Seventeenth Sunday of the Year
The scriptures invite us to continually check our image of God. It seems that a critical and questioning faith is not only acceptable but is vital. Many see God as judgmental, angry, vengeful, vindictive, dominating or simply aloof. Certainly not tender!! It is reinforced by many who claim to be believers. In the face of injustice, violence and corruption God seems to invite questioning. Abraham keeps posing the question of justice and compassion and keeps doing it because his view of God is of one who will act justly he is emboldened to pray/argue/protest as he does. Abraham was being stretched as to the meaning of true justice and true humanity where the world is not abandoned to destruction.
His intimacy with God, knowing the heart of God, enabled him to intercede not only for his own kin but beyond, ’all the families of the earth’(cf. Gen 12:3). For us, how often do we intercede for people whose ethical, sexual, personal, moral stances we find objectionable. God is engaging and encouraging us to think critically about the norms of justice and judgment and not just to accept decisions and norms of some so-called ‘divine’ or social authority. We often come across words of protest in the scriptures and not from cynics or scoffers but from God’s prophets. Though the words might include as In Habakkuk 1:2-3 ‘God do you see? Do you see the violence? Do you see the injustice? If you see it, why do you tolerate it? Why do you not act?’ This protest expresses a passionate longing for peace and justice; a protest against all kinds of abuse, greed and corruption; a protest against violence and oppression of every kind. Yet, we are resisting forces more powerful than ourselves and we need God to act. Our prayers of protest against injustice and violence are welcomed by God. Justice and peace are some of God’s deepest passions. So, when we pray prayers of protest it seems that God’s own passions at work within us, moving us, empowering us, drawing us ever more closely together. Awareness of our own experiences of suffering or the suffering of others, may enable us to feel the same outrage and passionate longing for justice and peace that God experiences. Our protest flows from the heart of God.
The prayer Jesus teaches the disciples is an affirmation of his worldview and how the good news might be manifested in us. Familiarity with the Lord’s Prayer numbs our appreciation of its radicality and subversiveness. Luke presents what we know as the Lord’s Prayer as a response to the disciples’ request about prayer. This prayer of the community shows us how prayer ought to touch us and how to walk this earth as members of God's family. It touches on our responsibility for one another and for the Earth. It challenges the voices we listen to: compassion, justice, nonviolence, care for others and Creation, or to division, violence, war, materialism and consumerism and neglect of others. God’s reign is not about political power but belongs to the poor, the liberated, excluded women, forgiven sinners. Hence, we pray for bread every day; forgiveness as we forgive; and freedom.
Opening ourselves to the Spirit can lead us on the way of compassion, and transformation, not just as individuals but challenges us to become a community of compassion and justice that ensures all of God's children have ‘their daily bread’. It reminds us that God’s reign is a reign of justice, healing, mercy, and love on earth - not in heaven.
The world needs to come to an awareness that God loves us unconditionally. This awareness empowers us to be reconcilers, peacemakers, healers in our society by removing barriers that prevent justice. We must face here what is called the ‘scandal of the particular’ where the God of Jesus cares about the individual person as also highlighted in the Abraham story. Coming up soon are the anniversaries of the bombings of Hiroshima (August 6, 1945) and Nagasaki (August 9, 1945). This had nothing to do with God. The destruction was made possible because Japanese people we viewed as less than human as were the Vietnamese. And we have done in the church with women and people of other sexual minorities. The Abraham story and the gospel highlight the value of one human life against the possibility of vilification of a whole nation, a group, a race, a tribe. We are forced to confront those parts of ourselves that want to reduce the value of another so that they can be destroyed in some way by killing, dismissal, and marginalisation. If we make them ‘Japs,’ then killing them is not the same as killing a fellow human being. If we make them ‘fags’ then vilifying them is not the same as doing it to a fellow human being. If we make them ‘rag heads’ then profiling them is not the same as doing it to a fellow human being. If we make them ‘revolutionary guard’, then bombing Iranians can be justified.
We attend to our daily lives while people somewhere else are bleeding and suffering and dying whether on the open seas, villages in Afghanistan or Yemen, or elsewhere in the Middle East of the Amazon. Abraham stands for each one of us. Each one of possesses a particular and deeply human voice. We possess a human heart that is filled with the Spirit of Love, the Spirit of Jesus, the ‘prince’ of peace. Each one of us can be an Abraham who does not need to bargain with God but to speak to those in power. We have the power to speak, to penetrate the shadows and the fog rather than be silent about things that matter. Why are we so silent? Silence will not help bring our world to the standards of God’s Reign. Our baptism calls us to live differently. To follow or embody Jesus involves recognising the needs of the poor, the hungry, the forgotten - and responding constantly. We do not have to go far to encounter people and families who cannot meet their basic needs. We cannot just ask for change we need to bring it about. The present realties of our world cannot remain unchanged.
Luke reminds us how prayer should affect us. The petitions are really prayers for liberation. To ask for bread is to ask for everybody where no one is left hungry today or tomorrow. It is more than the passing thought we offer at grace before meals before we ‘tuck in’. Let us plead that the new era of love – peace with justice - be ushered in when no one has too much and no one starves. That is the new era! To ask this is really asking for change and to be part of that change.
God is approachable and flexible. Elizabeth Johnson says the Spirit of the living God, 'at her closest to the world pervading the whole and each creature to awaken life and mutual kinship' is not neutral in human affairs. It involves us in God's passion. It frees captives and favours the oppressed. It is bound to compassion for the world and reveals God's power to heal. It connects us with God, people and the world. It works to overcome any dichotomy, bridge gaps, and works in us to bring justice to those who cry out for it. A generous image of God begets a generous image of the human. Jesus’ prayer offers us a model of a God who cares passionately about what happens to us today; a God who does not love us or delight in us from a distance, but is a whisper away.
We are called to be the Body of Christ - to be light, to be salt, to be leaven for the world; to be bread for the world; to trust utterly in the God who made us, knows us and loves us, calls us by name and listens to our prayers for the world. ‘Give us this day our daily bread.’ Not just me, but all of us – day by day.
‘When we see the pain, when we feel the grief, when we look upon the loneliness, when we touch the wounds, when we hear the cries, we know, we know that God will go to any lengths for us, God will never be separated from us, that loving us is written into God’s DNA, that there’s no part of God that has any desire to be except to be with us, that Jesus is the embodiment of the way God’s destiny is wrapped up in us forever. Any other notion of God, any other speculation about God’s wishes, any other idea about what lies at the heart of God is gone. Over. Dispelled. Finished.’ (Samuel Wells A Cross in the Heart of God: Reflections on the death of Jesus)