17th Sun [C] 1998

Fr. Charles Irvin

Genesis 18:20-32; Colossians 2:12-14; Luke 11:1-13

For those of you who have traveled abroad, particularly to the Middle East and perhaps even to the Holy Land, the account of Abraham bargaining with God will not appear to be strange. Haggling is an art form, particularly in a Middle Eastern market. Abraham’s intercessory bargaining reveals the value of only one just man’s prayers, along with the value God places on the life of just one righteous man. The Jews, you see, have always known that the prayer of just one righteous man holds a lot of value with God, and that the life of such a man is “worth his weight in gold” as the market place phrase goes. Abraham knows exactly how to bargain with God.

Furthermore, the story reveals that Abraham is on good terms with God. No one not on good terms with God would ever dare to approach God in this manner. Abraham, however, could. He was not estranged from God. He was on good terms and so could bargain and haggle with God in the finest of Middle Eastern business practices. He haggles with the best of ‘em.

Abraham’s situation is different from ours. The problem in our day is that we are indifferent. The problem faced by priests, ministers and rabbis in our culture is not the problem of unbelief. Nor is it necessarily the problem of sin. No. Our problem is the problem of indifference. It’s not that people are atheists or agnostics. It’s not that people have actively rejected God and defied God by sinning. No. It’s that people simply don’t care. They’re indifferent.

If you want to insult someone, the greatest possible insult you can render is to return a gift given you unused. If you really want to reject someone, send their gift to you back to them. It tells them: “I don’t need you. I don’t need your friendship or your love — I don’t need anything you could possibly give me.” [In other words: “You are for me a non-person!”]

Not to pray is to show your indifference toward God. Not to pray is to send the gift back to Him. Jesus taught us how to pray in the simplest of terms. There’s nothing mysterious or mumbo-jumbo about it. The prayer Jesus taught us is utterly simple in its expression of what we need from God. It tells us we need to honor Him, that we need our daily bread, that we need forgiveness, that we need the strength to give forgiveness to others, and that we need God’s protection in times of temptation and trial. Not to use it, not to pray it, is to say to God: “You don’t have anything I need or want.”

Prayer acknowledges that you have a relationship with God. Consequently, the quality of your prayer is correlative to the value you place on your relationship with God. Abraham took God seriously — so seriously that Abraham haggled and bargained with God over the value of what was to be delivered. There was something very serious at stake here so Abraham got serious with God.

Do we need the strength, the fortitude, the guts to forgive someone in our lives who has deeply wounded and hurt us? You bet we do. Do we need to have the willingness to forgive others? Yes! For each one of us there is someone in our lives who has hurt us so much that only an act of God can give us the will and the power to forgive them.

Are we held in the steel grip of habit and addiction, a particular temptation that conquers us and snatches away our soul every time it visits us? Are we threatened by something terrible that will hurt us — by an evil that seriously threatens our well-being? Everyone here knows that is so in some aspect of their life. We all know that we have been tried and found wanting. We all know that when we face that trial again we will succumb unless the power of God comes to us and helps us out of the quicksand that sucks us down ever more deeply and ever more powerfully to the point that we will suffocate in it.

The Mass we celebrate is in itself a prayer. Not to pray it is to show God our indifference. To turn Sunday Mass into something that is only optional is to tell God that for us He is only optional.

And as for the value of only one Righteous Man — well, that’s precisely whey we are here, together offering His life for us to the God of Abraham.

About Charles Irvin

Fr. Charlie was ordained a priest June 3, 1967 and has served as pastor of St. Mary Student Chapel in Ann Arbor, founded Holy Spirit parish in Hamburg, MI, served as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Ann Arbor and was pastor of St. Mary parish in Manchester, MI when he entered Senior Priest status in 2001. In 1999 he was appointed Founding Editor of FAITH Magazine which has grown into Faith Catholic Publishing located in Lansing, MI. He is now very active in his “retirement.”