01Jul Should we be bargaining ?

1 July, 2013. Monday of the Thirteenth Week

Gen 18:16ff. Abraham begs God to spare the wicked cities. They will be spared, if only ten just people can be found!

Mt 8:18ff. As a wandering preacher, Jesus has no place to call home. He says: “Let the dead bury the dead.”

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.”

Should we be bargaining ?

Today’s Genesis story shows Abraham bargaining with God to spare the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. He begins by asking for mercy if fifty innocent people can be found in the cities. Then he speaks up again, pleading for forgiveness if forty-five good people are found. The haggling continues until the number is gradually pared down to ten. Finally God closes the conversation and leaves. Abraham’s intercession with the living God is a classic of literature, revealing two significant aspects of biblical faith: people’s freedom to argue with God and God’s patient willingness to hear such pleading. Even while it shows God’s closeness is to his people, God remains sovereign and ends the conversation when he wills to do so. Still we are left with the strong sense and intuition of a personal, compassionate God.

“Let the dead bury their dead” – how well this dictum of Jesus echoes the stern preaching of the prophets, for whom fidelity to God’s call was always the highest value, before which all other claims, no matter how deep and important, must yield. Our Lord was not abrogating the 4th commandment: “Honour your father and your mother” but emphasising how committed one must be in following the vocation to follow him.