Opening reflection (taken from Magnificat magazine, www.magnificat.com): The disciples watch Jesus pray, and once He finishes, they beg Him, “Lord, teach us to pray.” Do they not know how to pray? Of course they do … but they want to pray the way that Jesus prays … they want to experience the union and confidence that Jesus experiences when He prays. That is why they must have rejoiced – after they got over their shock – when Jesus instructed them, “When you pray, say: Father.” For when we belong to God as His children – because we have been “buried with Christ in baptism” – we possess the audacity, like Abraham, to pray for what seems outrageous or impossible. In begging the Lord to teach them to pray, the disciples beg to live their lives with the certainty, passion and conviction of Jesus Christ.
(This weekend’s Scripture readings are available in the New American Bible translation at the Vatican’s English website at http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0839/_INDEX.HTM.)
First Reading: Genesis 18:20-32 (Revised Standard Version)
A reading from the book of Genesis.
In those days, the LORD said: “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry which has come to me; and if not, I will know.”
So Abraham’s visitors turned from there, and went toward Sodom; but Abraham still stood before the LORD. Then Abraham drew near, and said, “Wilt thou indeed destroy the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; wilt thou then destroy the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from thee to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from thee! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” And the LORD said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.” Abraham answered, “Behold, I have taken upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking? Wilt thou destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” Again he spoke to him, and said, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.” Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak. Suppose thirty are found there.” He answered, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.” He said, “Behold, I have taken upon myself to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.” Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak again but this once. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.”
The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Meditation: God’s mercy is powerfully displayed in this passage, which continues the remarkable encounter (begun in last weekend’s first reading) previewing the Incarnation. Not only two angels but also God Himself take human form to meet and eat with Abraham and Sarah and personally deliver the news that God will keep His promise and that barren, aged Sarah will miraculously bear a son (namely Isaac).
There was a second purpose to this most physical of theophanies (incidences in which God makes Himself personally known to one or more human beings). Abraham’s nephew Lot, whose herds and servants had clashed with those of Abraham (Genesis 13), had chosen to settle his family in Sodom, one of the most depraved cities (along with neighboring Gomorrah) in the land of Canaan. Abraham had come to the aid of the two cities’ kings when they – along with Lot – had been defeated and captured by an enemy alliance (Genesis 14, ending with the offering of bread and wine by Melchizedek, eternal priest of God Most High). But their deliverance apparently had not led Sodom and Gomorrah to repent. God, who of course well knew their depravities, was prepared to destroy them. And yet He says “I mean to find out” – personally – whether their deeds were as heinous as “the outcry which has come to Me” indicates.
Could God truly not be certain? Perish the thought; though Jesus in His humanity “grew in knowledge and wisdom” and did not use all His powers while on earth, there’s no indication that God had set aside any of His omniscience in this theophany. His words instead illustrate His mercy: Sodom and Gomorrah would have one last chance to demonstrate repentance. And He sent the two angels who had taken human form along with Him (as Raphael would later do in the Book of Tobit) to Sodom for just that purpose. Not only that: He listens to Abraham as His chosen servant, patriarch of the future people of Israel, “bargains” with God for the safety of the city where his nephew lived. This is no wrathful god of the type imagined by Abraham’s neighbors, striking down mere humans who dared to approach Him! Face to face, as though they were brothers, God listens and responds to Abraham. If there were 50, 45, 40, 30, 20 – even a mere 10 – righteous people in Sodom, He promised not to destroy the city.
Alas, as Genesis 19 tells us, there were only three: Lot and his two daughters. But even then, God showed mercy through His two angelic visitors, who saw to their escape. (Would that Lot’s wife had stayed with them; alas, because she had fallen in love with Sodom and all it was, she was overcome by the “fire and brimstone” – most likely an earthquake that caused the colossal combustion of gases and petroleum in the vicinity – that God permitted to engulf these two irreparably wicked towns.)
Scripture does speak of the “wrath of God,” a fact that critics of Judeo-Christian beliefs are only too quick to seize upon. But though God allows the wicked to suffer the consequences of their rebellion – to the point of restraining His hand when human or natural forces overcome them – He is far more active in His mercy. Remember the remarkable tale of Genesis 18.
Second Reading: Colossians 2:12-14
A reading from the letter of St. Paul to the Colossians.
Brothers and sisters: You were buried with Christ in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, having canceled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands; this he set aside, nailing it to the cross.
The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Meditation: Paul continues his compact presentation of the Good News to the Colossian Christians whom he had never met but nonetheless loved as brothers and sisters. This brief passage reassures these Gentiles that though “salvation is from the Jews,” Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection took place to redeem all humanity. Before they heard the gospel, they were lost in their sins; the “uncircumcision of your flesh” testified that they had neither been included in Israel nor even been exposed to God’s mighty deeds among the Chosen People of the Old Testament. Their legal condemnation, however, sprang not from Israel but from the Fall in Eden. When they received the saving faith and the cleansing waters of baptism, all that was washed away for them just as surely as it was for the Jews who received and accepted the Messiah long promised by the patriarchs and prophets. Most who will read this are Gentiles in the eyes of the Mosaic Law that was nailed with Christ to the cross. Let us all rejoice that Jesus is not only King of the Jews but the heavenly King of all!
Gospel: Luke 11:1-13
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke. Glory to You, O Lord.
Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he ceased, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And he said to them, “When you pray, say:
“Father, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread;
and forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive every one who is indebted to us;
and lead us not into temptation.”
And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, `Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, `Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him whatever he needs.
“And I tell you, Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ.
Meditation: One should not read too much into the truncated rendering of the Lord’s Prayer that Luke gives here. Though Paul’s “beloved physician” wished Theophilus to have a complete account of Jesus’ words and actions, that did not prevent him from briefly summarizing certain events in his Gospel, particularly if one of the earlier Gospel writers had already written them down (as Matthew had written down the “full” Lord’s Prayer within the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:9-13).
We need to focus instead here on the intimacy and the mercy with which God deals with humans who approach Him in faith. Jesus says we not only may but should call God “Father”; Enoch, Abraham, Moses, David and Elijah would have understood and approved. By using the example of the man petitioning the friend whose family already had bedded down for the night, Christ tells us that we not only may but should persevere in prayer, as Abraham did in Genesis 18. And for what should we persevere in asking? The daily needs of our life, to be sure. But we should always be asking God to send us His Spirit, to conform ourselves to His will, to gather all humanity to Himself – not for selfish grants of earthly power, riches or pleasure. How should we pray? Follow Jesus’ directions and example. God’s answer may come in a hour or a decade. But He will grant what we ask for in faith!
Close with individual prayer, followed by Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be