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Abraham in the first reading this Sunday (the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C) makes a mistake we often make: We forget that God is truly our Father. Jesus in the Gospel helps shows exactly who God is.
When the disciples request, “Lord, teach us to pray,” Jesus responds by teaching them the words of the Our Father. The words treat God as a powerful, but also a tender and intimate, presence in our lives.
We don’t naturally think of him that way.
Like Abraham, we can think of God as a powerful, indifferent authority figure. After all, he is the great rulemaker who gets angry when we break his law. But we take it a step to far, and feel his angry, judging gaze upon us, the eternal killjoy ready to slap us back at any moment.
Or we sometimes think of God in an almost bureaucratic way. When we request something from a government agency, we put our papers in order and wait to hear back. If it comes, it comes slowly. If it is denied, the appeals process is even slower.
When we pray, we can put in our requests to God in the same way. We figure an answer will come — eventually. When it does, it will seem remote and uncertain, as if the providential process delivers it by a chain of causality.
This Sunday’s readings remind us that God is neither a bully nor a benign agent of causality, but is a loving Father.
The first thing Jesus’s prayer does is reset expectations. He teaches the Our Father, which asks for Gods kingdom — his will on earth — to come, for daily bread, forgiveness and an innocent life.
These are the basic building blocks of our happiness, so first of all, we should ask for these, says Jesus. But his lesson doesn’t stop with the Lord’s Prayer.
Jesus realizes this might sound a little dubious. There are plenty of times we knock and the door stays closed, we ask and seem not to receive, we seek and do not find. Jesus explains that too.
“What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish?” he asks. “Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”
When we pray, “Lord, please give me this job, give my children that opportunity, give my brother that spiritual gift,” the Lord knows what we’re asking: “Give me the career I need. Give my children the lesson that will make them stronger. Lead my brother to you.”
God is not a literalist who will give us the job we wanted that would derail us, the opportunity our children want that would be a disaster for our family, or short-circuit the freedom and love which alone can save our brother.
Like a good Father, he will hand us what we need.
To see what a good father he truly is, look at the first and second readings, together.
In the first reading, Abraham faces God with a respectful concern about what will happen to his city. “Will you sweep away the innocent with the guilty?” he asks. God will not. God would spare Sodom and Gomorrah for the sake of 50, 45, 40, 30, 20 … or even just 10 innocent people.
Now consider the Second Reading. The Letter to the Colossians says we are like Sodom and Gomorrah. We “were dead in transgressions,” until “he brought you to life along with him” by “obliterating the bond against us,” after “nailing it to the cross.”
Yes, God will spare a town for the sake of 10 — but more to the point, he will spare all of us for the sake of a single one: His son.
That’s a real Father.
The Gregorian Institute is Benedictine College’s initiative to promote Catholic identity in public life by equipping leaders (the Gregorian speech digest), training leaders (the Gregorian Fellows), defending the faith (the Memorare Army for Religious Freedom), and celebrating Catholic identity (the Catholic Hall of Fame).