As Catholics we hear quite a bit about the love of God. We are reminded…
Abraham: The faithful one in a faithless generation
When we’re young, we believe that prayer involves a kind of divine bargain. We get down on our knees. We say the right words. Then, God will act. As we get older, we become disabused of this insufficient account of prayer. This disabuse is often a painful lesson. We pray to God, only to discover silence. We bargain with God, only to see inaction.
With the right mentorship, we often can get through this early crisis of faith. We learn that prayer is not about changing God’s mind, bargaining with God. Instead it is a kind of dwelling, an awareness that our entire lives have meaning only in God’s presence. We don’t pray so much to change God as to change ourselves, to open ourselves to the hidden workings of grace.
But then, there’s Abraham. God comes to him, seeking to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Sodom and Gomorrah were cities of notorious sin. They did not offer hospitality to the stranger. They abused their sexuality, and, at the same time, they worshiped other gods. They did not trust fully in God’s power. God seeks to destroy this nation and unleash the divine justice they so rightly deserve.
But Abraham intervenes. Would God have mercy if there were but 10 righteous men in the city? Abraham’s intervention seems like a kind of haggling. Abraham seems to be the last person between God and an act of wrath. This, of course, is to misunderstand Abraham’s intervention. He is not haggling with God, changing the divine mind. Rather, Abraham is presenting to God a memory.
|17th Sunday of Ordinary Time-July 28, 2019|
God is the one who has mercy, who remembers not only injustice but acts of righteousness from generation to generation. God’s justice is powerful! It does not traffic in unrighteousness. But God’s justice is hopeful, aware that a single righteous person can renew the covenant.
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus’s words on prayer fit within this memory of the covenant. Jesus first gives to his disciples the very prayer he offers to God, what we know as the Our Father. The Our Father is not a prayer that assumes divine haggling as part of human salvation. God is the holy one, the one whose name was revealed in the Book of Exodus. God has entered human history, dwelling among us, feeding Israel with daily bread.
God is Father, the source and origin of all love. And therefore, we human beings can throw our entire trust on God. If God cares for the birds of the field, then what about us? What about us, created in the image and likeness of God? What about us, redeemed through baptism?
This doesn’t mean that every trouble or sorrow will be erased by God. After all, the one who taught us the Our Father knew the fullness of suffering on the cross. He took upon himself everything that men and women could throw at him. And yet, he trusted amid this sorrow that the Father would act. The Father would act because God never forgets the righteous!
In this sense, we can return to the troubling passage in Genesis. Abraham is not haggling with God. Rather, God is giving Abraham an opportunity to show his righteousness: his total fidelity to God’s word. Abraham is the one who has hope, who orients himself to the covenant.
So when we talk with God, let us imitate Abraham, who prays not in a servile manner, but as one who knows how God has acted in the past. This righteous God will intervene, save and never abandon the People of God.
Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D., is the director of education at the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame.