Part of the formation that music and liturgical ministers undergo teaches us to look for the bridge that connects the First Reading at mass to the Gospel. At first glance, this week’s connection eluded me (and, if I’m honest, at several glances beyond the first). But with the help of others wiser than I, a bridge became visible and I’d like to share it with you.
In the First Reading from Genesis, we have Abraham pleading with God to spare Sodom and Gomorrah from destruction. In a way that reminds me a bit of the tireless negotiating my four year old granddaughter subjects me to, Abraham asks God if he will spare the city if there are fifty righteous people there. But he doesn’t stop there. With occasional respectful phrases (“See how I am presuming to speak to my Lord though I am but dust and ashes!”), Abraham secures the commitment from God that even if there are only forty, only thirty, only twenty, and finally, only ten innocent people there, the city shall be spared.
The Gospel has Jesus’ disciples asking the Lord to teach them to pray. Presumably they can see how prayer grounds every moment of Jesus’ life, and they want to follow their master’s example. In response, Jesus teaches them the Lord’s Prayer, the Our Father that we say every Sunday at mass. But he doesn’t stop there. As a good Rabbi, he tells them stories of friends and neighbors, late night disturbance and request, and fathers who care well for their sons. He says, “I tell you, even if he does not get up to give the visitor the loaves because of their friendship, he will get up . . . because of his persistence.”
As Christians we are used to the idea that we can come to Jesus with any request, that God encourages and desires intimacy with us like a loving father who dotes on his children. But in Abraham’s time, there was not yet such a conception. The God Abraham bargained with was holy, wholly other, all powerful, mysterious, remote and prone to anger. Yet he was persistent, and God was merciful, ultimately granting Abraham’s request to spare Sodom.
Here is the bridge: Jesus wants us to be persistent in prayer, just as Abraham was. The answer we get may be “yes” or it may be “no”. It may be silence. But we know that God is loving, merciful, just, and powerful, and that he wants us to ask boldly for what we need.
One last thought: it didn’t hurt that what Abraham was asking for was in accord with God’s merciful nature. It doesn’t hurt either if we try to discern what God might want us to ask for when we aren’t sure. So in addition to persistent requests, we can also ask God to reveal to us what God wants. And we can be patient. On the other hand, the neighbor in the middle of the night demanding bread was anything but!