By the Rev Msgr Harry Entwistle
Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time Sunday 28th July 2019
When life is sweet and running like a well-oiled machine, it is easy to push God into the background and behave as though we are our own god. But when life hits a road bump and we cannot cope, we look for support or a way of escape. Without God the options are likely to be drink, drugs, pleasure or an adrenalin rush from wherever we can find one. We are looking for a new reality, but the danger is that the way we do it can be addictive.
One of the Collects reminds us that we have no power within ourselves to help ourselves so we needs to develop a deep loving relationship with God.
Abraham’s relationship with God, as in our first reading, seems like two parties negotiating a deal. God appears to be playing hard to get over the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah while Abraham is compassionate. Actually, God is allowing Abraham to discover for himself what God’s plan of salvation is. God would not destroy the cities if 10 righteous people were found in them, but Abraham had to discover this about God for himself.
This is how God deals with us. He takes the initiative in our lives inviting us to be a disciple of Jesus, but chooses to wait for us to respond before he gives us the details of what that involves for us. If we say to God, “What do you want me to do?”, we are saying that want to see whether we like what he is asking before we agree. This isn’t how it works. The first step is to say, “Yes” to God and then he will let us know what he wants us to do. Only when we have taken the first step do we discover what the next step is. Frustrating, but this isn’t a game of cat and mouse, it draws us into a deeper relationship with him.
Jewish students used to ask their rabbis to teach them how to pray. Jesus’ disciples asked him the same question, but he doesn’t give them a technique to follow, he taught them to hold a conversation with God their loving Father. They were to bless God’s name then pray for daily bread, forgiveness, victory over temptation, for the gift of the Spirit and the completion of the Kingdom. Prayer is not so much what we say as an essential element of our relationship with God by being in his presence. It is easy for Christians to say lots of prayers and rosaries, but are these recited or prayed? Christian laity can be busy doers and their leaders busy managers rather than becoming holy people.
In all relationships there has to be listening as well as speaking. Our relationship with God will not deepen if the only prayer we offer is when we gather for community worship, or when we say prayers that other people have written. We must do these things but we must also spend time with God as individuals, and that prayer must be real. How can God speak to us if we never shut up? How can God challenge us if we only tell him what is nice or what we think he wants to hear? How can God draw us closer to himself if all we do is ask his for what we want, or tell him what he needs to fix? Being real in prayer means being open and honest, and if that means being angry with God, so be it.
God does answer prayer, but not always in the way we want at the time we want it. We also have to be careful what we ask for because we might receive it! Human relationships cannot blossom if they are like plastic artificial flowers. Neither will our relationship with God.
Abraham challenged God, as did Our Lady, and both discovered that God’s justice, love and forgiveness that Jesus taught in the Lord’s Prayer must be ours as well.
There is no substitute for God and Jesus bears God’s stamp and is his photographic image. There are lots of mediation and relaxation techniques on offer in the world, but who is the focus of them? If it is ourselves, then we become the god we worship. Jesus says that his mother, brother and sister are those that do the Father’s will, so Christian prayer, including worship, must be focussed on God who has revealed himself in and through Jesus.
In human relationships we cannot always be certain that those we love, love us or vice versa. With God we know that he loves us, so when we love him by saying, “Yes” to him, our deepening relationship will unfold.