celebrates the 28th day of July 2013 as the 17th Sunday
in ordinary time in the Church’s year C. In the entrance antiphon we pray: “God is in his holy dwelling; he will give a
home to the lonely, he gives power and strength to his people. Amen.”
Prayer is at the center of the readings of this day’s Holy Mass. In the first reading, from the Book of Genesis, Abraham intercedes with God on behalf of the condemned cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, again illustrating, as we saw in the first reading of last Sunday, that Abraham holds a special place before God and enjoys a close friendship with him. The intimacy between God and Abraham reminds us of the close relationship God had with our first parent Adam before the latter fell into sin. With Abraham, God reverses Adam’s fall and shows that he is a God who listens to the pleas of his people. In the second reading, from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Colossians, we see Paul’s converts being harassed by Jewish Christians, who want them to obey the old Law of Moses, particularly the law on circumcision. Paul argues that baptism in Christ is all that matters to a Christian because it brings to the baptized the effects of Christ’s death and resurrection. By rising from the dead Christ freed them and us from sin, a feat the ancient Law could not achieve. In the passage of Saint Luke’s Gospel, the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray as John the Baptist taught his own disciples. They realize that their future preaching and mission will need constant help from God. Christ then teaches them to persevere in their prayer to God, who is their Father in heaven. As God listens to Abraham’s persistent appeal for mercy on behalf of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, so too does he listen to us when we appeal to him for help, either individually or collectively, especially during Eucharistic celebrations. In the course of this Eucharist, let us pray for the courage of perseverance in prayer.
The Lord said, ‘How great an outcry there is against Sodom and Gomorrah! How grievous is their sin! I propose to go down and see whether or not they have done all that is alleged in the outcry against them that has come up to me. I am determined to know.’ The men left there and went to Sodom while Abraham remained standing before the Lord. Approaching him he said, ‘Are you really going to destroy the just man with the sinner? Perhaps there are fifty just men in the town. Will you really overwhelm them, will you not spare the place for the fifty just men in it? Do not think doing such a thing: to kill the just man with the sinner, treating just and sinner alike! Do not think of it! Will the judge of the whole earth not administer justice?’ The Lord replied, ‘If at Sodom I find fifty just men in the town, I will spare the whole place because of them.’ Abraham replied, ‘I am bold indeed to speak like this to my Lord, I who am dust and ashes. But perhaps the fifty just men lack five; will you destroy the whole city for five?’ ‘No,’ he replied, ‘I will not destroy it if I find forty-five just men there.’ Again Abraham said to him, ‘Perhaps there will only be forty there.’ ‘I will not do it’ he replied ‘for the sake of the forty.’ Abraham said, ‘I trust my Lord will not be angry, but give me leave to speak: perhaps there will only be thirty there.’ ‘I will not do it’ he replied ‘if I find thirty there.’ He said, ‘I am bold indeed to speak like this, but perhaps there will only be twenty there.’ ‘I will not destroy it’ he replied ‘for the sake of twenty.’ He said, ‘I trust my Lord will not be angry if I speak one more: perhaps there will only be ten.’ ‘I will not destroy it’ he replied ‘for the sake of the ten.’
V/ The word of the Lord.
R/ Thanks be to
As we said in
the introduction of the first reading of last Sunday, and it is worth
repeating, Genesis is the first of the first five books of the Bible. It
deals with the origin of the world, of mankind and of the people of Israel; the
second is Exodus, which recounts the Israelites’ escape from Egypt; the
third is Leviticus, which gives the lists of the laws of the priests of
the tribe of Levi; the fourth is Numbers, which gives the list of those
who came out of Egypt and wandered about in the desert, and the fifth is Deuteronomy, which recounts the main
events at the end of the forty years the Jewish people spent wandering in the
desert under Moses. These five books
form a unit known collectively as the Pentateuch (from the Greek word for five
books), or as the Torah (the Hebrew word for the Law).
The passage of
our meditation is the well-known intervention Abraham made on behalf of the
people of Sodom and Gomorrah, who were about to be destroyed on account of
their numerous sins. Abraham does not question the ancient belief in collective
guilt, but instead shows how God applies it with fairness that will not destroy
the just man with the sinner. The entire people shared the same fate even
though not all of them sinned because the sin of some affected all. According
to that law, if there were about ten just people living in that city, God would
not have destroyed it.
