JULY 24TH, SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
In those days, the LORD said: "The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great,
and their sin so grave,
that I must go down and see whether or not their actions
fully correspond to the cry against them that comes to me.
I mean to find out."
While Abraham's visitors walked on farther toward Sodom,
the LORD remained standing before Abraham.
Then Abraham drew nearer and said:
"Will you sweep away the innocent with the guilty?
Suppose there were fifty innocent people in the city;
would you wipe out the place, rather than spare it
for the sake of the fifty innocent people within it?
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?"
The LORD replied,
"If I find fifty innocent people in the city of Sodom,
I will spare the whole place for their sake."
Abraham spoke up again:
"See how I am presuming to speak to my Lord,
though I am but dust and ashes!
What if there are five less than fifty innocent people?
Will you destroy the whole city because of those five?"
He answered, "I will not destroy it, if I find forty-five there."
But Abraham persisted, saying "What if only forty are found there?"
He replied, "I will forbear doing it for the sake of the forty."
Then Abraham said, "Let not my Lord grow impatient if I go on.
What if only thirty are found there?"
He replied, "I will forbear doing it if I can find but thirty there."
Still Abraham went on,
"Since I have thus dared to speak to my Lord,
what if there are no more than twenty?"
The LORD answered, "I will not destroy it, for the sake of the twenty."
But he still persisted:
"Please, let not my Lord grow angry if I speak up this last time.
What if there are at least ten there?"
He replied, "For the sake of those ten, I will not destroy it."
Brothers and sisters:
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.
And even when you were dead
in transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh,
he brought you to life along with him,
having forgiven us all our transgressions;
obliterating the bond against us, with its legal claims,
which was opposed to us,
he also removed it from our midst, nailing it to the cross.
Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he had finished,
one of his disciples said to him,
"Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples."
He said to them, "When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread
and forgive us our sins
for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us,
and do not subject us to the final test."
And he said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend
to whom he goes at midnight and says,
'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread,
for a friend of mine has arrived at my house from a journey
and I have nothing to offer him,'
and he says in reply from within,
'Do not bother me; the door has already been locked
and my children and I are already in bed.
I cannot get up to give you anything.'
I tell you,
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.
"And I tell you, ask and you will receive;
seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks, receives;
and the one who seeks, finds;
and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
What father among you would hand his son a snake
when he asks for a fish?
Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg?
If you then, who are wicked,
know how to give good gifts to your children,
how much more will the Father in heaven
give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?"
Some years ago when I was commenting on this set of readings I had a friendly disagreement with the editor of one of the diocesan papers carrying my articles. She strongly objected to my talking about Abraham “haggling” with Yahweh, believing that term bordered on anti-Semitic language. She encouraged me to use a word like barter or negotiate instead.
I immediately called a rabbi friend, asking his opinion on the matter. He assured me, “There’s nothing wrong in speaking about a Jew haggling. We’re not only known for it, we’re proud of it.”
That’s why the Genesis author included this narrative in her Sodom and Gomorrah story. If it’s a characteristic for which Jews are proud, then Abraham, the ancestor of all Jews must have had it in spades.
Though no scholar takes this haggling between Yahweh and Abraham literally, the writer not only created this passage to demonstrate the latter’s negotiating prowess, but also to show his unique relationship with Yahweh. As theologically simplistic as it might sound to us today, the Yahwistic author is telling us God is someone you can bargain with – as long as you’ve given yourself over to God.
In some sense, Luke’s Jesus is telling us something similar in our gospel pericope. It seems God, like the besieged friend, has a breaking point. Find it, and you’ll get what you want. Yet, listen carefully to what Jesus says you’re going to get. It won’t be a lot of “stuff.” Rather, “. . . The Father in heaven (will) give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” In other words, if we ask for the Holy Spirit, we’re certain to receive the Holy Spirit, no strings attached.
As we’ve seen in the past, Luke, more than any other evangelist, is convinced the Holy Spirit is an essential element in our becoming other Christs. In his mind, how would we know how to carry on Jesus’ ministry without that Spirit pointing us in the right direction? At this point in the second half of the first century CE, the Christian community, following the historical Jesus’ mindset, had not yet locked itself into a hierarchical structure. It functioned as the Body of Christ because of its deep relationships with the risen Jesus and with one another, not because of any clerical prerogatives. As Paul once reminded his Corinthian community, the Spirit not only gifts each member of the community with all the talents that community needs, it also helps them integrate those gifts for the good of the community.
Of course, as the Pauline disciple who wrote Colossians believes, the relationship we have with the risen Jesus – who gives us his Spirit - revolves around our determination to die and rise with him. “You were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him . . . .”
I don’t worry a lot about the rising. Jesus will take care of that. But I do spend a lot of time mulling over the dying. How am I to accomplish that today? That is where the Spirit kicks in.
Once upon a time I, along with many other Catholics, thought the only way to die was to ignore the Spirit working in my life and simply give myself over to the will of those exercising authority over me. Things certainly got more complicated when I started studying Scripture. Like our sacred authors, I began to realize my relationships with God, the risen Jesus, and the Holy Spirit took precedence over my relationship with the institution. At that point, I also began to do a lot of haggling. Just wish I were as good at it as Abraham.