FROM A READING FOR JULY 24, 17TH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
'Because [the man] is his friend, he will get up and give him anything he needs. So I say to you, "Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find..."' -- Luke 11:8-9


Some years ago, when I was commenting on this set of readings, I had a friendly disagreement with the editor of one of the diocesan papers carrying my columns. She objected to my talking about Abraham "haggling" with Yahweh, believing that term bordered on anti-Semitic language. She encouraged me to use a word like "barter" or "negotiate" instead.

I immediately called a rabbi friend, asking his opinion. He assured me, "There's nothing wrong in speaking about a Jew haggling. We're not only known for it, we're proud of it."

That's why the Genesis author included this narrative in her Sodom and Gomorrah story (Gen 18:20-32). If it's a characteristic for which Jews are proud, then Abraham, the ancestor of all Jews must have had it.

Though no Scripture scholar takes this haggling between Yahweh and Abraham literally, the writer not only created this passage to demonstrate the latter's negotiating prowess, but also to show his unique relationship with Yahweh. The author is telling us God is someone you can bargain with -- as long as you've given yourself over to God.

In some sense, Luke's Jesus is telling us something similar in our Gospel passage (Luke 11:1-13). It seems God, like the besieged friend, has a breaking point. Find it and you'll get what you want.

Spirit's all yours
Yet, listen carefully to what Jesus says you're going to get: not a lot of stuff, but, "The Father in heaven [will] give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him."

In other words, if we ask for the Holy Spirit, we're certain to receive the Holy Spirit -- no strings attached.

As we've seen in the past, Luke, more than any other evangelist, is convinced the Holy Spirit is an essential element in our becoming other Christs. In his mind, how would we know how to carry on Jesus' ministry without that Spirit pointing us in the right direction?

At this point in the second half of the first century CE, the Christian community had not yet locked itself into a hierarchical structure. It functioned as the body of Christ because of its deep relationships with the risen Jesus and with one another. As Paul once reminded his Corinthian community, the Spirit not only gifts each member of the community with all the talents that community needs, it also helps them integrate those gifts for the good of the community.

The catch
Of course, as the Pauline disciple who wrote Colossians (2:12-14) believes, the relationship we have with the risen Jesus -- who gives us His Spirit -- revolves around our determination to die and rise with Him: "You were buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised with Him."

I don't worry a lot about the rising; Jesus will take care of that. But I do spend a lot of time mulling over the dying: How am I to accomplish that today? That is where the Spirit kicks in.

Once upon a time, I, along with many other Catholics, thought the only way to die was to ignore the Spirit working in my life and simply give myself over to the will of those exercising authority over me. Things got more complicated when I started studying Scripture. Like our sacred authors, I began to realize my relationships with God, the risen Jesus, and the Holy Spirit took precedence over all other relationships.

I also began to do a lot of haggling. Just wish I were as good at it as Abraham.