17th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C
July 29, 2007

Readings: Gn 18:20-32 / Co 2:12-14 / Lk 11:1-13

[Paranaque City, Philippines – July 23, 2007]

Today’s readings are, at one and the same time, a study in the acceptance of truth, and an example of persistent and proactive hope. They are readings that we, postmodern women and men all over the world, ought to mull over and deeply internalize.

The first reading is almost counter-intuitive. The opening lines expose the glaring truth of a people so steeped in sin: “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great, and their sin so grave, that I must go down and see whether or not their actions fully correspond to the cry against them that comes to me.” The story, to cut the long narration short, is one of persistent haggling, on the part of Abraham, and one of overflowing solicitude and mercy, on the part of God.

All God needed was a few good, reliable, innocent, and responsible people. But that is only one half of the story. The other half has to do with a persistent, prayerful, and proactive Abraham who is portrayed as the quintessential pray-er who was untiring with his petitions as God was unrelenting in His mercy.

The stories that stare us in the face each morning, both from the print and broadcast media are stories that today’s first reading reminds us of: the growing and increasing threats from terrorism, the seemingly unstoppable march of globalization with both its negative and positive points, the rapid degradation of the world’s precious, dwindling, and disappearing natural resources … the list is legion. Global warming is not just a theory anymore. It is a glaring fact that slowly, but surely, brings us closer to the imminent possibility of cosmic and colossal ecological tragedies not yet seen by humanity.

Does God care? Does it matter for God that we humans seem to have taken it upon ourselves to destroy the world that once upon a time, was the object of God the Creator’s primordial blessing? … “And God saw that it was good!”

I stand here before you in this cyber pulpit aware as much of the progression of humanity towards seeming self-destruction, as of the rousing call and promise of God Himself whose mercy and love are more powerful than the forces of selfishness and sin.

I lay claim to what we proclaimed in faith after the first reading: “Lord, on the day I called for help, you answered me” (Responsorial Psalm). Does God, indeed, care?

My reading of today’s passages leads me to answer “yes” and “no” at one and the same time!

Yes … God does care for us. That is clearly the overriding message of Genesis Chapter 18. But I do feel the need to qualify my answer. For if our yes answer would mean it all depends solely on God, then my answer is a “no.” God cares for humanity indeed, but He cares enough to allow us the freedom to actualize that caring for, and on behalf, of suffering humanity.

God does care for us. He gives us what it takes to become progressively like unto Him. St. Paul speaks of this foundational truth in glowing theological terms: “you were buried in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.” We were redeemed. We were saved. Elsewhere, however, the same Paul, in his letter to the Romans, reminds us that that foundational truth was in view of something else: “you have received a Spirit of adoption, through which we cry, Abba, Father” (Alleluia verse before the Gospel).

It was a gift that needed to be reciprocated … a present that needed to be operationalized … a love that needed to be actualized in our lives!

Yes, God does care for His people. But the same God of justice, mercy, and overflowing love, is a God who expects us to offer a little contribution from our part. He expects our good will. He waits for our commitment. He counts on our capacity to dream dreams alongside Him. He gently nudges us toward the realization that God’s passionate love for humanity and the world ought to be appropriately matched by our reciprocal passion for Him and His handiwork.

Last week, my reflection in this cyber pulpit focused on the question: “what return can you make?” I spoke of the need for two values: openness and reciprocity. Abraham showed open welcome to three strangers. That openness was reciprocated by a God who could not be outdone in generosity … He and Sarah begot a child in their old age. Martha and Mary showed openness and welcome, too, to their honored guest. The two sisters reciprocated the gracious visit by giving Him a Martha-hand and a Mary-heart – action and contemplation.

Today, I would like to suggest that action and contemplation meet at the crossroads of prayer – prayer that is, at once, persistent and proactive. Such prayer, the Lord teaches us is persistent and pregnant with hope … “your kingdom come.” But the same prayer, he takes pains to clarify, is one that is proactive and one that demands a reciprocal commitment on our part: “forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us.” This is related to our twin values of openness and reciprocity of last week.

God’s openness is clear in God’s justice that ultimately spelled divine mercy. But mercy is occasioned by the graciousness and persistence of a pray-er like Abraham, who called out to Him from the depths even of human despair … “Let not my Lord grow angry if I speak.”

The same hopeful persistence is what today’s gospel passage calls us to. The vignettes used by the Lord highlight the pertinacious spirit of the man of faith, who calls on Him despite the seeming futility of it all.

There is a pervading spirit of looming helplessness and hopelessness all over the world in these our terroristic, corrupt-ridden, and terribly fragmented and fractious world. In the midst of all this bad news, I discern a pervasive good news from a God who cares, a God who cares enough for us to allow us the freedom to participate in the actualization of his saving mercy and justice. Our persistent and prayerful hope, the Lord assures us today, is met and reciprocated by God’s paternal solicitude. “O bless the Lord, my soul, and remember all his kindness” (Communion Antiphon).

[Dundalk, MD – July 25, 2004]

The little, the seemingly insignificant, the few, and the powerless … those who don’t seem to count; the perpetual underdogs; those whose lives don’t make waves: the widows, the orphans, the poor, and the lowly … these are those who can make a difference, those whose presence – and persistence – can mean life, fullness of life both for themselves and others, or the utter lack of it for everyone.

