CACINA

Homily for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 24)

Posted in Uncategorized by Fr. Ron Stephens on July 22, 2016

Homily for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 24)

Today’s readings are all about the Scriptural concept of prayer – what it is, how it is to be used, what type of prayer is called for and when we should pray.

The Old Testament story of Sodom and Gomorrah is a story about sinning against hospitality. Despite what some fundamentalists claim, it is not about homosexual behavior, but about how we ought to treat visitors and guests and aliens. The cities were destroyed because they showed no care for the stranger. The section we read today occurs after the inhospitality has been carried out.

Abraham rightly says to God: “You are going to destroy everyone because of the great sin of a few?” The doesn’t sound very just to me, and yet we say God is justice! So Abraham uses prayer to bargain with God. And he not only bargains with God but he gets more cheeky with each request. ‘If I find 50 people will you not destroy the town? How about 45? 30? 20? 10?’ Abraham is relentless – like a child wearing down a parent for something he wants.

And God listens. God changes his mind – a number of times! Unfortunately for Sodom and Gomorrah, there were not 10 good people in the towns, and so they were punished and destroyed. But Abraham certainly tried. He did manage to save his nephew Lot and his family.

But what does this tell us about the Jewish concept of prayer?

First of all, it is personal – there is a relationship going on here. You sense the closeness of Abraham and God by the way they talk to each other. Secondly, we can change God’s mind through prayer. God actually listens to us! Thirdly, prayer is not always about ourselves but it is about others. Abraham wanted to save those people. His love for the people of the towns was able to soften God’s heart.

The Psalm today, Psalm 138, is also about prayer. Through this Psalm, which is itself a prayer, of course, we learn about prayers of thanksgiving. Besides asking for things, we use prayer to thank God for the things God has already done for us. That is something that I find missing a lot today. When my children were small we always taught them to write Thank You notes whenever they received a gift. I guess it never quite took because they don’t seem to do it as adults, and aren’t teaching their children to do the same. I’m not sure if this is true in your families, but we seem to take thank-you’s for granted today, or we message someone a quick thanks, which doesn’t somehow seem quite appropriate to me. So we need to ask ourselves if we are always just asking God for something without ever taking the time to thank God when our prayers are answered, or just to thank him for a beautiful day we have had. Many of the Psalms are just “Thank You” psalms.

The Gospel today includes the Lord’s prayer, the Our Father.  It is in a different form than we are used to saying. Apparently each community of early Christians had a slightly different way of saying it – there were no written copies early on. I want to recommend a book to you that I am finding quite amazing on the topic of the Lord’s Prayer. It is by Dom Crossan called “The Greatest Prayer”.  Crossan was one of the presenters at the last conference I went to, and I enjoyed his Irish humor and wonderful scholarship. I am finding this book so fascinating that i may even run a workshop based on it, so I highly recommend it. You will never think of the Our Father in the same way. So much for my little advertisement this morning!

In Luke, it is one of the apostles who suggests that Jesus might teach them how to pray. Jesus prays a lot in Luke, more than int he other Gospels. Luke notes that he prays before big events, like when he is baptized, when he picks the apostles, just before he tells them he is going to die, and even before the transfiguration. So it is easy to see how the apostles might want to know more about how he prays.

In Luke’s version of the prayer we begin with two sections of praise of God, followed by three sections of asking for something.

It is not a personal prayer. We note that the pronouns are plural – it is about community and is primarily aimed at our wish to be part of God’s kingdom. The first petition is to give us our daily bread and while we look at that now with the Eucharist in mind, it probably more properly belongs with the readings from last week when Jesus tells them to take no food, but to eat what is given them. The second petition is for forgiveness, but rightly as we have seen in so many of Jesus’ parables, forgiveness to the extent that we are reciprocal in forgiving the debts of others. This will be part of the message about possessions that we will hear in the Gospel next week.  The last petition asks that we not be tempted to do wrong, or it could be the word “trial” which some translations use, and in that case the meaning could be asking God to protect us from the final days of evil before the second coming, which they referred to as trials.

So here we learn that prayer can be communal and not just personal. When we celebrate Mass for example, we are celebrating the communal prayer as Jesus asked us to do “in memory of [him]”.

The rest of the Gospel today is a group of parables, the first one  illustrating that we must be persistent in our prayer, just as our friends will cave in to our requests if we hound them. God is more than a friend but will do the same.

The next parable shifts from friends to parents, an even closer relationship. Children get what they want often by persistence, wearing down a parent. God is no different, Jesus says. He can be worn down by our persistence as well. And if parents are able to give good gifts to their children, how much more will God be willing to give us.

The final reference is to the greatest gift – the Holy Spirit. That can be God’s greatest gift to us each day, but we have to ask for it and accept the Spirit into our lives.

So, this week, you might want to examine your prayer life – if you have one. Many of us don’t these days. We need to do two things in prayer First, praise God and thank God – that is the predominate prayer of our community at Mass each Sunday, but secondly, we can also ask for what we need, unrelentingly, and sometimes we will get it. Do we pray each day? Do we praise each day? Do we break down the doors of heaven with our needs each day? Certainly something to think about this week and the really Good News is that God listens and answers us, even if it is not always the answer we want to hear. God bless.

Ronald Stephens

Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and pastor of St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[Volume 3 (Luke) of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast from the last Cycle C, is available from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

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