17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Again, the Book of Genesis is the source of this weekend’s first reading. It is the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. The story has fascinated, and sobered, people for a long time. It involves catastrophe and just punishment for sinning against God. Its central points actually are about God’s availability to people in prayer and God’s merciful protection of the faithful. Abraham, regarded as the father of the Hebrew race, the great figure of faith and fidelity, literally converses with God.
Make no mistake. God is almighty and supreme. Abraham is not equal to God in any way. The people of Sodom and Gomorrah have sinned outrageously. God, the just, insists that this vice will result in a divine retribution on them. Abraham pleads instead for divine mercy.
God sets a mark. Abraham asks that the hurdle be lowered. God agrees. Then Abraham asks for a further lowering. God agrees, and so on. It illustrates not bargaining but God’s great mercy.
Humans create their own doom. It stands to reason. Look at the despair war brings upon affected populations. Look at the heartbreak that sin brings upon people.
Abraham realizes the deadly effects of human decisions, such as the decisions leading to immorality in these cities. Nevertheless, he asks God for mercy, but beyond mercy, he asks God for life.
God hears Abraham and extends mercy.
For its next reading, the Church once more this month presents a reading from the Epistle to Colossae. The Christians of Colossae were no different from other Christians in the Roman Empire’s Mediterranean world of the first century. To them, the Christian faith was new. It utterly was opposite the values and attitudes prevailing around them. In the face of such an overwhelming pagan culture, following this faith was a challenge indeed.
Encouraging them, this epistle reminds the Colossian Christians that in uniting with Christ they themselves had died to the culture and to their own instincts. Baptism drowned their sins and their weakness before the pressures of their surroundings and of their nature. In Baptism, they died, but they also rose to life in Christ, with its eternity and strength.
St. Luke’s Gospel supplies us with the last reading. It is the beautiful revelation of the Lord’s Prayer. No prayer has been more beloved by Christians, now and throughout Christian history. Each verse is powerfully, and profoundly, expressive. The first verse is especially telling, setting the stage for all the others. Jesus tells the disciples to address God as “Father,” not as king, ruler, judge or creator, distant and indifferent. It establishes the believer’s relation with God. It shows relationship.
The second part of the reading also is very reassuring. Jesus insists that God’s door is never closed. God always hears the appeals of people. Loving people with an infinite love, God will give them life. He even gives life to sinners, if they repent and in love turn to God.
The reading from Genesis and the reading from Luke, call us to approach God in full confidence that our pleas will be heard. It is particularly comforting when we turn to God after sinning — the cause of eternal death. If we reject our sins and turn to God, our sins will be forgiven.
It is very consoling because the Christians of Colossae give us evidence, as if we need any, that our instincts and all around us can be very difficult to overcome.
Nevertheless, we can overcome sin and all that brings sin. Why? If we are sincere as believers, Christ is in us, with strength, insight and power. He is God. He will show us the way. He will sustain us. He will save us. He is true life. He will keep us safe always.
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