Ask, Seek and Find: Divine Justice and Bold Prayer

User’s Guide to Sunday, July 28

Carl Bloch, The Sermon on the Mount, 1877
Carl Bloch, The Sermon on the Mount, 1877 (photo: Public domain)

Sunday, July 28, is the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C). Mass readings: Genesis 18:20-32; Psalm 138:1-3, 6-8; Colossians 2:12-14; Luke 11:1-13.

Today’s readings speak to the justice of God and the value of persistence in prayer.

The first reading from Genesis is a continuation of last week’s encounter between Abraham and the Lord. At the beginning of this passage, the Lord vows to get to the truth about the sinful cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Cast as a judge, God will not take hearsay as evidence but must confirm that the actions of these people “fully correspond” to the accusations. The Lord intends to head toward Sodom and Gomorrah, but not before he tells Abraham of his intentions.

It is here that Abraham, knowing that his cousin Lot lives in Sodom, begins to ask if the innocent will be wiped out with the guilty. If only 50 innocents live in the city, will the Lord spare them? He ends his first plea by asking, “Should not the judge of all the world act with justice?” This is significant in that Abraham is not asking for mercy, but for the Lord to live up to who he is on the more fundamental level of justice.

Naturally, God responds that he will not make the innocent suffer, so Abraham presses with humble persistence. He gets God to agree that if only 10 innocent men live in the cities, then they will be spared.

This persistence is the theme of the readings today. The Psalmist recalls how he called on the Lord’s help and was answered. St. Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, reminds us that we are not still dead in sin, but through baptism we have been raised to life. Therefore, we need not fear asking the Lord for what we need. We can be confident that he is with us.

As we approach the Gospel from St. Luke, we find Jesus teaching the disciples the Our Father. Persistent in their own desire to ask for God’s help, the disciples, as Jesus’ followers, wished to have their own prayer just as St. John the Baptist’s followers had theirs. The Our Father, then, was a sign of the solidarity between the disciples of Christ.

Then Our Lord recounts the story of a man who goes to his friend at midnight after a long journey and asks for bread. This would have been a significant request in that part of the world, which is why the friend at first denies him. But our Lord tells us, in this context of prayer, that the friend will awaken and relent because the persistent traveler keeps knocking at the door. For this reason, Jesus tells us, in a similar way, we who ask and seek from the Lord can expect to receive what is good.

The temptation in our day, in the midst of the suffering of so many around us, is to refuse to see this good. Another temptation is to think that we need to be perfect before we can dare to ask God for anything. A third temptation is to think that because we are faithful in many ways that we are owed God’s generosity. Whatever our particular temptation, today’s readings are clear: We can and ought to pray boldly and to have confidence that we will receive what is good from the Lord, who loves us as a father.

Omar Gutierrez is a permanent deacon in the Archdiocese of Omaha, Nebraska.

He is the president and co-founder of the Evangelium Institute.