FROM A READING FOR JULY 25, 17TH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

"God has now brought you to life with Christ. God forgave us all our sins...." Colossians 2:13

Today's first reading (Genesis 18:20-32) would make more sense if it started with verse 19 instead of verse 20.

But, no matter where it starts, as early as grade school I had learned about this memorable encounter between Abraham and Yahweh - a meeting in which a human being finagles God into lowering an agreed upon price from 50 to 10.

We kids probably liked it because it presented an instance in which an all-powerful being was cajoled into changing his or her mind.

Of course, at that point of our religious formation we knew nothing of biblical myths. Nor did we understand how the sacred Jewish author was trying to project back into Abraham - his or her race and faith ancestor - personality traits in which 10th-century BCE Israelites took great pride.

The writer began this process in the first part of the narrative by stressing the patriarch's passion for showing hospitality. Now, the subject revolves around confidence in ability to negotiate prices. A good Jew can best even Yahweh when they haggle over prices.

Changed view
Yet when one reads the whole passage, including verse 19, the narrative conveys a different perspective on the encounter. Abraham isn't motivated by just an inherent ability to negotiate prices; his brash behavior is grounded in his relationship with Yahweh.

God initially lets Abraham in on the plans for Sodom only because God relates to him in a unique way. Yahweh has singled out this man and his family to do "what is right and just."

In a parallel way, in this Sunday's Gospel (Luke 11:1-13), Jesus teaches His followers a special prayer. They're to employ it not because this particular set of words guarantees those who use it will get more "stuff" than those who know nothing about it, but because it expresses the mindset of someone who has a special relationship with God and Jesus.

The early Christian community never thought the Lord's Prayer was a set, unchangeable "magic" prayer which forces God to grant requests even when God isn't inclined to do so. We know this because the Gospels give us this prayer in two different forms (here and in a longer form, with some different words, in Matthew's Sermon on the Mount).

Relationships count
Later in this Sunday's passage, when Jesus talks about people getting what they prayerfully request, He doesn't insist His followers use special words or phrases. Instead, He constantly brings up friends and parents and children. Relationships are more important in prayer than words.

Our Colossians author (Col 2:12-14) offers the theological background against which to hear the other two readings. Christians are who we are not because we possess some special genetic or racial traits - or because we're privy to prayers no one else has - but because we're "buried with [Jesus] in baptism...and raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead."

Our Christian sacred authors shared a unique belief. They were convinced that those who imitated Jesus' death not only rose with Him, but, in the process, they also became one with Him. When they prayed, they were praying in the name and person of the risen Jesus.

Because of that, they not only prayed in a different way, they also prayed for different things - the things for which Jesus prays.


(07/22/10)