What do we learn
from this reading? The sacred writer of this passage reveals to us the
character of the God we serve. He is a God who is fair in all his judgments and
actions. He will not destroy the just with the sinner. He is also a God who is
ready to listen to Abraham and act on his wishes. This teaches us a valuable
lesson, which is, that whenever we turn to God our Father and call him, as
Christ does in the Gospel, ‘Our Father, who art in heaven’, he readily listens
to us and grants us our wish. At this point, this reading announces Saint
Luke’s Gospel of this day. So God is nearer to us than we sometimes believe he
We learn from
Abraham what Christ teaches us in the Gospel passage of this day, that is, that
persistence in prayer pays. Abraham tries to save the cities of Sodom and
Gomorrah by giving God a hard time, pressing him with his request every turn of
the way. He insists that even a small number of just people are important and
should not be destroy with the rest. Our God is a patient and persevering God,
who does not become angry because Abraham is pestering him with his requests.
Instead he listens attentively to him and reveals his delight in anyone who
repents and comes back to him. He is ready to spare many sinners so as not to
destroy a handful of just people with them. For the sake of just ten people, he
will forget the sins and transgressions of whole cities.
Since the Old
Testament attributed collective responsibility for guilt, where the
consequences of the sins of some are shared by all, the New Testament reasoning
is that the salvation of many (even if they are sinners) can come through the
faithfulness of a few. This prepares the way for the salvation of all mankind
to be brought about by the obedience of one man alone, Christ Jesus.
Let us pray,
brothers and sisters, for our country, Cameroon, and especially for our
leaders, who seem to be leading our country further and further away from our
Creator, through rampant corruption, the promotion of the culture of death
(abortion, euthanasia, pedophilia, homosexuality) over the culture of life. May
the fate reserved to Sodom and Gomorrah not befall us one day! We make our
prayer through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Colossians 2: 12-14.
You have been buried with Christ, when you were baptized; and by baptism, too, you have been raised up with him through your belief in the power of God who raised him from the dead. You were dead, because you were sinners and had not been circumcised: he has brought you to life with him, he has forgiven us all our sins. He has overridden the Law, and cancelled every record of the debt that we had to pay; he has done away with it by nailing it to the cross.
V/ The word of the Lord.
R/ Thanks be to
Like so many of
the churches Paul founded, the community of Colossae was being harassed by
Christians of Jewish origin, who continued to preach aspects of the old Law of
Moses, notably circumcision. That is why Paul strongly intervenes to remind his
followers that when they came from paganism to Christ, they needed baptism.
They did not need either Jewish law or the intervention of a host of angels;
they only needed baptism that brought them under Christ’s protection. Through
his death and resurrection, Christ redeemed them from death and sin.
circumcision, Paul argues, affects the body, whereas baptism, which he calls
“the circumcision of Christ”, puts off the “body of flesh”, that is, cleanses
us of all sins. As Saint Justin puts it:
“We, who by means of [Christ] have reached God, have not been given fleshly
circumcision but rather spiritual circumcision [...]; we receive it by the
mercy of God in Baptism”1.
crucifixion, Saint Paul argues, our sins hang with him on the cross and the
power of the old law to condemn us because of our sins was destroyed on that
same cross. When Christ came out of the tomb at resurrection, we too came out
with him into a new life – free of sin and of everything that surrounds
In his Letter to
the Romans, Saint Paul also speaks of Baptism as a kind of burial with Christ
and of resurrection to a new life, the life of grace (Romans 6:4). Baptism is
therefore associated with Christ’s death and burial so as to rise again to a
new life. As Saint Augustine puts it: “Christ by his resurrection signified our
new life, which was reborn out of the death which submerged us in sin. This is
what is brought about in us by the great sacrament of Baptism: all those who
receive this grace die to sin [...] and are reborn to the new life”2.
Saint Paul then
touches the core of his teaching in this letter, which is that Christ is the
sole mediator between God and man. The basic purpose of this mediation is to
reconcile man with God, through the forgiveness of sin and the gift of the life
of grace, which is a sharing in God’s own life. Christ achieved this purpose by
dying on the cross for all mankind thus freeing all who were under the yoke of
sin and the Law of Moses.
