17th Sunday of Ordinary Time
July 24, 2016
Reginald H. Fuller
Reading I: Genesis 18:20-32
This is another reading from the Abraham cycle. Its context
is clear: God is about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah.
(Yahwist) tradition from which this comes uses the occasion
as an opportunity to reflect on the problem of divine justice,
and casts its reflections in the form of a dialogue between
Abraham and YHWH.
Abraham is the mouthpiece
of the conviction
that YHWH, as a God of justice, would not destroy Sodom
if it also meant the destruction of a few righteous persons along
with the guilty majority.
Pleading his case by a kind of Dutch
auction, Abraham arrives at the point where he asks YHWH if
ten righteous persons would be enough to save the city and is
assured that it would. The dialogue is then broken off, but
the city is not spared.
So in the Genesis narrative the dialogue
throws the wickedness of Sodom into even sharper reliefthere
were not even ten righteous persons there.
Responsorial Psalm:138:1-2, 2-3, 6-7, 7-8
As the reference
to the temple in verse 2 suggests, Psalm 138 is a liturgical
psalm of thanksgiving for deliverance. It forms a suitable
response to the reading from Genesis, in which God is depicted
as a God of mercy as well as of justice.
Reading II: Colossians 2:12-14
Here is another
passage in which Colossians differs from the undoubted letters
In Rom 6 Paul says that in baptism we share the death
of Christ but that our rising with him is conditional on our
(daily) dying to sin and walking in newness of life. It awaits
its final fulfillment at the final resurrection.
abandons this reservation and speaks of the baptized as already
risen, though a little later it emphasizes the necessity of
implementing the resurrection by ethical obedience, so it is
not so far removed from the position in Romans after all.
The picture of Christ's nailing to the cross “the bond which stood against
us” is intriguing. A 'bond' is a kind of I.O.U. The
precise background of
the metaphor is uncertain.
Is the writer thinking of the titulus on the
cross, so that “The king of the Jews” means that Jesus is king of his
people because he forgives them their sins? Or is it derived from the tropaion,
the post on which a triumphant military commander would hang the spoils he had
taken from the enemy?
If the source of the imagery is uncertain, the meaning
is clear: in the cross Christ achieved the forgiveness of sin. All Christian
experience throughout the ages has known this, even if the various theories of
the atonement are intellectually unsatisfying.
Gospel: Luke 11:1-13
This pericope consists of two parts: the delivery of the Lord's
Prayer, followed by a catena of sayings on petitionary prayer.
The Lucan text of the Lord's Prayer in the RSV is shorter
than the Matthean version, consisting of only five petitions, compared to Matthew's
seven. The RSV follows
the earlier Greek texts. The later text was assimilated to the Matthean form,
which became traditional in the liturgy.
The additional petitions of Matthew
(“Thy will be done” and “But deliver us from evil”) are probably
liturgical expansions, each of the extra clauses being elucidations of the petition
immediately preceding it. The simple address “Father” (Abba) was characteristic
of Jesus. “Our Father in heaven” (Matthew) is again a formalized liturgical
A Jew of Jesus' day would have shrunk from calling God “Abba,” for
this was the familiar address of the child to his or her father. God would have
been addressed as “our Father” or “my Father.”
Here lies the
unique filial consciousness of Jesus, which is the foundation of his own life
and of the Church's later Christological interpretation of his person.
be thy name” is usually called the first petition, but it is probably a
glorifying of the name of God, which in Jewish prayer always precedes petition.
Each of the succeeding petitions is susceptible of an eschatological interpretation.
this is the case with “Thy kingdom come.” But the “bread” of the third petition
(literally, “tomorrow's bread”) quite likely means
the messianic banquet. These two petitions pray for a foretaste already here
and now of the blessings of the end.
“Forgive us our sins” in the fourth petition refers to the last judgment
but is likewise anticipated in our justification. Our forgiveness of others does
not earn God's forgiveness for us but is the condition of our continuance in
forgiveness (see the parable of the unforgiving servant in Mt 18:22-35).
the next petition, “temptation” (Greek: peirasmos) is a technical
term for the messianic woes. It is a prayer, not that God would stop tempting
us to sin (for God does not do this, as St. James correctly observes), but rather
for our preservation during the messianic woes, the final great tribulation,
anticipated in the trials of faith during the Christian's life.
Matthew's comment on the Our Father takes up the petition for forgiveness; Luke's
takes up the whole idea of petitionary prayer. Some modern devotional writers
are squeamish about petitionary prayer, but in Jesus' teaching petition is prayer par
Prayer in the Bible is primarily not mystical experience but
working with God in carrying out his purposes in salvation history. The supreme
petition of Christian prayer is for the Holy Spirit (Lk 11:13).
It is interesting
that some ancient texts of Luke read: “Let the Holy Spirit come upon us
and cleanse us,” instead of the petition for tomorrow's bread. This is unlikely
to be the true reading, but it is a significant early interpretation that supports
the eschatological interpretation of “tomorrow's bread.”
The doxology to the Lord's Prayer that appears in late texts of Matthew is not
part of the original text. But it was Jewish custom to add a doxology, and Jesus
probably expected his disciples to follow this. Here the Missale Romanum was
more faithful to the letter of Scripture, while Orthodoxy and Protestantism are
truer to the probable implicit intention of it!
There are parallels in Jewish prayers to every petition of the Our Father. But
this does not deprive it of its originality. The meaning of each of Jesus' petitions
is formed by his proclamation of the kingdom of God, not as a purely future hope,
but as a reality already proleptically present in his own person.
Reginald H. Fuller
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Preaching the Lectionary:
The Word of God for the Church Today
Reginald H. Fuller and Daniel Westberg. Liturgical Press. 1984 (Revised Edition), pp. 489-491.
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