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Select Exegesis
July, 24 2013

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Dr. Terrance Callan

Gen 18:20-32 Col 2:12-14 Luke 11:1-13



            For good reason we sometimes wonder if God answers our prayers.  We may wonder on theological grounds - how could God change in response to our prayer?  Even more likely we wonder because of our experience - we do not always receive what we pray for.

            The reading from the book of Genesis is a rather humorous story about God’s giving Abraham what he asked.  The Lord was about to visit Sodom and Gomorrah to see if these two cities were as bad as their reputation.  Abraham anticipated that the Lord would destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, and tried to save them.  He asked if the Lord would destroy the innocent along with the guilty.  The Lord said that Sodom and Gomorrah would be spared for the sake of the innocent if there were as many as fifty innocent people in the cities.  Then Abraham continued to bargain with the Lord and persuaded the Lord to agree that the cities would be spared for the sake of ten innocent people.

            The reading from the gospel according to Luke says that Jesus’ disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray.  Jesus taught them the prayer we know as the Our Father.  He taught them to ask God for the coming of God’s kingdom, daily bread, forgiveness of sins, etc.  Jesus used parables to assure his disciples that their prayer would be answered.  Jesus compared prayer to the case of someone who wanted to borrow three loaves of bread in the middle of the night. Even if his request would not be granted for the sake of friendship, it would be granted so that he would go away and stop disturbing his friends in the middle of the night.

            Jesus also compared prayer to the case of children making requests of their parents.  If parents know how to give good things to their children, this is even more true of our heavenly Father.  Thus Jesus can say, “Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

            Despite these strong assurances that prayer will be answered, we all know that we do not in fact receive everything for which we pray.  The gospel reading helps us to understand this experience.  In comparing prayer to the relationship between parents and children, Jesus asks, “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?”  But if a child asked for a snake or a scorpion, the good parent would not give it to the child.  God does not give us everything we ask for, only the good things we ask for.  Thus Abraham’s prayer that Sodom and Gomorrah be spared for the sake of the innocent was answered.  And we are assured that the petitions contained in the Our Father will be granted.

            More than that, God gives us things that we may not even be aware that we need and so do not ask for.  If we ask forgiveness for sin, we will receive it.  But even without our asking, God has offered us forgiveness in Jesus.  As the reading from the letter of St. Paul to the Colossians tells us, even when we were dead in sin, God gave us new life through Jesus and pardoned all our sins.  Despite Abraham’s intercession, God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19:24-29); not even ten innocent people were found there.  But in Jesus God offers life to sinners, not death, and without being asked.  God takes the initiative.  All we need do is accept God’s gift.


Terrance Callan

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