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Spirituality of the Readings
17th Sunday of Ordinary Time C
July 28, 2019
John Foley, SJ
Go Ahead, Ask Again

When there is something that you want, do you pray to God? A lot of us “whisper a little prayer.” Others put aside time each day for asking. A number of people use the present web site to pray about the readings and to understand them.

Of course, in our secular culture of the USA there are those who do not believe in prayer at all. So, when their friend is having an operation or is traveling or something else, they say, “We will be thinking of you.” This instead of “we will be praying for you.” I always ask myself, what good does it do to “think about them”?

Others go all out.

God gives us what we ask for in some form or other, but he wants us to be persistent in asking.

When Pope John Paul came to St. Louis quite  a number of years ago, a group of cloistered nuns known popularly as “the Pink Sisters” prayed many months for sunny clear days during his visit. Guess what happened. Sunny clear days the entire time. Then, at the exact minute his plane lifted off to take him back, I watched as the clouds gathered and the rain began to fall.

Persistent prayer. Sunday’s readings teach us this. Be obstinate.

Abraham in the First Reading is an example. Abraham’s visitors from last week continued on their way to the city called Sodom, and God went with Abraham. God tells about his intention to destroy Sodom and its surrounding cities because of the debauchery there.*

Against all reason and expectation, Abraham began negotiating with God, right out loud.

He said, will you sweep away the innocent with the guilty? Suppose there were fifty innocent people in the city; would you wipe out the entire place rather than spare it for the sake of the fifty innocent people within it? … Should not the judge of all the world act with justice?

God agrees that he will not destroy the city if fifty innocent people can be found there. Sly Abraham asks for more. Would God agree to spare the city even if only forty-five innocent people were found? We feel God’s reluctance as he agrees. What about forty? Ok, God says. Abraham goes on and on until he has negotiated the number down to ten. God replies, “For the sake of those ten, I will not destroy it.”

Abraham stops there. As you may know, it turned out that not even ten innocents lived in the town, so Sodom got destroyed. But notice, God had granted each of Abrahams prayers.

Jesus recommends the same kind of shrewdness. In the Gospel he tells the famous parable about knocking on the door of a friend late at night to borrow some bread. The friend refuses because he and his family are all in bed. Jesus says, “If he does not get up to give the visitor the loaves because of their friendship, he will get out of bed to give him what he needs because of his persistence.”

Fine, but why do we have to be persistent and pray to God for the same thing over and over? Why do we have to haggle?

Because of love.

God is like a human father who loves his child very much. He does not always give his child everything the child wheedles for. Sometimes he needs to teach him or her who is in charge of things, the parent or the child. Most of the time God gives us what we ask for in some form or other, but he wants us to be persistent in asking so we will learn humility and acceptance. And when we suffer, he sits beside our bed and suffers with us.

Keep knocking and it will be opened to you.
John Foley, SJ
 * God elsewhere helps us to understand what was happening in Sodom and surrounding cities. "Look at the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters were proud, sated with food, complacent in their prosperity, and they gave no help to the poor and needy. Rather, they became haughty and committed abominable crimes in my presence; then, as you have seen, I removed them” (Ezekiel 16:49-50).

Father Foley can be reached at:
Fr. John Foley, SJ

Fr. John Foley, SJ, is a composer and scholar at Saint Louis University.
Art by Martin (Steve) Erspamer, OSB
from Religious Clip Art for the Liturgical Year (A, B, and C). This art may be reproduced only by parishes who purchase the collection in book or CD-ROM form. For more information go