I refer to the “power of one.” I speak of the riches behind the widow’s mite, the force of puny David’s stone that spelled defeat of the mighty Goliath. I point to the authority of the twelve – the Lord’s “few, good men” whose conviction and faith, despite the onrush and crushing weight of the worldly power of kings, emperors, and tyrants over the past two thousand years.

The faith that we celebrate this morning in this church and all over the world is a testimony of the power of these “few good men” – and women – whose lives (and deaths) spelled life for all of us women and men of good will, life in all its fullness, as the good Lord would have us inherit.

Our faith, which we share with all brothers and sisters in the whole Christian world, deserves this weekly (daily for some) gathering of prayer, praise, worship, and thanksgiving. As we do Eucharist, though, we are all aware that the world we live in, is in a situation that, to be honest, leads us to ask this burning question: “Should not the judge of the world act justly?”

When we see what we are capable of doing; when we behold what we all are guilty of; when we are face to face with the reality of human depravity and sinfulness; when we acknowledge the fact that two thousand years after the coming of the promised One, the world is nowhere near being fully and definitively redeemed; when we cannot but stand as helpless witnesses to the ravages of war, terrorism, corruption, and the all-pervading signs of a “culture of death” in our midst, we are led to ask: “Should not the judge of the world act justly?” Should God not finally intervene in this messy world that everywhere seems to reek of personal, social, and structural evil?

Today stands out as a day of persistence. On the one hand, we see Abraham’s consistent and constant pleadings before the Lord for the sake of “a few good people” in the city of Sodom and Gomorrah. On the other hand, we see also God’s own brand of persistence in His answer that was as firm as it was gentle: “I will spare the whole place for their sake.” “I will not destroy it, if I find forty-five there.” “I will not destroy it, for the sake of the twenty.” “For the sake of those ten, I will not destroy it.”

Abraham’s perseverance in prayer is matched by God’s infinite justice. In a society and culture that prizes a kind of “corporate personality” and where “social responsibility” is highly valued, the presence of a “few good people” – along with the persistent and faith-filled intercessory prayer of one on behalf of the whole, occasions God’s justice that then overflows in mercy. “I will not destroy it,” says the Lord of mercy and justice.

This is definitely good news for us all. At a time when “hope grows grey hairs” and patience wears thin, when more bad than good news fills our TV screens and daily papers, when all we see seems to be the triumph of not a “few good people,” but a whole lot of evildoers, when “all I endeavor in disappointment end,” and faith almost becomes mere wishful thinking, the Church invites us to pray along with Abraham and the psalmist, “Lord, on the day I called for help, you answered me.”

You answer us, O Lord God. You definitely do. But we know all too well, that your answer has to be matched by a call on our part. We do know that reciprocity is part and parcel of the dialogue of salvation that you have come to grant us in Christ, Your Son. We do realize that this gift of salvation is both a gift and a task – Your work and ours; Your grace and our cooperation. You have done justice to us, O Lord God. Even where we were dead in transgressions, you brought us to life along with Christ, Your Son. You forgave us all our transgressions; you obliterated the bonds against us, with its legal claims, and Christ, Your Son removed it from our midst, nailing it to the cross.

Today is a day of persistent prayer. Today is a day when the light of faith ought to overcome the darkness of hopelessness and cynicism. And the good news is … the Lord Himself gives us THE model of persistence prayer – the Our Father. Persistence is the character of this prayer. Perseverance is etched in the very language of this prayer that asks, not for food for tomorrow and for the distant future, but only for “today,” and only for what is strictly necessary to maintain oneself in “being” (epiousion).

Today’s good news includes a blanket authority for us to “pray without ceasing.” Today’s good news gives us the right to pelt God with prayers, for “we have received a Spirit of adoption, through which we cry, Abba, Father.” Today’s good news offers us the privilege of drawing near to God, for “[we] were buried with [Christ] in baptism, in which [we] were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.” Today’s celebration seals our right to “give thanks with all [our] heart,” “because of His kindness and His truth,” for “on the day [we] called for help, God answered us.”

There are reasons galore for us to approach this loving, merciful, and just God. There are enough reasons to continue on believing, to go on hoping, even against hope – even if, alas, there are so “few good people” left on this earth.

A few good people … These are the men and women who continue to show that God is alive and well, and working in our midst. These are the men and women who live unheralded lives of indomitable heroism and quiet faith. These are the men and women who pray fervently and faithfully behind closed doors, before flickering candles in dark and dingy churches. These are the men and women whose earthly lives may be surrounded by every imaginable type of darkness – the darkness of personal suffering, of poverty, powerlessness, and pain – but whose hearts are aglow with the resplendent assurance that can only come from a God who declares: “I will not destroy it.”

A few good people … a few good men and women … a few persistent souls before a God of permanent love, justice and overflowing mercy. A few good people is all we need. For their sake, for the sake of those who seek, for the sake of those who knock, and for the sake of those who ask, God and His love will remain steadfast forever!

Can we be counted along with these “few good people?”

Fr. Chito Dimaranan, SDB
National Shrine of Mary Help of Christians
Paranaque City, Philippines