Praying to God

Praying to God

Father Hanly’s homily for 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, teaches us about praying to God.

Readings for Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

  • First Reading: Genesis 18:20-32
  • Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 138:1-2, 2-3, 6-7, 7-8
  • Second Reading: Colossians 2:12-14
  • Gospel: Luke 11:1-13



These are two very strong readings, maybe a little long, too. But I find the first one, one of my favourite readings from the Old Testament.

And, of course, it’s about Abraham and God. And it surprises you when you begin to hear the dialogue between the two. It sounds very much like a place in Brooklyn where they’re arguing over things and bartering over things.

Anyhow, the book begins with

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.”

The Lord sounds very, very tough. And Sodom and Gomorrah deserved every bit of it. They were the worst cities. Among a whole legion of terrible cities, they were the worst of all.

Anyhow, to go on,

While Abraham’s visitors walked on farther toward Sodom,
the LORD remained standing before Abraham.

And now this is where the argument starts, maybe not an argument, because Abraham is a little bit slicker in a way than God, who must always be honest at all times.

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? 

That’s kind of very clever, isn’t it? He’s putting God on the defensive right away. And he adds,

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:

He’s going to jump into it now, because God is on the defensive; the good God always does the right thing.

“See how I am presuming to speak to my Lord,
though I am but dust and ashes! 

Very humble man.

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,

He’s got the upper hand, and he says,

“What if only forty are found there?”

God already knows what He has to say.

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.”

You probably think this is a story of Abraham saving Sodom and God unwilling to save it. But I’ll give it to you very short: this whole passage is to show something extremely important to the Hebrew people in those days.

It is to show something that Abraham, God loves Abraham so much that He will be bamboozled even and forced to do something that He knows out of justice is not right.

And so this little passage comes down through the centuries, and what does it show us?

That even God, even God, must surrender to human beings if their hearts are true and their hearts are good, and they are arguing and fighting for what is right.

And so we end this little passage. But the Jewish people carry it all the way through their history.

Because now (this is maybe four thousand years afterwards) if you go to a Jewish synagogue or to a Jewish temple and you see that they’re having a meeting, you have to have ten men at that place or otherwise there’s no meeting.

And that ten, of course, goes all the way back so that people will remember the ten men and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

It’s a nice story, isn’t it? Yes, no? (laughs)

The next one, this is the second one, the second one is Jesus – the first one is God talking to Abraham – the second one is Jesus, who comes from God, he is talking to his disciples.

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.”

This is Luke’s version of the prayer that Jesus teaches his disciples. The nice thing about it is we all go and we pray every so often, especially when we have special days and we go into church, and we all pray this passage.

What we forget, of course, what we often forget is that Jesus is saying it and he’s saying it not as his prayer to them, he’s saying it as his prayer to the Father, and he’s inviting, he’s inviting all of us to join in that prayer with him as we praise God the Father.

And that’s how the “Our Father” came about. It wasn’t that we pray to God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, it is because Jesus says to his disciples, “I want you to come with me into the circle of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and now by doing that I teach you how to pray, and it’s the entrance rite into knowing that you touch God as I touch the Father.

“And you learn to love each other as I love you. And as I love, you love, and as I do, you do, for you have walked into the inner life of God Himself and it will never be taken away from you.”

And that is why every Mass you will hear us say, “Our Father in heaven, holy be your name, your kingdom come.”

What kingdom? The kingdom of God on earth, not in heaven.

“Your will be done. Your will, not my will, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

“Give us, Father, this day, the bread of life.”

And now you know why at the Last Supper, Jesus takes the bread, breaks it and says, “Take and eat, this is my body.” And he takes the cup, the wine and, “Take this and drink. This is my blood poured out for you.”

And this is what binds us together as a community. We sit at table eating bread, drinking wine, and at the same time one with God and the presence of his Father and the Holy Spirit is with us.

That should be enough. If you want, when you go home, you read the second part, which is very easy, when Jesus says to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend … ” It is a very, very nice passage and it has great meaning.

But at the end of this one,

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?”

Two passages, but a marvellous, marvellous, marvellous explanation to all of life, for from that day on we have what we have here, a community of people, one with the Lord — one with the Father, one with the Son, one with the Holy Spirit — breaking bread together.

And it’s all bound up in one word: love. No love, no party.

“Love one another as I have loved you,” and then you are led into, into another structure, but this one is for the whole world, not just us Catholics, it’s for the whole world that Jesus speaks.

And Jesus dies and Jesus rises and his Father gives glory to his name.

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