The Law of
Moses, to which the Scribes and the Pharisees had added so many precepts, had
become unbearable and prevented the people from attaining the grace needed for
their salvation. By his death on the cross, Christ cleansed all the people of
the heavy burdens imposed on them by the Mosaic Law.
on the cross did not only rescue the Colossians from sin, it also freed you and
me from our own sins. His death restores
us to life. Let us continue to pray for the courage to turn to Christ and to
Christ alone for he alone holds the key to eternal life. Amen.
Gospel: Luke 11: 1-13.
Once Jesus was in a certain place praying, and when he had finished, one of his disciples said, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.’ He said to them, ‘Say this when you pray: “Father, may your name be held holy, your kingdom come; give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive each one who is in debt to us. And do not put us to the test.”’ He also said to them, ‘Suppose one of you has a friend and goes to him in the middle of the night to say, ‘My friend, lend me three loaves because a friend of mine on his travels has just arrived at my house and I have nothing to offer him”; and the man answers from inside the house, “Do not bother me. The door is bolted now, and my children and I are in bed; I cannot get up to give it to you,” I tell you, if the man does not get up and give it him for friendship’s sake, persistence will be enough to make him get up and give his friend all he wants. ‘So I say to you: Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. For the one who asks always receives; the one who searches always finds; the one who knocks will always have the door opened to him. What father among you would hand his son a stone when he asked for bread? Or hand him a snake instead of a fish? Or hand him a scorpion if he asked for an egg? If you then, who are evil, know how to give your children what is good, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’
V/ The Gospel of the Lord.
R/ Praise to
you, Lord Jesus Christ.
Our Blessed Lord
had a habit of withdrawing from the crowd to out-of-the-way places to pray,
especially when he had to make important decisions. Before he selected from the
crowd the twelve disciples, to whom he gave the name ‘Apostles’, he spent an
entire night in prayer (Lk 6: 12-16). As he was praying, his followers were
watching and wondering what it was he was telling his Father. That is why one
of them, in this Gospel passage, had the courage to ask him to teach them too
how to pray, which he readily accepted.
He gave them
what has come to be known as the ‘Lord’s Prayer,’ or the ‘Our Father’. Saint
Luke’s version is shorter than Saint Matthew’s (6: 9-13), which the Church has
adopted. Speaking of this prayer, Blessed John Paul II said, “When the
disciples asked the Lord Jesus, ‘Teach us to pray’, he replied by saying the
words of the ‘Our Father’, thereby giving a concrete model which is also a
universal model. In fact, everything that can and must be said to the Father is
contained in those seven requests which we all know by heart. There is such a
simplicity in them that even a child can learn them, but at the same time such
a depth that a whole life can be spent meditating on their meaning”3.
One of the first
characteristics of prayer should be simplicity, the simplicity of a child
speaking to his father. More often than not, when we talk to God we are asking
him for something. We are like a child on his father’s lap asking him for a
favor. That is why Jesus says that no father, worth the name, would ever think
of giving his child a snake when the child asks him for a fish, or a scorpion
when he asks for an egg. What Jesus is saying is that God our Father is always
listening to us and is ever willing to grant our requests, when such requests
are reasonable and good for us. We saw him ready to do just that when Abraham,
in the first reading, asked him to spare the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah for
the sake of just a handful of righteous people. Abraham asked and received,
sought and found, knocked on the door of God’s mercy and it was opened to him.
For our Father
to hear us and grant our request, we must approach him with humility. In our
prayer to God, we must first seek spiritual good, that is, the grace to love
him more each day. We should ask him only for those material goods that bring
us closer to him. We can ask him for good health, economic well-being, or a
job, but it should those things that will bring us closer to God and not far
from him. God always wants the best for us. Our happiness is what he wants
because happiness fully identifies us with his Divine will.
1. Saint Justin, Dialogue with Trypho, 43, 2; quoted in The Navarre Bible, Captivity Epistles, p. 177).
2. Saint Augustine, Enchiridion, 41-42).
3. Blessed John Paul II, General Audience, March 14, 1979.
4. Saint John Mary Vianney, Selected Sermons, Fifth Sunday after Easter.