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Ordinary Time 17 (C)
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Readings for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

 

1. Genesis 18, 20-32

 

  • The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grave that I must go down and see.  Our God loves justice but, according to the author, needs to hear us speaking out in protest.  Whether or not there are enough innocent people there, there must be many more who cry against them. 
  • Then Abraham drew nearer to him and said, Will you sweep away the innocent with the guilty?  Years ago I played Abraham in this scene from The Green Pastures.  I have to work toward a similar concern about innocent lives, and indeed about all lives in the presence of the God revealed by Jesus “who lets rain fall on the just and the unjust.” 
  • Spare it for the sake of the fifty innocent people within it.  We know that violent movements on the earth will carry away all kinds of persons if not, as in New Orleans, more of the helpless ones than of the rest.  But this reading is mostly about understanding God’s love which overcomes anger and fury.  Let me be as persuasive as I can when I say the patriarch’s words.
  • What if there are five less than fifty?  I may choose to read the dialog as a child trying to get a few more minutes of time with the family in the living room, or perhaps as a planner of a bombing raid who knows many people in the city our air force is targeting.  Or, given that we are in the Middle East, I might speak the words as two people haggling in the marketplace; with one very important difference.  Neither party knows what the outcome will be.  Notice that they do not split the difference and settle for 25.  Something more central is at stake.
  • Please let not my Lord grow angry if I speak up.  Abraham shows the kind of reverence we must always show in God’s presence; he is not playing a game.  Isn’t this the way prayer should be?  If I pray without ceasing I will know how.
  • For the sake of those ten I will not destroy it.  And let me not read as if Abraham has won the exchange.  If I believe in the God of mercy and forbearance, as we chant in Psalm 103, then I should act as if everyone has won.
  • Climax: Over and over, God’s answer of agreement.  I will forbear doing it if
  • Message for our assembly: We are skilled at insisting to God for our own loved ones.  Can we conjure up the same skills to intercede for the stranger among us?
  • I will challenge myself: To find the right voice for a God who cannot accept injustice, but who also listens to us as we intercede on behalf of the just.

2. Colossians 2, 12-14

  • You were buried with him in baptism.  I am beginning in midstream, at the high point of the apostle’s appeal to the faith of the church of Colossae.  If I had read the whole chapter I would have placed the emphasis on “you,” and I think it would be appropriate here as well.
  • Raised with him through… faith in the power of God.  For the apostle, our resurrection meant everything.  I want to pause a little while before saying “faith” to remind the church that he is contrasting our life in Christ with the ecstasies of the mystery rites of his time.  In other words, we are raised not by the power of our imagination, or by a greater sensitivity, or by an emotional high, or by the mantra we chant or the drug we happen to be inhaling; but by the faith we share and our complete trust in God.  God’s “power and might” have nothing to do with Caesar’s or our government’s ability to overwhelm a suspected enemy with shock and awe.
  • Even when you were dead in transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh.  I would say this slowly, to let the assembly overhear it.  It is another way to express our subjection before the grace of God.
  • He (the Father) brought you to life along with him (the Son).  I need to practice until I have distinguished the two persons here.
  • Obliterating the bond against us with its legal claims.  It will sound obscure to everyone, especially if I read it without understanding it myself.  We see “Wanted” posters in the post office.  Our government has set a bounty on certain individuals.  The apostle wants us to imagine ourselves in mug shot on camera, waiting for the Lord to cancel all charges against us.
  • Removed it from our midst, nailing it to the cross.  No other graphic phrase can beat this.  My listeners see the cross portrayed before them.  It is not just the cross of Jesus alone, but a way of access to life for us all.  A little raising of my head in that direction might help us make the visual connection.
  • Climax: With him, spoken three times.  We are in excellent company.
  • The message for our assembly: Do we feel grateful?  Do we feel in need of repentance, as Jesus says?
  • I will challenge myself: To find the connection between the strange phrases in this reading and our lives today under a system of legal safeguards.

Gospel. Luke 11, 1-13

  • As Jesus journeys to Jerusalem, he was praying in a certain place.  The apostles accompany him on the way and they begin to share his life of prayer. 
  • Father, hallowed be your name  And do not subject us to the final test.  Take my time, as if I am reading not a single prayer as such but bullet points for the themes that all our prayer should address.  And let us all wonder why this version is different from the one we find in Matthew.
  • Joseph Fitzmyer constructed a version in Aramaic to give a sense of how the original prayer may have sounded, and I used his results to write a musical arrangement in Aramaic and English.  The prayer is directed to the last days, and I looked to capture this finality in the words and the music.  I want to read it today in that same spirit.
  • Jesus describes prayer in these words: persistence, ask, seek, knock.  I could also say marathon, laying siege, long campaign.  Can I take this to heart myself?
  • Climax: Father, the beginning of the Lord’s prayer.
  • Message for our assembly: We can ask the Lord.  Our faith prompts us to.  Nothing is impossible; do we believe that?
  • I will challenge myself: To project a sense of power in our prayer, so that my listeners and I myself are attracted even more to these acts of union with God.

From Word to Eucharist: Abraham spoke out for his nephew but also for many others.  Jesus gave his life for us all.  Does this memory make us feel more generous to each other?  Are we now become a church bearing each other’s burdens as we process?

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