Spirituality of the Readings
Ask and You Will Receive
When you want something to happen, do you pray to God for it? I have heard a lot of people say they “whisper little prayers.” Excellent. Others put aside time each day for prayer or Mass. A number use this web site to understand and pray about the readings for the coming Sunday.
Of course, in our secular culture, at least in the USA, there are those who do not believe in prayer at all. So, when their friend is having an operation or is traveling or something else, they say, “We will be thinking of you.” This instead of “We will be praying for you,” as we used to say. Thinking?
Others go all out. Years ago, a group of cloistered sisters, called "the Pink Sisters," prayed many months for sunny clear days during Pope John Paul’s visit to St. Louis. Guess what. Sunny clear days the entire time. I was present when his plane lifted off for Rome and I watched the clouds gather afterwards and the rain begin to fall!
Abraham in the First Reading is an example of this obstinacy. His visitors from last week went on their way to the city called Sodom while God waited and told Abraham about God’s intention to destroy Sodom and its surrounding cities because of their depravity.*
Against all reason and expectation, Abraham began negotiating with God, right out loud.
Will you sweep away the innocent with the guilty? Suppose there were fifty innocent people in the city; would you wipe out the place rather than spare it for the sake of the fifty innocent people within it? (First Reading)
God agrees that he will not destroy the city if fifty innocent people can be found. Abraham slyly asks for more. What if only forty-five innocent people are found? God agrees. What about forty? Ok, God says. Abraham goes on and on until he negotiates down to the number ten. God replies, “For the sake of those ten, I will not destroy it.”
As you may know, not even ten innocents lived in the city, so Sodom did get destroyed. But notice, God actually had granted each of Abraham’s requests.
Jesus recommends the same kind of shrewdness. In the Gospel he tells the famous parable about knocking on the door of a friend late at night to borrow some bread. The friend refuses because he and his family are all in bed. Jesus says, “If he does not get up to give the visitor the loaves because of their friendship, he will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence.”
Fine, but why do we have to be persistent and pray to God for the same thing over and over? Why haggle?
Because of love. God is like a good father who cares for his child very much, yet, as a father, he will at times allow deprivation, allow what seems like a non-answer to pleading. But there is something even better that he is trying to give to the child. God always answers our prayers, yet sometimes his loving answer is to sit beside our bed and suffer with us. Look at Christ’s agony on the cross. God’s love will go to any lengths to give us what we most need and want, and that is himself.
When we wait for him, all the rest will be there for us also.
* See Ezekiel 16:48-50 for what was happening in Sodom and surrounding cities. God says, "Look at the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters were proud, sated with food, complacent in their prosperity, and they gave no help to the poor and needy. Rather, they became haughty and committed abominable crimes in my presence; then, as you have seen, I removed them.”
John Foley, SJ
Fr. John Foley, SJ is a composer and scholar at Saint Louis University.
**From Saint Louis University