July 28 is the 17th Sunday in Ordinary time (Year C, Cycle I).
Genesis 18:20-32; Psalm 138:1-8; Colossians 2:12-14; Luke 11:1-13.
Abraham in today’s first reading makes a mistake we often make: We forget that God is truly our Father. Jesus in the Gospel helps remind us of 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 the rules.
Or we may think of him as an eternal killjoy, wanting to quash any fun or pleasure we have as soon as he sees it. We feel we have to be careful what we do or feel judged by his watching eyes.
Abraham expects that God will punish innocent people out of his anger and desire for order, and he tells him he shouldn’t. God agrees. “If I find 50 innocent people in the city of Sodom,” says God, “I will spare the whole place for their sake.”
But Abraham does not take Yes for an answer. He simply cannot believe that God will be loving and kind enough to spare the innocent. So he asks him again. And again.
In doing so, Abraham is a little bit like a child who asks a question over and over because he cannot quite grasp the concept.
Jesus also compares us to a questioning child — and if you compare the kinds of questions Jesus poses about the Father to the kinds of questions our sons and daughters pose about their fathers, you can see what he is getting at.
“Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you,” says Jesus. “What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg?”
Think of the interactions between a small child and a human father — not a dad in front of the TV or on his smartphone, but one who is paying attention.
The child may ask her father for something and might feel like he is ignoring her. She wants a glass of water; he realizes that she just had one and is only asking because she is bored. She wants to watch a movie; he has plans for her to watch something later and wants her to read a book now.
As the small child and the father converse, the father will try as hard as he can to use terms and concepts that she can grasp, but she will have to stretch her abilities a little to fully grasp what he is saying. She wants an easy answer; he can give only honest answers that are not always easy on her terms. She will only partially understand him.
All attentive fathers have faced children who feel like they are not being heard, like they are asking and not receiving or like their fathers don’t have their well-being in mind, since they aren't fulfilling their needs in the way they expect. “You are so unfair!” a child will say. “You say No to everything!”
But fathers have also witnessed the dawning realization in a child that her dad is on her side after all. “You are so great!” a child will say. “You are the best daddy ever!”
As we struggle to understand how God is answering our own prayers, we should keep those children in mind. He is our father. He would never harm us — he does not give us snakes. He gives us only good things.
We should strive to be as grateful for our Father in heaven’s loving care as we would hope a child would be for ours.
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas,
where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.