By Father James Rodriguez
One of the many signs of the genius of the Church is how often the first reading and Gospel are so perfectly paired.
In devising the lectionary, our Church went to great lengths to highlight the many links between Old and New Testaments, which serve as two lungs of revelation.
This Sunday, both readings show us, with typically great beauty, the power and nature of prayer, and at the same time serve as bookends to St. Paul’s spiritual insight. The Word of God, though written by different hands, is always in concert with Itself, and the one Voice that resounds from the waters of Genesis to the trumpet blasts of Revelation speaks clearly to us today.
The first reading is a portrait of prayerful persistence. Abraham engages with God, speaking with great respect and deference but also with the intimacy of close friendship. On the surface it appears that Abraham is wearing God down, negotiating for His mercy. On a deeper level however, we see that God is in control here, answering inquisitive Abraham like the Father that He is. Abraham was growing in spiritual maturity, learning the nature of God, who for even ten people would spare a sinful city.
The truth is that Abraham stopped too soon. For even one person God is inexhaustible in His mercy. Our destruction comes from within, from our selfish refusal to be humble in the face of such a merciful Father. Far from wearing God down, Abraham is exploring His heart, and we would do well to do the same. At every Mass this heart is revealed to us, as the Father feeds His self-starving children.
In that spirit the disciples approach Jesus and ask Him to teach them how to pray. Surely they were accustomed to Jewish prayer practices, but there was something different about His communication with God. They wanted to know His secret, and He was most happy to reveal it: God is our Father! It was precisely this intimacy that the chief priests would later use as a charge against Him, but the simple truth is that this is why He came.
St. Paul, as usual, says it best: “He brought you to life along with him.” When St. Paul speaks of life, in imitation of the Lord Himself, he does not mean this temporary time between birth and death, but the life in Christ for which we were made. This life begins in baptism where He claims us as His own. As the Spirit hovers over the waters at creation, the same Spirit hovers over His new creation every time water is poured over a new Christian’s head, for at that moment the old order passes away and God does something altogether new.
Let us then never grow weary of coming to our Father in prayer. We might be tempted to give up, confusing His silence for absence. The Lord commands us to ask, to knock, and to seek. He calls us to persist like Abraham, whose prayer did not change God’s mind but deepened Abraham’s love. This is the promise inherent in every prayer, from the quick Church visit to the most solemn Mass. In the light of the Blessed Sacrament shines the hope of every human heart: we have a Father who is faithful.
Readings for Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Father James Rodriguez is pastor of St. Rose of Lima Church in Rockaway Beach.