God doesn’t accept bribes in prayer. Or does he?
A Reflection for the Tuesday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time
Find today’s readings here.
“Offer no bribes, these he does not accept!” (Sir 35:14)
God is not a mob boss. Or a corrupt politician. Or a younger sibling that you don’t want to rat you out for sneaking in past curfew. Sirach tells us that God delights in our sacrifices, offerings and tithes. But he does not accept bribes. Okay, fine.
I’m not one to try and directly contradict Scripture, but I have some direct experience that flies in the face of the idea that God does not take bribes. Like many of my prayers, I learned a particular genre from my grandmother, who kept a thick ledger of bribes with God: God, if you get us through this downpour on the highway, I promise to say a rosary every night this week. God, if Scott makes the basketball team, I will pray two novenas this month.
In a nicer light, you might call that “bargaining” with God. But in another you might call it a bribe. Anyone who has ever tried to discipline a toddler recognizes there is a fine line between these two concepts.
And you might call this type of prayer superstition. You might say that it imagines God as a genie and not a creator. You might say that it’s child-like.
I’m not one to try and directly contradict Scripture, but I have some direct experience that flies in the face of the idea that God does not take bribes.
Isn’t this a prayer we are tempted to resort to in moments of crisis? God, if you get them out of surgery…God, I promise to reallymake it to Mass every Sunday (seriously this time!) if you just…
Or, a favorite example of mine, courtesy of Marge Simpson, in the middle of a nuclear meltdown:
Dear Lord, if you spare this town from becoming a smoking hole in the ground, I’ll try to be a better Christian. I don’t know what I can do. Oh, the next time there’s a canned food drive I’ll give the poor something they’d actually like instead of old lima beans and pumpkin mix.
I submit that this is not the most elegant form of prayer. But I know that Jesus asks us to in fact be childlike, I suspect even at the risk of being childish occasionally. At the heart of these prayers, especially when they come in crisis, there is a recognition of the need for God in our lives, that we are not the center and masters of our universe. And I know that God can work with that impulse, even if the prayers are said a little imperfectly. So, maybe God does accept some bribes.
After all, I know that I would not be where I am today had my grandma not bribed God from time to time.