17TH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME YEAR C HOMILY 2022
OUR FATHER IN HEAVEN BUT HERE TOO AS THE KINGDOM COMES THROUGH YOUR AND MY PERSISTANCE AND PERSEVERANCE
Lk 11.1-13 Gen 18.20-32 Col 2.12-14
Last week, we looked at the story of Martha and Mary, in reflecting on trying to discern and apply the proper balance between Christian contemplation, prayer, reflection, and action, in our lives. Next thing, Jesus presents us with the fundamental Christian prayer, in revealing a God who is close, personal and loving, as opposed to being perceived as remote and harshly judgemental, to be feared above all.
And so I’ll start in deep space! The recent images of the expanding universe from the new James Webb telescope remind us that we are on precarious planet Earth as the ‘Pale Blue Dot’ (as described by astronomer Carl Sagan, with the image from NASA’s Voyager I, 6 billion km out, beyond the Solar System) in an infinite universe. It’s all part of the mystery of meaning, and the preciousness of life on our planet and all that is part of it.
In Genesis today, we have a picture of Abraham testing fate with his plea bargaining with a more severe and distant God, but with whom he is still game to challenge, in terms of seeking mercy and continuity of life for even a small number among a larger group of apparent sinners, who have persistently turned against the one God who promised he’d be present to guide his people forward on their uncertain and unknown journey of life.
If you’re into numbers, as I am, it reminds me of the old arithmetic progression we heard of in secondary school, as he counts down from 50 to 45 to 30 to 20 to 10 just men among all the sinners, not to forget the women and children, who were probably more just, and less sinners, than the men were, anyway!
Sociologist Peter Berger writes of signals of transcendence in life, little flashes of light which can be argued to point to the transcendent, beyond empirical reality and the secular world around us. He talks about ‘rumours of angels’, where: “People feel in times of great joy, in our never-ending pursuit of order against chaos, in the existence of objective evil (as described in Genesis today), and in the hope there exists some supernatural reality beyond that of human existence.” We can’t deny or escape from the reality of everyday life, but then need to seek meaning beyond that. Therein lies the faith perspective, of a God of life and love, as revealed in the person of Jesus, who comes to enlighten and show us the way.
Berger’s images start with a mother’s love for her child, with the lovely image of a babe in arms, secure and serene (when it is not hungry or hurting!), with the sense that everything is alright (as the Beatles sing, in fact, in ‘Here Comes the Sun’). Then he moves to play and humour, bringing joy and laughter to the human situation, in a way suspending ordinary time and consciousness into a moment of losing and laughing at ourselves. It perhaps relates to our inability to sometimes work out what is going on, taking the example of Woody Allen’s comic existentialism. And he talks about our propensity for hope in adversity, that things can and will get better, not that they always do! Murphy’s Law sometimes wins!!
Religion is a way of making sense of the world, beyond empirical reality, and to help us give our lives focus and order. In giving us the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus makes real the image of a God of love in practice in our human lives. He starts with reflecting on the transcendent, a God in heaven, commanding reverence and honour, but also, a God present to his people, as we see Abraham communicating with him early on, implicitly seeking another chance and more time for improvement, for the majority, who are struggling in the fundamental battle between good and evil, the latter sometimes getting the upper hand!
God’s Kingdom is not a magical fairyland, but in concrete terms, an evolving reality, in an imperfect world, fraught at times with darkness, confusion, conflict, and yet also with goodness, light and hope. It is our role as believers to contribute to building this kingdom up in our own lives, as people of love, justice and peace.
Then we have God’s Will to be done, but I take this as that you and I take responsibility for using our free will well, according to what our conscience, well-informed, dictates to us, in the light of the Gospel Jesus proclaims. It’s certainly not that God’s Will is for whatever happens, for good or for bad, without our involvement in the whole picture. It is that we make this world a better place through our presence in it as people of faith and subsequent action. Look up, hands joined in prayer, but also look around, hands and hearts reaching out to others, is my take on it all.
The hard part comes with the requirement for forgiveness, both of ourselves and of others. Jesus is reassuring in word and deed in the way he demonstrates forgiveness and healing, particularly for the downtrodden. He reflects the God of love as a father who reaches out to his people, but who also demands that we be forgiving of others ourselves. It sounds good in theory, but we know it’s not so easy in practice, when it comes to the crunch with ourselves.
Then there’s the conclusion of today’s Gospel, which calls for constant prayer, not so much in terms of seeking things for ourselves, but in responding to the needs of others, by sharing our bread and resources, not slamming the door on those we don’t like, and so applying the principles of prayer to our own lives.
It’s not so simple as that all of our prayers will be answered the way we want them to be, but more that we are accepting of our own situation, but also doing our best to improve the lot of others, by being and acting as persevering believers, in a God of love and life, whose Spirit guides us on our life’s journey. It’s not always easy, but the Our Father provides us with a roadmap to prayer and action, in responding as people of love, forgiveness and perseverance.
john hannon 24th July 2022