God gives us second chances to get it right

  • July 14, 2010
17th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) July 25 (Genesis 18:20-32; Psalm 138; Colossians 2:12-14; Luke 11:1-13)

We are all familiar with the fire and brimstone story of Sodom — perhaps a bit too familiar. There are many strange overtones to the story. First of all, despite the alleged enormity of their sin God is somewhat in the dark and has to go down to check things out Himself — never mind His omniscient nature.

Abraham stands before God as if before a human being. Then there is the haggling and bargaining that Abraham engages in. He almost sounds like an auctioneer! And in the course of his haggling he upbraids God and “shames” Him into behaving as God should! We might also ask if it is proper for God to nuke an entire city for the failings of its inhabitants.

There is much to cause discomfort to our modern theological sensibilities, for the God of this story is painted over with a great deal of human projection and folklore. But what is Sodom’s sin? Ancient sources paint a portrait of ungodliness and sin of which sexual immorality is merely one aspect among many. In Jeremiah 23:14 adultery, lies and siding with the wicked comprise their offences against God. Ezekiel 16:49 refers to their extravagant prosperity and their unwillingness to help the poor and the needy. In 3 Maccabees 2:5 arrogance is the cause of their downfall, while only Jude 1:7 points to sexual immorality. The rabbinic sources such as the Mishnah as well as Josephus point to economic injustice, blasphemy, bloodshed and excessive wealth. There is also reference to a hatred of outsiders that was manifested in the egregious and abusive violation of hospitality narrated in the story. These are not modern reflections but what tradition — both Jewish and Christian — has to tell us of Sodom’s sin against God.

It is clear that most of the folks in Sodom were not nice people. Their sins were wide-ranging, covering most areas of human activity, and this should warn us of making snap judgments or focusing on single-issue answers to human situations. The main point of the story is that just a few godly and upright people can hold up an entire city and we should never think that our efforts are in vain. Goodness, decency, justice and holiness pack a lot of positive energy. We are never as helpless or ineffectual as we fear. Look around — there is a lot of work to be done.  

The God presented in Colossians does not threaten annihilation. God always provides a way out of the pit that we create for ourselves. Humans could never overcome the burden of our collective sin but the power of God can. In Christ we are provided with a second chance through the life-giving spirit that God bestows on us but that spirit has to be taken to heart.

Luke’s Gospel is a treasure trove of passages on prayer. It is only in this Gospel that Jesus stops along the road to Jerusalem to give His disciples an extended teaching on prayer. The thread that runs through these rather amusing stories — and they were intended to be amusing — is persistence. So often the approach that people have to prayer is the “vending machine” model. Insert the prayer, make a selection and then wait for the request to drop into one’s lap. But Jesus insists that is not enough — we have to become veritable gadflies or pests, pounding on the door of heaven until our prayers are granted. The stories are a rather folksy way of saying that prayer is a co-operative undertaking. We open a channel when we join our own spiritual energy with the spirit of God in prayer. The amount of energy, dedication and sincerity that we put into our prayer makes a difference. What if 50, 40, 30 or even 10 people in the story of Sodom had been praying fervently for the well-being and conversion of their fellow citizens? How many just and righteous people are in our own community or city? Are we one of them? Fervent and persistent prayer on behalf of our world is the greatest gift we can give.

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