Prayer in Genesis and Luke

On one level, this Sunday’s readings from Genesis and Luke both inculcate perseverance in prayer. It is surely an important point because many people give up on prayer fairly quickly "if nothing happens." Abraham certainly keeps after God. And, to judge from Luke 11:5-8, Jesus would applaud such boldness. Yet both readings say something special about prayer. In Genesis 18, Abraham comes to God with two specific requests. First, his nephew Lot, whom he has already indulged and protected (Genesis 13-14), is in danger once again. Abraham has learned that God intends to destroy the city where Lot lives (Sodom) because of its wickedness. Desperate to rescue his nephew and his family, Uncle Abraham wrests from God a concession: even if there are only ten righteous people in Sodom, God will not destroy it. But when God’s messengers go to Sodom to investigate, its citizens attempt to assault them sexually and humiliate them. The concession to Abraham goes for nothing, but at least Lot’s family is saved. Second, Abraham needs to find out what kind of God has called him and for what purpose? So he asks "Shall not the judge [= ruler] of all the world act with justice?" (Gen 18:25). Put in other terms, do you, God, act toward humans as an undifferentiated mass, or do you act justly toward humans by lifting up the aggrieved righteous and putting down the exulting wicked? Abraham finds out that his God is totally just. Abraham finds out something else as well: the just actions of even ten people can save others, indeed the actions of even one person, Abraham, can be the salvation of others. He learns something new about why God singled him out---for the sake of the world. In contrast to the lively interchange between God and Abraham, praying the Lord’s Prayer can become routine and simply words we recite to a silent and unresponsive deity. Genesis invites us to see the prayer as an exchange between two persons: we insist that God’s kingdom (rule) be more and more realized and accept the daily bread that God gives us and, very important, the forgiveness without which we cannot approach Him. Richard Clifford, S.J.

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