Abraham Barters with God

Homily for the 13th Week in Ordinary Time

Cultural and religious sensitivities make the first reading difficult to understand. As people of the Western hemisphere, we find it very difficult to condemn the innocent with the guilty. We find it much easier to look at moral responsibility as an individual issue rather than as a communal issue. However, the people of the Middle East are very much linked to their family and their community, so much so that they do not really carry with themselves a personal identity. They look at their very existence as a member of a community. So guilt is a community matter rather than an individual matter.

From the perspective of their faith, these people were also very communal, so much so that a good Jew can only pray if he is in a minion, ten men. We find this perspective in the Gospels as well when St. Luke tells us the story of the ten lepers. Because they need ten in order to be able to pray, they even allow a Samaritan leper to join them. Without him, they would not have been able to pray.

So the story of Abraham bargaining with God about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah must be read with this perspective in mind. Abraham works his way down to ten just men, but realizes that he can go no lower in his attempt to save the innocent. The community of Sodom and Gomorrah is guilty because there are not even ten just men in their midst.

The responsorial psalm for today asks us to praise God for his loving kindness and his mercy. Given the failure of Abraham to get God to spare the city, it may not seem a likely response. However, it is also important that Jesus has told us in the Gospel that wherever two or three are gathered, he is in our midst. This does not mean that we can turn a blind eye to communal guilt. It does, however, remind us that God has gone to great lengths to forgive us of not only our personal sins but our communal sin as well.

Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M.

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