17th Week in Ordinary Time, Sunday, Cycle C (2)

Today’s readings remind us that the reason we pray is because we expect good things from Our Lord, although sometimes we pray to him because we expect bad things to come from him instead. Throughout salvation history Our Lord has shown us that we should expect good from him, not evil.

In the First Reading the Lord sends angels to confirm that Sodom and Gomorrah are as bad as reports say, and Abraham knows what that means: annihilation. The Lord speaks of hearing an outcry over Sodom and Gomorrah. What just souls had already clamored in prayer for the evil taking place there to be ended? Abraham’s cousin Lot lived there, and Abraham knew his cousin was a good man, so he feared the Lord would wipe him and his family out along with the wicked.

It’s almost comical that in his prayer Abraham is trying to give the Lord an ethics lesson: he doesn’t speak specifically of Lot, just the apparent injustice of good men being struck down with wicked ones. Abraham questions whether the Lord will do the just thing or not, which is why he couches his potentially insulting questions with such humility and self-deprecation. The Lord humors Abraham in his discourse, but also says he will spare the city if good people are still there. The Lord is as good as his word, but he doesn’t spare the city. He rescues Lot’s family before destroying Sodom and Gomorrah, and Sodom and Gomorrah fail their last chance to do the right thing (see Genesis 19). Abraham had already dealt with the Lord for years when this incident takes place, but he shows his faith and trust in the Lord is still a little weak.

In contrast to the First Reading, where wicked men are about to be destroyed, in today’s Second Reading Paul reminds us that Jesus took all the wickedness upon himself, wickedness for which he was not responsible, and surrendered himself to destruction on the Cross to destroy that sin as well and any debt owed to God for it. How would Abraham have responded to a good man being struck down for the wickedness of others? That is exactly what Our Lord underwent on the Cross.

Spiritually we face a death sentence for our sins, just as physical death awaits us one day as the consequence of our sins and the sin of Adam and Eve. In Baptism we go down into the depths of death, symbolized by going under the water, but Our Lord leads the way, just as he leads the way for us to arise from the waters into new life. For us this involves a sacramental and spiritual death; for him it meant a physical one, which he undertook to destroy our sins and to free us from sin’s bondage. Jesus, especially on the Cross, continues that conversation with God that Abraham had so long ago by showing us how far God in his justice and mercy is willing to go for us. As we go deeper in prayer, we come to understand that God is a God of justice, but one of love and mercy as well.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord explains the willingness and commitment of Our Heavenly Father toward us using the examples of friendship, persistence, and paternal love. A good friend knows that if he is in a fix he can count on his friends to help him out. The friend asking for bread today is passing along the opportunity to be a good friend: he welcomed a guest into his home in the middle of the night, and he needs help to provide for that guest. Yet even if his friend refused at first, his persistence would pay off: that shows the friend, even if inconvenienced, is a friend who’ll come through.

It is the friendship that gives the confidence to ask, repeatedly if necessary. God is our friend; we can ask him for whatever we need, and he’ll respond as a friend should. However, Our Lord reminds us today that our relationship with God goes even farther: he is Our Father, and no father would give his child misfortune instead of a blessing. Ask today and you will receive; maybe not on your timetable, maybe not as you’d have expected, but the Lord as friend and Father will provide for you what you truly need. He showed that to Abraham in today’s First Reading and he showed it dying on the Cross for us.

In today’s readings we have two examples of persistence in prayer: Abraham in the face of Lot’s possible destruction and the midnight friend seeking aid. Often it is perseverance in prayer that helps us understand ourselves and the motivations for which we are praying. Jesus tells us that the friend in bed does it due to the persistence: he does it to get his friend off his porch. He gives that example to show how much more God answers our prayers when we persist, because we can ask a million times and God never stops loving us. He always listens to our prayers.

Readings: Genesis 18:20–32; Psalm 138:1–3, 6–8; Colossians 2:12–14; Luke 11:1–13. See also 17th Week in Ordinary Time, Sunday, Cycle C, First Week of Lent, Tuesday and Thursday27th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday; and 11th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday.