Father Donald Senior, CP

July 28: 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Glimpses of God

Gn 18:20-32; Ps 138:1-2, 2-3, 6-7, 7-8; Col 2:12-14; Lk 11:1-13

The readings for this Sunday give us a glimpse into the biblical understanding of God. A strong current that runs through all the Bible is a deep reverence for the utter majesty and transcendence of God. Genesis acclaims God as the creator of the universe, the one who set the boundaries of the seas and fashions human beings from the clay of the earth and fills them with divine life through God’s own life breath. God rules the turns and twists of history, fashioning a people for his own and giving them a land of promise.

For the New Testament, Jesus embodies this awesome God, now “become flesh.” Flashes of Jesus’ divine status appear in moments when, like God, he rules the power of the sea or stands in transcendent beauty on the mountain top before his overwhelmed disciples. No wonder the biblical peoples dared not even articulate the name of God, using instead euphemisms such as “my Lord,” or, as Thomas the apostle exclaimed of Jesus, “My Lord and my God.”

Yet as the readings today demonstrate, the biblical authors could also depict God in very human terms, particularly when they wanted to affirm the compassion and mercy of God. Such is the case with the first reading today from Genesis. 

In a famous scene where God contemplates the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah — those cities that are the Bible’s prime exhibits for human depravity — Abraham barters with God in the manner of a Middle Eastern trader. Equally remarkable is the preface to all this when Abraham, fearing God’s impending wrath against these cities (“Will you sweep away the innocent with the guilty?”) seems to admonish God, reminding the Lord of the universe, “Should not the judge of all the world act with justice?”

Then Abraham negotiates with God, whittling down the stakes from 50 to 10, so that if there are 10 innocent people in the city, God will not strike it. Along the way of Abraham’s daring bargain, the biblical sense of reverence peeks through: “Let not my Lord grow impatient if I go on”; “Since I have dared to speak to my Lord”; “Please, let not my Lord grow angry if I speak up this last time.”

The whole point of the story is that God is more inclined to mercy than to punishment. A sentiment also echoed in today’s response Psalm 138: “The Lord is exalted, yet the lowly he sees” and “your kindness, O Lord, endures forever, forsake not the work of your hands.”

This same biblical blend of reverence for the absolute majesty and transcendence of God coupled with God’s tender mercy and nearness to us is found in our Gospel passage for today. First and foremost, we have Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer.

Witnessing Jesus himself in prayer, the disciples ask him: “Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples.” Jesus’ response is the exquisite prayer that is the model for all Christian prayer. 

Luke’s version is shorter than that found in Matthew’s Gospel but has the same spirit. Here, too, Jesus blends recognition of God’s majesty — “Father, hallowed be your name” with confidence that God is attentive to our human needs: “Give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our sins.”

Luke appends some sayings of Jesus that drive the lesson home in very human terms. “What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg?” If we humans are capable of doing good to our children, “how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who seek him?”

In some ways, the Bible can be thought of as testimony to the human quest for God — God who is mysterious, transcendent, far beyond our imagining and a test of our belief. He is also a God of wondrous mercy and compassion, filled with tender love for us as human parents care for their children. This is the mystery of God revealed in Jesus, at once luminously divine yet fully human with and for us.



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