17th Sunday in Ordinary Time: AS PERSISTENT AS ABRAHAM: WHAT IS IT ABOUT MIDNIGHT?
Abraham’s request in the first reading of this Sunday seems somewhat discomforting. He bargains very hard with the Lord, with boldness and persistence. Abraham is asking on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah, the Lord having revealed his intention to annihilate the city because of their sins. Abraham is direct, “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? With innocent boldness, Abraham appeals God’s decision about the city, knocking it down, to guarantee that the presence of only ten innocent people could save the notorious city.
Two things can be considered in this reflection: persistence in prayer and the power of sanctity required to save a nation. The first lesson from Abraham is persistence. Using a reductionistic approach, it seemed as if Abraham got stubborn and took risks before the Lord. This he realized by pleading with God not to be angry at him. Abraham understood God to be a caring, loving, and merciful father. He was convinced that God would not enjoy destroying human beings created in his image. Abraham knew that God would bargain for the sake of souls, that God cherished the value of human lives and so, he took advantage of their intimacy.
Abraham’s request is selfless. Unlike other human interactions, sometimes we enter into some sort of bargain with merchants and businesses for our sakes. Bargaining involves negotiations; we bid on articles or properties we intend to possess. We bargain with dealers, insurance companies, and providers to seek some discount. Bargaining carries with it some feelings of anticipation. But Abraham is bargaining completely on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah, not for himself. His interest is in having Sodom and Gomorrah saved.
This is deepened in the gospel with the image of friendship presented by Christ. He says, “Suppose one of you has a friend to whom he goes at midnight and says, “A friend of mine has arrived at my house from a journey and I have nothing to offer him.” Watch carefully, that this friend is out at midnight to plead for his friend who is visiting at an odd hour. Even though the friend would not respond for friendship sake, Christ says, “he will get up to give him whatever he needs because of persistence.” Christ invites us to see God as our friend whom we ask for our needs in persistence. Christ reminds us through this parable, that beyond being a friend, God is our Father. If we think of our earthly fathers as being kind, what more God who gives us life. God is faithful and compassionate, ready to hear us each time we ask of him in prayers.
What lessons does Abraham’s approach present to us today?
1. Prayer involves persistent bargaining. The length of negotiation between God and
Abraham almost became troubling. Why wouldn’t Abraham give up? Why wouldn’t he succumb after being stretched? Our prayers need patient waiting and expectancy which flows from the conviction that God will fulfill his part of the bargain. This asking can sometimes be tiring, yet it is worth the effort. Maybe you have been praying for a long time and there seems no result. Perhaps it is for a particular issue that bothers you -work, marriage, healing, or anything. Isn’t it tiring to keep asking? Abraham waited on God. God wants us to ask, to seek, and to knock. The acronym PUSH is applicable here -Pray Until Something Happens! He will eventually open, but he wants you to PUSH.
2. Prayer involves staying up at MIDNIGHT. Both in the case of Abraham and the instance of the friend in the gospel, comfort was second place. Abraham almost belittled himself for the sake of Sodom, so also the man in the gospel put himself out at midnight for the sake of his friend. The man in the gospel dared consequences associated with the night to seek help for his friend. The use of “midnight” here is significant as the standard for timing God. Doing midnight prayer can be an awkward thing to do, but it is an act of sacrifice, depriving oneself of sleep for what is considered important. Praying at midnight demonstrates urgency of the need being presented before God. The tradition of midnight prayers dates back to the Old Testament and is seen in many places in the Bible. Here are some instances: Ex.11:14 – “And Moses said, Thus saith the LORD, About midnight will I go out into the midst of Egypt.” Ex. 12:29 – “And it came to pass, that at midnight the LORD smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the firstborn of the captive that [was] in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle.” Ps. 119:62 – “At midnight I will rise to give thanks unto thee because of thy righteous judgments.” Matt. 25:6 – “And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.” Mk. 13:35 – “Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at evening, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning.” Acts 16:25 – “And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them.” Acts 20:7 – “And upon the first [day] of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight.” Praying at midnight can be a habit that shows mortification of the body for one’s (desperate) needs.
3. Prayer has an altruistic character. In prayer, the bargain is not always for the person
praying and for the person’s private needs. Abraham steps up for Sodom and Gomorrah, while the friend in the gospel steps out for his visitor. What and who do you pray for? How many times does your prayer focus on the need of others -your friend, colleague at work, or someone in need? What exactly do you ask for? Christ is inviting us to recognize the needs of others in asking God for help. And this is a simple logic, as you ask for another person’s good, someone else is asking for yours. That way, prayer becomes a cycle of request whereby we form chains of connection and concern for others. In prayer we speak to God on behalf of others. Christ reminds us, “If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” (Lk. 11:13)
We are invited today to review our prayer life and our attitude towards prayer. We live at a time when the need to pray has become pertinent and crucial. Think about the evils of Sodom and Gomorrah, and think about evils in our world today. It is quite scary when we imagine the level of violence and shedding of innocent blood -killing, hatred, wickedness, insincerity, betrayal, and various ways in which cities, states, and nations have turned their back on God. Could God be lamenting of us as he did for Sodom and Gomorrah? Could God be saying, "The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah (the USA, Africa, Europe, Asia, South America, etc) is so great, and their sin so grave, that I must go down and see whether or not their actions fully correspond to the cry against them that comes to me. I mean to find out." Could God be investigating us and giving us time to repent or be destroyed?
What moved God was the intercession of Abraham whereas what saved the city was the discovery of a few righteous persons. Abraham’s persistence in prayer was key. God has been and will always be interested in saving human beings created in his image and likeness. He wants men and women to rise up in prayer. God wants men and women to unite in asking on behalf of those whose hearts have become depraved and who have become prone to evil. God wants men and women who will draw his attention to the very few innocent and righteous persons in the city. God wants men and women to form alliance to do midnight prayers. God wants us to make sacrifices, dare the darkness, and persist in asking for his help. If He saved Sodom, he will save us. Let’s stay as persistent as Abraham, “Lord hear our prayer, and let our cry for help come unto you. Amen.
Readings: 1st- Gen. 18:20-32; 2nd- Col. 2:12-14; Gospel- Lk. 11:1-13