Reflection and discussion questions for the Mass readings on Sunday, July 24, 2016.
Abraham bargains with God to spare the city (Genesis 18:20-32).
Abraham in this reading gives us a picture of mediatorial or intercessory prayer. The issue he raises to God is one of justice, suggesting that it would be unjust if God were to punish everyone in the city if anyone in it were innocent. As it happens, there are not even the ten just men in the city that would be required to tip the balance in favor of leniency. In Genesis 19:4 we read, “Before they went to bed, all the townsmen of Sodom, both young and old - all the people to the last man - closed in on the house.” They call out to Lot to surrender his two guests (the angels to which Lot had given hospitality), intending to engage in unnatural sexual acts with them. The angels warn Lot and his wife and two daughters of God’s intention to destroy the cities of the plain for their immorality and help them flee to another town.
Even though Abraham’s prayer dialogue seems not to have its desired effect of allaying God’s wrath, we see him vindicated in his judgment of the city. It is thoroughly corrupt and so is justly destroyed. But we also see that our own human vision is limited and incomplete, so we can never be entirely sure that what we pray for is in the best interest of ourselves or others. We must trust that God knows best. Only he can judge rightly. Only he knows exactly the state of soul of each one and all the opportunities for repentance that he has provided.
Buried with Christ in baptism, we were also raised with him; all our transgressions are forgiven (Colossians 2:12-14).
St. Paul’s description of new life in Christ stands in sharp contrast to the fate of the perverted citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah. These citizens of Colossae were not unlike those others, “dead in transgressions and the uncircumcision of [their] flesh,” he says. But these latter dead sinners of Colossae have had the benefit of burial, not in the ground, but in the waters of Baptism.
And this makes all the difference. The only antidote to the death of sin is the death of Baptism in which Christ shares his death with us, a death, unlike our own, which has within it the power of eternal life. In his dying is the death of our death-dealing sin and its penalty, which is, Paul says, nailed to the cross with him. In a homily on Baptism, St. Ambrose, the fourth-century bishop of Milan, says that at the death of a Christian, Satan stands by and makes his claim on the soul, based on the fact that it deserves death for its sin. But then Christ steps forward, Ambrose says, saying, “He has died and the debt is paid!” The fate of Sodom and Gomorah is a stark reminder that “the wages of sin is death,” as St. Paul tells us in Romans 6:23.
Jesus speaks of God's sure response to those who pray (Luke 11:1-13).
In this passage from St. Luke we get his shorter version of the Our Father and then a commentary on prayer. This variant form of the Our Father suggests that the prayer we so often say, based on the longer version in Matthew’s Gospel, was probably intended more as a skeletal framework for prayer than as a rote prayer to be repeated again and again. Not that there is anything wrong with doing so, of course, because when we repeat the Our Father with proper attention and concentration, its form sinks into our hearts and informs our other spontaneous prayers, as well.
Jesus’ disciples ask him to teach them how to pray, something that would have been common for the disciples of a rabbi of Jesus’ day. But Jesus’ prayer is unusual in that it addresses God as “Father.” This is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church calls the newness of “filial prayer” in Christ “But his prayer springs from an otherwise secret source, as he intimates at the age of twelve: “I must be in my Father’s house.” Here the newness of prayer in the fullness of time begins to be revealed: his filial prayer, which the Father awaits from his children, is finally going to be lived out by the only Son in his humanity, with and for men.” (CCC 2599). As the eternal Son of the Father, Jesus alone can rightly call God his father. But he freely chooses to admit us to a share of his perfect Sonship, making us sons and daughters of the Father in him. And that theme informs what follows, too, in the commentary when Jesus first asks, “What father among you...” and then answers, “How much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” He explains that the Father’s love is certain to respond to his beloved children, so long as we insistently “ask,” “seek,” and “knock” in prayer.
What phrases in the Our Father are particularly meaningful to you?
How does the Our Father help you understand what kind of a relationship God wants to have with you?
How would you describe your relationship with God right now?
Do you feel like you have great confidence in your friendship with him such that you can approach him for whatever you need?
Realizing that God is your friend, what can you do to approach him more confidently in prayer?
Reprinted with permission from Augustine Institute. Opening the Word by Augustine Institute offers prayers and insights for the Sunday Scriptural lessons. Featuring videos designed to facilitate thought and discussion for faith formation, Personal Prayer Journals and a Group Leader’s Guide, Opening the Word helps you to make the most of the Sunday readings. Opening the Word is one of many programs available at Formed.org.