17th Sunday Year C
July 28, 2013
All About Relationships!
The three readings today somehow remind me of Oliver Twist and his intense, heartfelt, and plaintive request: “Please sir, I want some more!” It was a prayer like no other … a prayer poor Oliver Twist had to do when the lot fell on him to do so. It was, of course, a prayer quite unlike that of Abraham, who besought the Lord’s mercy on his own, unbidden by no one else, inspired from within and not from without, driven by charity and not by mere personal need – or, for that matter – of somebody else’s desire and want.
Oliver’s request was plaintive enough, heart-rending to be sure, except to Mr. Bumble, of course, whose job it was, not to grant favors, but to make those unfortunate waifs and orphans toe the line. All hell broke loose when Oliver uttered those famous words, as far as I can remember of the musical. The prayer went unanswered, and the favor was left ungranted. The waifs remained the pitiful, hungry ragamuffins that they were, and the musical, the movie, and the novel of Dickens continued, and still continues, to make money.
Abraham, for this reason – and more besides – is referred to as a man of faith. Today, he is presented as one who intercedes for unworthy Sodom and Gomorrah, who, for all intents and purposes, really deserved to be meted out corresponding justice. Abraham, with his steadfast and trusting faith literally haggled with the Lord and earned for the sinful people of the twin cities, a divine reprieve.
My task today is not to talk about a Mr. Bumble, who is incapable of granting such egregious requests from unworthy waifs like Oliver. My task today is not primarily to talk about a God who is so expansive in His love that He could grant what Abraham asked for, and then some!
My task today is to talk about you and me, children of Abraham, our father in faith as St. Paul referred to him. My task is to talk about the ways we pray, the ways we ask, and the ways we beg, steal, or borrow God’s infinite and overflowing mercy – or their exact opposite … the many ways we don’t pray; the many occasions we don’t ask, and the many times we show we don’t trust and hope in a God of mercy.
Fr. James Gilhooley has an interesting advice – that we use the APU method in our prayer, just like Abraham did. APU, he says, stands for aggression, persistence, and unreasonableness.
Abraham was certainly being aggressive. He did not leave anything to chance. He did not omit any possibility. He just asked God. Period. He was also persistent. Did I say he was persistent? Yes … he kept on repeating the same pleading. Like those batteries of old Eveready commercials, he just kept going, and going, and going! Did you get that right? He was persistent and insistent! But there was another uncanny trait that he showed. He was unreasonable. He asked for clemency for a people who deserved to be punished. He begged for mercy from God, for others’ sake, even if those others seemingly did not deserve it.
There are times in my life when I feel like Oliver Twist. I stand in need of many things. I desire and plead for a multiplicity of favors. But like Oliver, too, I plead, yes … but not on my own account, but goaded on because there is not much else I could do, and because there is not much choice left for me to do. On many occasions, I prayed, not because I wanted to and decided to, but because I had to.
The two examples of pray-ers in the Gospel are definitely of APU standard. The midnight beggar was simply aggressive – and need I say, persistent and unreasonably insistent? But more than just having that APU standard, the two pray-ers really capitalized on something else, something more basic, something more important, and something more effective in the long run. Both were related to the one they badgered. The first was a friend and a neighbor, and the other was a father to the one who was doing the pleading.
With all due respect to Fr. Gilhooley’s APU standard, I would like to suggest that the most important element in today’s lesson on prayer is something without which the A in aggression, the P in persistent, and the U in unreasonable will come to nought. What is that element?
Let’s get it straight from Lord’s mouth … When you pray, call on God, not just with aggression, persistence and unreasonableness, but more than anything else, call on Him as Father!
What father among you will not listen to your aggressive, persistent and unreasonable son who calls on you lovingly and trustingly as “Dad,” “Tatay,” “Papa?” It’s all about relationships, amigo!