Reflection on Today’s Daily Readings by Fr. Bertrand Buby, SM
Scripture: Sunday 17th C. Lectionary # 112. Genesis 18:20-32. Psalm 138:
1-2, 2-3.6-7. Colossians 2:12-14. Luke 11:1-13:
We are listening to the Abraham cycle in our first reading on these
Sundays. They are powerful narratives that help us to appreciate Abraham
and his wise wife Sarah. Abraham is a prophet as well as a patriarch. He
understands both justice and mercy of God and dialogs with God on both of
these attributes of the one God he believes in. He is pleading and praying
in the present narrative for the people who are to be punished. Sodom and
Gomorrah are symbols of the corruption that has permeated those cities of
the Dead Sea area. They are symbolic for us as we read the narrative and
learn how Abraham barters in his prayer with God. He is speaking as a
friend to a friend. This is a beautiful insight into Divine
Revelation--speaking and listening to God as a friend. God spares the
wicked if a few are found innocent. Abraham is wise he starts with a
larger number and works down to have God agree that even if only ten just
were found, God would spare the cities. We do not hear of the destruction
in today's reading and that gives us hope for the inhabitants of Sodom and
Gomorrah, perhaps, there are ten just persons.
The Talmud (the most literary achievement of Judaism after the Tanakh)
describes what the biblical text is narrating: The term Lamed Vav is
symbolic for the number thirty-six. There are at present thirty-six
righteous persons in this world who keep the mercy of God alive so that the
world continues on. Verse twenty-seven of our reading about Abraham is
interpreted in the same spirit of God's mercy and loving kindness, "The
Holy One (blessed be He) said to Israel, I deeply love you, for even when I
give you abundant greatness, you make yourself small before me. I gave
greatness to Abraham and he said I am but dust and ashes." (b.Hul.89a). We
Christians can see in Mary a daughter of Israel saying the same thing in
her Magnificat, "My soul magnifies the Lord..." She is praising God by her
humility and truth and is among the thirty-six righteous in her time.
Abraham in speaking with God went down from the number fifty to ten. Today
we may be blessed that the thirty-six righteous are keeping the justice of
God balanced with his tremendous and magnanimous mercy.
Jesus is talking to his listeners and us about prayer and how we are to be
persistent, humble and patient. We are to keep asking, seeking, and
knocking at the same time while keeping his prayer alive in our hearts as
the background music for our requests. We see an ascending pattern here in
contrast to Abraham's descending pattern of prayerful dialog. Forgiveness
is highligted showing us our need for truthfulness, humility, and
All is possible for us in prayer because of the great mystery of God's love
for us. That is easily seen in God's patience with Abraham's bartering.
The passage from Colossians shows us that for us as believers in Jesus that
his Paschal Mystery is at the center of our baptismal commitment and our
prayer based on the faith, hope, and love these mysteries give us when we
pray with humility, truthfulness, and persistence. Our Psalm is easily an
example of how to pray in this manner and would help us to unite all the
readings for this day.
In the Torah Commentary called ETZ HAYIM (tree of life) there is a good
commentary on verse 32: "Why does Abaham stop at ten? Perhaps it takes a
critical mass to generate an alternative way of living; isolated
individuals cannot. The number 10 may be psychologically related to the
stipulation of 10 people for a minyan, the quorum for public worship, the
point at which an assembly of individuals becomes a group, a
congregation." (Etz Hayim, p.104). Amen.
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