsorial Psalm 138 is a hymn of thanksgiving and praise because God heard the prayers of the Psalmist, “for you have heard the words of my mouth.” The Lord is therefore praised for truth, kindness, having a great name, help for the humble, protection in distress, protection against enemies, prompt response to a plea. All summed up in the People’s Response, “Lord, on the day I called, you answered me.”
The second reading continues a series of selections from the Letter to the Colossians. This part of Colossians is very difficult. The author explains (or attempts to explain) how everything that happened to Christ, happens also in us. This sounds like the doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ. What happens to the head, happens to the body. We have already been buried with Christ, when we were baptized, symbolized by a baptism of submersion (dunking). Christ’s resurrection was completed in us, symbolized by rising up out of the waters of baptism after submersion. Even the circumcision of Jesus is spiritually enacted in us when our sins are removed. The author envisions a legal claim (bond) against us. That claim was paid off in Jesus’ death on the cross, “nailing it to the cross.”
The gospel reading consists of two parts. In the first part Jesus finishes a moment of prayer. His disciples are impressed, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John (the Baptizer) taught his disciples.” We do not know what prayers or method of praying the Baptizer taught, but Jesus responds with a prayer almost identical to the Our Father taught to us by Matthew in the Sermon on the Mount. Luke’s version is a bit shorter. To satisfy Christians who claim that every word attributed to Jesus in the New Testament was actually spoken by him, we could say that Jesus used Luke’s version when he was in a hurry, but the longer version, the Our Father, when there was more time to pray. The real reason for the differences in the two versions: they depend on oral tradition, which can be quite different from one locality to another. An example of the differences in the two forms: while Matthew begins, “Our Father,” Luke begins simply with “Father,” just as Jesus addressed his Father directly. Matthew’s “Lead us not into temptation” becomes in Luke, “Do not subject us to the final test.” Another version of this prayer is in a late first century book called “The Didache” (The Teaching). It was a guidebook for Christians. All the versions are similar to a Jewish prayer called the Kaddish (Quaddish), meaning the Holy Prayer.
The second part of the gospel reading is a parable teaching perseverance in prayer. A man unexpectedly receives visitors. He has nothing for them to eat. He goes to a neighbor, who with his family is in bed for the night. The neighbor basically says, “Go away,” but the nagging continues until the neighbor gets out of bed and gives the man bread for his visitors. This story teaches not only perseverance in prayer, (like Abraham in the first reading), but also vicarious prayer; that is, prayer for others. To the parable, Luke adds groups of individual sayings attributed to Jesus that encourage prayer. Among these, the best known saying is this: “Ask and you shall receive. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened to you.” Luke compares the heavenly Father to a good earthly or human father. If a human father responds with kindness to his child, how much more will the heavenly Father respond to those who petition him?