Sunday, July 29, 2007

the Price of Souls: Never Give Up

There's some old-fashioned Middle Eastern haggling going in today's Old Testament Reading (Genesis 18:20-32) between Abraham and God. The subject is Sodom and Gomorrah, and the price of souls is.... well.... the subject of negotiation. Listen To Abraham's approach:

"Then Abraham drew nearer to him and said: "Will you sweep away the innocent with the guilty? Suppose there were fifty innocent people in the city; would you wipe out the place, rather than spare it for the sake of the fifty innocent people within it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to make the innocent die with the guilty, so that the innocent and the guilty would be treated alike! Should not the judge of all the world act with justice?"

The LORD replied, "If I find fifty innocent people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake." Abraham spoke up again: "See how I am presuming to speak to my Lord, though I am but dust and ashes! What if there are five less than fifty innocent people? Will you destroy the whole city because of those five?" "I will not destroy it," he answered, "if I find forty-five there."

But Abraham persisted, saying, "What if only forty are found there?" He replied, "I will forebear doing it for the sake of the forty." Then he said, "Let not my Lord grow impatient if I go on. What if only thirty are found there?" He replied, "I will forebear doing it if I can find but thirty there."

Still he went on, "Since I have thus dared to speak to my Lord, what if there are no more than twenty?" "I will not destroy it," he answered, "for the sake of the twenty." But he still persisted: "Please, let not my Lord grow angry if I speak up this last time. What if there are at least ten there?" "For the sake of those ten," he replied, "I will not destroy it."

Set aside the fact that Sodom and Gomorrah ended up being destroyed anyway because, according to the story, only Lot and his family were righteous. Set aside, too, the fact that our concepts of God have matured in the four millenia since Abraham struck this bargaining pose with the Almighty.

There is still something quite admirable in Abraham's intercessory persistence. A similar merciful winsomeness adheres to the persistent friend in today's gospel parable (Luke 11:1-13). Jesus commends his persitence in asking for help:

"I tell you, if he does not get up to give him the loaves because of their friendship, he will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence. "

Thank heaven that God NEVER gives up on us. And thank God that there are these kinds of people, ...irksome, troubling, nagginhg intercessors who continue to pray for faithless relatives and friends when everyone else has folded up their tents and gone home.

They are like dripping water faucets, like recurring taps on the divine Shoulder. But they get the job done. I know at least two families who are facing this type of situation with family members right now.... dealing with those who are recalcitrant in regard to self-care, and in regard to their responsibilities to God and others. But my friends keep on praying and hoping that somehow, some way God will intervene and change their family members' lives.

These hapless, hopeful intercessors are reflections of the Divine Mercy, which never asks whether it should persist in love. He only asks that we continue to respond, both on our own and on behalf of others, "for us and for the whole world."

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