Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C
July 24, 2022 – 10:30 AM
Saint Cecilia Catholic Community
Rev. David Justin Lynch
Genesis 18:20-32| Psalm 138:1-3;6-8
Colossians 2:12-14 | Luke 11:1-13
+In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, AMEN.
Last Sunday, Deacon Sharon preached an elegant and incisive homily about holy hospitality as taught in the stories of Abraham, Sarah, and the angels at the Oaks of Mamre and that of the visit of Jesus to Mary and Martha of Bethany. This week, hospitality and persistence meet one another.
Hospitality continues as the theme in this week’s readings, although you wouldn’t know it as to the First Reading unless you dig a bit deeper into scripture beyond the colloquy between God and Abraham that we just heard to consider hospitality in the context of persistent prayer.
Abraham asks God if God would spare the entire sinful City of Sodom from destruction if righteous people could be found in that City. Abraham asks God if God would spare Sodom if fifty righteous people, then forty-five, then forty, then thirty, then twenty, and finally ten good people were found. God said “Yes” when Abraham got down to ten. Abraham was persistent.
In reading this story, I’ve always wondered why Abraham didn’t continue his hypothetical by asking God if God would spare Sodom if there were only one sinless person in Sodom. My best guess is that God would not destroy Sodom if Abraham had asked about that one person. After all, the psalms continually describe God as “slow to anger, full of compassion and mercy, and abounding in great goodness.” And, as you may recall, Jesus taught us in the Parable of the Lost Sheep that a good shepherd will leave the flock to persistently seek one lost sheep.
The text snippet chosen for the First Reading doesn’t tell us whether or not God destroyed Sodom, nor did it tell us why God even thought about destroying Sodom. What precisely was the sin of Sodom? What ultimately happened? Again, we have to dig deeper. If you keep reading past this week’s First Lesson from Genesis Eighteen into chapter nineteen, you will find that Sodom was, in fact, destroyed.
I urge you to read the whole Story of Lot, which follows after today’s First Reading. Read the whole story in context, paying close attention to the details. In that story, we learn that God does not think very highly of those who do not extend hospitality to visitors.
Here’s a bit of background. Lot was Abraham’s nephew, the son of his deceased brother Haran. Lot settled in the City of Sodom. Two of the angels who had received a hospitable reception from Abraham and Sarah at Mamre traveled to Sodom. There, Lot met them at the city’s gate. Lot asked them to come to his home. Lot fed them. Lot invited them to spend the night.
However, when the people of Sodom heard about Lot’s visitors, they formed a mob and besieged Lot’s home. They persistently demanded to gang-rape the two visitors. Those angels, however, would have none of it. They blinded the people who were breaking in Lot’s door. The next day, those angels destroyed Sodom but saved Lot.
Now, what did the people of Sodom do that was so sinful? Why did God send the angels to destroy Sodom? The traditional interpretation was that the sin of Sodom was same-sex relationships. However, nothing in the story of its destruction condemns same-sex relationships. Hence, the traditional interpretation of that story is utter garbage.
The facts are pretty obvious why God was mad at Sodom. God didn’t like the inhospitable behavior of the mob towards visiting strangers. Look at the facts as they are, not what you want them to be. Loving same-sex relationships was not what made God mad. There is no mention of that. Again, the facts are that the crowd persistently demanded that Lot bring the visitors out of the house so they could gang-rape them. What could be more inhospitable than gang rape? If anything, this story also illustrates that persistent demands for the wrong things can have dire consequences.
Indeed, Jesus himself recognized the sin of Sodom as a lack of hospitality in the Gospel of Matthew. There, we read that Jesus sent his disciples out into the countryside to proclaim the Kingdom of Heaven and that if anyone did not welcome them and listen to their words, that place will be less tolerable on the day of Judgment than was the destruction of Sodom. In other words, according to Jesus, God will visit judgment on cities that are inhospitable to visitors. Furthermore, the prophet Ezekiel gives us even more insight into the real sin of Sodom. Ezekiel described it as selfish pride manifested in disregarding the poor and needy. Read in the context of the rest of scripture, we can safely conclude that the sex lives of the people of Sodom were not the problem. Selfishness, pride, and their attitude toward visitors from elsewhere were what angered God against Sodom.
Yes, hospitality is clearly something God likes. God wants us to be kind to the strangers that come into our lives. We see that again in today’s Gospel as we did in last Sunday’s readings. Jesus tells us about a man who was asleep in bed with his family when, during the night, a neighbor came to his door and asked to borrow a loaf of bread to feed an unexpected visitor. At first, the man didn’t want to do it, but after the neighbor persisted, he finally did. Jesus lets us know that “If he does not get up to give the visitor the loaves because of their friendship, he will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence.” Like Abraham, this neighbor who needed a loaf of bread to feed a visitor was persistent.
What Jesus is telling us is not just that hospitality is important but that persistence counts in our relationship with God. Jesus urges us to ask so that we might receive and to knock so that doors may open to us. Jesus then expounds on what we can expect from God if we persist in asking and knocking. Because of the generous nature of a God who loves us, we are like the children of a loving parent who feeds us fish rather than snakes and eggs rather than scorpions. Just a child trusts, or should trust, a parent to do the right thing, we trust God as our Father.
Today’s Gospel reminds us that if we persistently approach God as a little child would approach a loving parent, we can expect only good things from God. Hence, the prayer Jesus taught us begins, “Our Father.” Jesus chose to begin that prayer with those words to show us that the primary purpose of Jesus’ teaching on prayer is the fatherhood of God, a loving parent who always has our best interests at heart.
