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JULY 28, 2013: SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

Readings: 

Genesis 18: 20-32
Colossians 2:12-14
Luke 11: 1-13

In many ways, today's first reading is just a continuation of last week's message on hospitality. Scripture scholars are convinced the "outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah" concerns, not the practice of same sex actions, but the community's refusal to offer hospitality to strangers, epitomized by the inhospitable treatment of Yahweh's two "messengers." (Actually, as we saw last week, the divine pair is simply Yahweh in human form.) The townsfolk's demand to have "intimacies" with Lot's visitors simply points out their desire to engage even strangers in forbidden fertility cults. We know they're not homosexuals in our sense of the term, else Lot wouldn't have suggested sending his two daughters out to them.

But, besides being hospitable to strangers, Abraham and his extended family are also known to possess other characteristics which the Genesis author's community should try to emulate, especially the ability to negotiate prices. In a world in which modern stores and modern pricing systems didn't exist, almost every daily purchase involved some kind of haggling. Jews, proud of their ability to pull this off better than anyone else, could always fall back on the example of Abraham, the first Jew. No one but this greatest of patriarchs could get Yahweh to drop a price of fifty down to ten. Whenever later Israelites got the upper hand in making a purchase, they were just following in his humongous footsteps.

Yet, there's much more to this pericope that just Abraham's ability to barter with God. The verses which immediately precede today's liturgical passage speak about Yahweh's unique relationship with Abraham. Because of that, God can't hide things from him which can be kept from others.

This special relationship between us and God is also the theme of our other two readings. In some sense, it's so special that we don't even have to negotiate with God about the things we want.

Luke's Jesus assures us, "... Everyone who asks receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened." Though most of us know how to pester friends until they eventually give us what we want, we don't have to use such tactics with God.

In this shorter - but more original - form of the "Lord's Prayer," Jesus tells his followers to look at God as their Father. Yet he/she's not a normal parent. This caring person is "hallowed:" so "other" that we can't ever surface any metaphors to adequately describe her/him. Father simply highlights just one part of God's unique personality: God relating to us as loved children. This implies God gives us what we need, forgives our failings, and doesn't "put us to the test." The best way we show we're actually children of such a God is by treating others in the same way.

If we have any doubt we're God's children, we need only reflect on our relationship with Jesus, God's son. Just how close are the two of us? The author of Colossians perfectly sums it up. "You were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead." Lest any of us think we're not worthy to be one with the risen Jesus, the writer reminds us, "Even when you were dead in transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, he brought you to life with him, having forgiven us all our transgressions...."

Not only is the risen Jesus a new creation, so are those who imitate him/her. We'll never be that "old person" again. How are we to relate to a God who never looks at us as strangers?