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17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 28, 2013 (Genesis 18:22-32; Colossians 2:12-14; Luke 11:1-13) The “bargaining” between Abraham

and the Lord is a classic piece of theological reflection on how prayer might be explained. Abraham begins tentatively, but confidently, in reminding the Lord that there is more to consider than the sin present in Sodom (and Gomorrah). There is a question of righteousness. Abraham asks where the righteousness of the Lord is if the innocent are swept away with the guilty. In typically Semitic fashion, Abraham starts with an arbitrary number of fifty innocent men, asking if the Lord will destroy the city if fifty righteous ones can be found. The Lord promises to spare the city if fifty righteous can be found. The simplicity and poetic touch of asking the fate of “five less than fifty” shows that this is not simply story-telling; it is poetry in motion! Abraham gets bolder as his plea continues for only thirty or twenty or only ten righteous people in the city but when he reaches ten he stops. The Lord promises not to destroy the city if only ten righteous ones can be found there. The righteousness of the few would spare the many, until Abraham stops asking the Lord at the number ten. Later rabbis taught that if ten religious people could not be found in a city a person should move. The rabbis also set ten (men) as the minimal number (minyan) needed for public worship to begin. Some preachers love to jump all over divine wrath as an explanation for every destructive act of nature that occurs everywhere in the world at any time. One lesson we can derive from this encounter between Abraham and the Lord is simply that at some point their conversation ended in silence. That silence is called for every time somebody wants to start spouting off about God’s will. Not even Abraham knew the mind of God, and at some point he ended his plea in silence, which remains golden.

The Gospel begins with Jesus at prayer, followed by one of his disciples asking him to teach them to pray like John (the Baptist) taught his disciples. We do not know what John taught his disciples but we certainly know what Jesus taught in answer to his disciples’ request, the time honored “Lord’s Prayer” with Luke’s unique version. Space prevents a thorough analysis here but readers would do well to compare this version with Matthew’s (Matthew 6:9-13). In both cases Jesus “teaches” (as compared with “commands”) the disciples to pray in this fashion. We are taught to pray as Jesus himself did, by calling God “Father.” The second part of the prayer makes clear that the prayer is used by a community by the use of the first person plural (“Give us…forgive us…do not subject us…”). Matthew clarifies this early, by beginning the prayer “Our” Father. Many commentators are struck by the “noble simplicity” of addressing God as Father in contrast with often complicated liturgical utterances in some Jewish liturgical prayers; many collect prayers are similar. The Jewish Prayer of Eighteen Benedictions begins: “Lord, God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob! God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth! Our Shield and the Shield of our fathers!” Compare that with the collect for the 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time: “Almighty, ever-living God, whom, taught by the Holy Spirit, we dare to call our Father…” Then look at today’s Gospel again: “Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come.” The parables on prayer which follow emphasize the need to keep asking in prayer. Abraham ended his appeal at ten. Jesus insists they we keep on praying. Persistence has its own reward. Fr. Lawrence Hummer