27 Jun Monday of Week Thirteen
Gen 18:16ff. Abraham argues with God for the safety of the wicked cities of the plain. They will be spared, if only ten just people can be found!
Matthew 8:18ff. Jesus, a wandering preacher, has no place to call home. He utters an unworldly challenge: let the dead bury the dead.
Arguing with God
The Genesis story shows Abraham bargaining with God to have the wicked cities spared. He begins at fifty, asking God to spare the cities if fifty innocent people can be found there. He speaks up again, pleading for their survival if forty-five innocent are found. The haggling continues and Abraham gradually pares the number down to ten. At that the Lord closes the conversation and leaves.
This conversation between Abraham and the living God is a classic piece of literature that reveals significant aspects of biblical faith: the freedom of people to argue with God and God’s patient willingness to bear with such jostling. Even though this account reveals God’s immanent closeness is to his people and theirs to God, still God’s sovereignty remains and he closes the conversation when he wills to do so. The most conspicuous point, nonetheless, is the intuition of a personal, compassionate God.
Therefore, when we turn to the prophet Amos, (*2), and later when we come to the harsh statement of Jesus, “Let the dead bury their dead”, we want to argue with God as Abraham did. Even though our bargaining power may not be as great as Abraham’s, we still feel that justice and common decency are on our side. As we argue with Jesus, we recall how after his own sorrowful death on Calvary, his friends took care of his burial. If a saying like this stirs reflection, or even provokes an argument with God, Jesus has achieved his objective in speaking such a baffling paradox which was not followed at his own death. The Scriptures evidently are intended more as a book of meditation and reflection than as a simple answer book.
Amos was the first of a long series of writing prophets in Israel. These were religious men, troublers of conscience, outspoken defenders of God’s honour, who by divine compulsion rose out of the ranks of the people. Today (*2) we begin the first of a series of readings from the prophets that will extend for the next seven weeks. These prophetic writings help us more than any other part of the Old Testament to understand Jesus; for he was above all a prophet. In some ways both Jesus and the Old Testament prophets speak with such finality that they bring conversation to a close. Their statements remain long within our memory and force us to reflection.
“Let the dead bury their dead” – how well this echoes the stern preaching of Amos. With no show of emotion, Amos cites the evidence, a long list of social abuses in which the poor were wronged. The rich have trampled the heads of the weak into the dust of the earth, and forced the lowly out of the way. People who are guilty of such crimes are morally dead, already buried by their dead consciences beneath the accumulated guilt of their crimes. Amos declares that God avenges the poor and the oppressed, just as he had saved them from Egyptian slavery. All oppressors must beware, for they will be crushed into the ground “as a wagon crushes when laden with sheaves.”
Even though we may argue with God, a ray of hope always remains, for he always wants to give healing and life.
First Reading: Genesis 18:16-33
Then the men set out from there, and they looked toward Sodom; and Abraham went with them to set them on their way. The Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? No, for I have chosen him, that he may charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice; so that the Lord may bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.” Then the Lord said, “How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin! I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not, I will know.”
So the men turned from there, and went toward Sodom, while Abraham remained standing before the Lord. Then Abraham came near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” And the Lord said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will forgive the whole place for their sake.” Abraham answered, “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” Again he spoke to him, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.” Then he said, “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak. Suppose thirty are found there.” He answered, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.” He said, “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.” Then he said, “Oh do not let the Lord be angy if I speak just once more. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.” And the Lord went his way, when he had finished speaking to Abraham; and Abraham returned to his place.
Gospel: Matthew 8:18-22
Now when Jesus saw great crowds around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side. A scribe then approached and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Another of his disciples said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”