In the Lectionary

July 24, 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Genesis 18:20-32; Luke 11:1-13

What is the point of prayer? I have neither the space nor the theological expertise to address such a question in any definitive way. Yet there it is, writ large and looming in the texts from both the Hebrew scriptures and the Gospel for this Sunday in the throes of late July. The terrain seems fraught with places to trip and fall. Is prayer the means by which I might change the mind of God? Is it a reflex or a negotiation? The knock on a door that opens to the things I want, or the things I didn’t even know I needed? Does prayer makes things happen, or change my perceptions of what “is” already?

In the Genesis reading, Abraham is deep in the territory of communication with God that feels dangerously full of possibility. Emissaries of the Most High have turned to the talk of Sodom and Gomorrah’s “great sin,” which I take to be a lack of hospitality and even violence toward those seeking refuge. Given the emphasis on hospitality in last Sunday’s text from this chapter, that seems reasonable. God is going to do some reconnaissance and determine a course of action: Is there a redeemable kernel in those communities, or is the cleansing wrath of God imminent?

Abraham, in communication with God that I choose to think of as a form of prayer, begins a series of negotiations that seek to save even the smallest possible remnant of those now apparently infamous cities. As readers, we are not told here why Abraham has such compassion and concern for these towns or even the smallest portion of their inhabitants. But Abraham seems determined, even desperate, to encounter a God of mercy and grace whose judgments operate in a different realm than human reason. Human justice would delight in the demise of those considered wicked, but not so for Abraham. Nor, he hopes and believes, for God.