Today’s Gospel opens with the truncated version of the Our Father that appears in Luke’s Gospel. In the longer version appearing in Matthew’s Gospel, it is, without doubt, the most universally shared and most repeated of all Christian prayers. I am sure someone, somewhere, at this very moment, is praying that prayer at this very moment, just as we will soon be doing in the second portion of the Mass after the Eucharistic Prayer. The Our Father is, indeed, a very persistent prayer.
Some of you might ask, will persistent prayer, in and of itself, get you anything from God? We Catholics sometimes think so; after all, we do pray the Rosary with its five decades of Hail Mary’s, Our Father’s, and Glory Be’s. So does God really listen to our prayers and give us that for which we are praying? The answer to that is sometimes.
On some occasions, we do realize that for which we pray. When my former wife abandoned me in nineteen-ninety, I prayed persistently for a new and more loyal wife. God listened. God sent me Deacon Sharon, whose loyalty is exemplary. But I have also prayed persistently to win the lottery, and so far, that prayer has not been answered.
As the refrain of today’s psalm says, on the day we call for help, God will answer us and do what God thinks is best for us. The words of today’s Psalm are particularly powerful to inspire our trust in God.
God hears us when we praise God as we worship in Church. That’s a very good reason to come to Mass every Sunday.
God’s greatness and kindness, and God’s faithfulness to us, establish that we can always trust God to be there for us.
God particularly favors the lowly and those in distress.
God will preserve us from our enemies.
We must not forget God because God’s kindness is constant and ongoing, come what may.
So why does God answer our prayers sometimes but not others? Or sometimes God answers our prayers, but not in the way we expect? Often, God gives us something better or brings it in God’s own way or timing with a greater goal in mind. And other times, like a wise parent, God says “no.”
While what sounds like silence to us and can even seem heartless, we know that at the end of the day, God’s heart towards us is always full of love, kindness, and compassion. That part of God’s essence builds your trust in God that God will ultimately give us only what is truly good for us.
What is it about God that makes God that way? The answer lies in the fact God is a mystery that we cannot define. However, we have no choice but to accept God’s sovereignty over the universe. But we can never know what God has in mind for us from one day to the next.
As you take the time to learn who God is and who you are, you will learn why prayer works. We think of God as our Father. So, like any parent, God wants to have a relationship with you. God wants you to communicate through prayer; God always listens when you pray.
Prayer, at its most basic level, is a conversation with God. In scripture, we encounter wall-to-wall prayer. Abraham prayed. Moses prayed. Jesus prayed. Saint Paul prayed. However, the most detailed and majestic conversation with God is found in the Book of Job, which by scholarly consensus, is the oldest book of canonical scripture. If you want to learn all about prayer, read the Book of Job in its entirety.
Here’s a very brief summary of it. Job was a man with a successful business and satisfying family life. But God put him to the test by having Satan take all that from him. Job was tormented by substantial physical afflictions. He was also tortured by three alleged friends who told him that his personal sin caused his problems. Both of these factors drove Job into deep distress. But Job did not deal with it by trying to get even with God. Instead, Job dealt with his situation by praying. Job prayed persistently.
Although throughout a substantial portion of the book, Job is persistently praying to God to relieve his suffering, his prayers seem to go unanswered. God met Job’s prayers with silence. Even though Job cried out in great distress, God said nothing to him until, at last, God spoke to him from a whirlwind. God finally accepted Job’s prayer and restored his fortune and his family. Job’s persistence paid off.
We can find other examples of persistent prayer in scripture. In the First Book of Samuel, Hannah persistently prayed for the child Samuel the Prophet, ultimately born to her. In the First Book of Kings, Elijah persistently prayed for rain. In the Gospel of Luke, Zechariah and Elizabeth persistently prayed for a son who turned out to be John the Baptist, and there is also a story in Luke, which we will hear later this year, about the woman who went to court and prayed for the justice she finally received.
Like Job, the author of today’s psalm seemed to have previously been in dire straits. He called upon God LORD for help. Having been heard, he was inwardly strengthened. The psalm reflects a prayer of gratitude. The concluding portion of the psalm is a prayer of thanksgiving with confidence that a mutual commitment with God will endure forever, demonstrating that God is not only faithful to past promises but will be endlessly faithful.
This illustrates that what God wants is for us to trust God. That is what faith in God means. Faith goes beyond acknowledging God’s mere existence. Faith means trusting God to always do what’s best for us. Sometimes we don’t really know what’s best for us. We must learn to trust God to fill in the gaps.
Remember that prayer is not our way of getting God to do what we want. Subjective selfishness cannot and should not drive prayer. Our prayers should be focused on things that honor and glorify God, like relieving the suffering of others, and not, for example, to license engagement in sinful behavior, particularly retaliation against those we dislike. In other words, we don’t pray for the death of political candidates we oppose.
Even if one does not explicitly acknowledge God’s existence, the human person was created with a predisposition to prayer regardless of whatever religion one might follow or not follow. Whether we are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Confucian, atheist, or agnostic, our inmost selves continually engage with the world around us. All of us have needs and wants that occupy our minds with thoughts about how those needs and wants will be fulfilled.
Thus, whatever our religious background, or even if we don’t have any religious background, our innermost selves continually engage in intercessory prayer, be it for desiring our next meal, to heal from an injury or illness, or to perform well as a musician. Such prayers exemplify what it means to be persistent. The more we want those things, the more we think about them. That’s what persistence looks like.
Prayer should be the first step in pursuing our dreams, whatever they might be. Prayer is knocking on the doors we want to be opened to us. Prayer is seeking what we are trying to find for ourselves. Prayer is simply part of being human. You can never go wrong in persistently praying. God is there to listen to us throughout our lives and beyond. God is, and will always be, persistently good to us. God’s love for us can, and should, lead us to persistent hospitality. AMEN.