17 Sunday Ordinary Time – July 25, 2010 – Haggling With God
Gen 18:20-32, Ps 138:1-3,6-8, Col 2:12-14, Lk 11:1-13
Even though it is a facet of life, war makes no sense. One of the many ethical conundrums has to do with the killing of innocent people while trying to destroy the real enemy. Especially problematic are the drones, the aircraft without pilots, operated by remote control, thousands of miles away from the battle zone. These aircraft do the most so-called collateral damage caused by erroneous targeting.
Abraham raised the same ethical issue in today’s first reading. He kept asking God not to destroy the sinful cities of Sodom and Gomorrah because innocent people would be killed. Was he being brazen? No. He was being Jewish. The Talmud encourages questions which lead to enlightened discussion. (Catholics, however, are taught not to question God, or our clergy). The passage we heard today implies that God assured Abraham that the cities would not be demolished. However, in the next chapter (Gen. 19:24) we find out that God annihilated the cities anyway. Did God deceive Abraham?
For a moment forget the actions of God. Besides in this morning’s psalm we just thanked God for being both merciful and just. Abraham’s ethical principles were being tested. He was passionate that innocent people should not be caught in the crossfire when evil ones were being destroyed by fire from heaven (Gen 19:24). Abraham haggled with God over the issue and would not stop pressing God until he got a straight answer. Maybe Abraham pushed a little too hard. How often, after a string of “why this, why that” from an inquisitive child will the parent exclaim, “because I said so!”
How about us? How often do we barter with or question God especially when we need something? When we are down and out, addicted, broke, jobless; just got separated or divorced or failed a course, we turn to God even before we turn to others. We also lean upon God in every Mass during the prayers of the faithful with a feisty, “Lord Hear Our Prayer.” What is not so obvious is the way we boldly confront God during the Lord’s Prayer.
Luke’s version of this popular prayer in today’s gospel is shorter than Matthew’s. At the beginning and the end of the prayer we praise God using doxologies typical in Jewish prayer formulas. In between we list the things we want God to do for us. Give us daily bread — meaning sustenance for the future. Forgive us our sins — acknowledging God’s endless love no matter how often we mess up. Deliver us from evil — anytime we or others give in to temptations. We want everything it seems. What are we willing to do or give in return?
Some theologies say we don’t have to do anything. God’s love for us is so merciful we don’t have to worry about being saved. Is that what we think? Then there’s that other side of God, that stern judge we read about in the first reading — the God of justice who wiped out two sinful cities after denying it would happen. This suggests that God just might turn the other cheek especially if we don’t do something about making the kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. Why me, God? Pick someone else to do this work.
In the letter to the Romans, chapter six, Paul says that in baptism we die with Christ but to rise with Christ and go to heaven? — that will depend on how well we live according to the gospel. On the other hand, in today’s passage from Colossians, we read something quite different. In baptism we are risen with Christ and now have the obligation to work for justice and peace. This is a huge expectation and a test of our ethical principles and willingness to cooperate with God. That’s what Abraham was being tested about. Reginald Fuller writes that prayer in the bible is not primarily [a] mystical [experience] but working with God to get the job done [by advancing God’s kingdom]. 
We cannot second guess or mess with God. While there’s not much we can do about natural disasters, we can do something about human made atrocities like bombing innocent people. This means we have to continue asking God for sustenance, forgiveness of sin and protection from temptations and evil. Our petitions are not only for ourselves but others throughout the world.  To pray in this manner is to acknowledge God’s never ending mercy and love.
To be on the safe side, however, and to recognize the God of justice, we had better be sure to do our part in making this planet a safe place for all of God’s people. How? Just ask God, like the gospel said to do. Haggle God (respectfully of course) and good things are bound to happen
1 Fuller, Reginald. Preaching the Lectionary:The Word of God for the Church Today (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press. 1984 (Revised Edition) pp. 489-492
2 Byrne, Brendan. The Hospitality of God: A Reading of Luke’s Gospel (Collegeville: Liturgical Press) 2000) 103-104