Studying God’s word

Genesis 18:20-32
Colossians 2:12-14
Luke 11:1-13 [111C]
The readings for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time take up the topic of prayer. Whether it is Abraham’s prayer of petition or Jesus’ prayer taught to the disciples, our faith tradition teaches us to be bold in our prayers with God.
The first reading from the Book of Genesis is a continuation from last Sunday where Abraham initially encounters three visitors. Abraham honors the visitors with his hospitality and the visitors, in turn, announce the unexpected good news of the birth of a son for Abraham and Sarah. In today’s reading, Abraham also discovers that the visitors have come to investigate the report of the “sin so grave” occurring in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. As the visitors begin their journey toward these cities, it is reported that “the LORD remained standing before Abraham.” So Abraham decides to pose a question to God: “Will you sweep away the innocent with the guilty?” Abraham’s question to God stems from his concern for his nephew Lot; Lot and his family, who did not participate in the grave sin of Sodom, were living in the city of Sodom (see Gn 14:11-12). Abraham then asks a series of questions that really addresses the question of divine retribution: How does God judge and discipline us? Are innocent people sometimes punished for the sins of the guilty people? The question about divine retribution is both an ancient and a modern one. Abraham teaches us to have faith in God who invites us to be in dialogue with him, even on the tough questions like divine retribution. This first reading teaches us to ask these questions in prayer, to be bold in our dialogue with God. 
In the Gospel reading for today, we hear Jesus teach a very similar lesson on prayer to his disciples. Still on his journey to Jerusalem with the crowds, opponents, and disciples following him, Luke reports (once again) that Jesus went off to a deserted place to pray by himself. When Jesus finished praying, one of his disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples.” Jesus takes the opportunity to teach his disciples what we call today the “Our Father” prayer. (Compare this shorter version in Lk 11:2-4 with the more familiar version of Mt 6:9-13). Like Abraham’s prayer to God, this prayer is bold. It acknowledges our total dependency on God, challenges us to forgive others, and speaks of “the final test.” Jesus then goes on to elaborate what he means with this simple prayer. Be persistent in your prayers to God; God will listen. Do not be afraid to ask, seek, and knock on the door; God will respond with the gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus teaches us to have a persistent faith that constantly seeks God as the source of addressing our wants
and needs.
In the second reading from his Letter to the Colossians, Paul speaks about the cross of Christ removing the obstacles (the legal claims of the Mosaic law) that separated Jews from Gentiles. Most scholars argue Paul is writing primarily to a Gentile Christian audience because of the language he uses in describing the recipients of this letter: “you were dead in transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh.” For Paul,
through our common faith in the crucified and resurrected Christ, all believers (whether Jew or Gentile) experience the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus through the sacred ritual of baptism.

Dr. Daniel J. Scholz