In our first reading today we heard the Genesis account of Abraham’s intercession for the City of Sodom. And in the Gospel we heard Jesus teaching his disciples about prayer, especially by giving them the Lord’s Prayer. I should like now to put the two readings together. For convenience though, I take the more familiar version of the Lord’s Prayer, according to St. Matthew.
For all Abraham’s boldness in speaking, there is as yet no idea that he could address God as his Father. Later Abraham’s children, the children of Israel, would come to be known also as children of God. But it was only when Jesus came, son of David, son of Abraham (Mt 1:1), that God’s Fatherhood was revealed in its fullness. We Christians can address God as our Father because by faith and baptism we belong to Jesus, and so participate in his own divine and eternal Sonship.
Who art in heaven
The Almighty and eternal God, who made everything that exists, is infinitely beyond and above us. Before him we are dust and ashes (Gn 18:27). Still, God is not inaccessible, like the friend in the Gospel whose door was bolted and himself tucked up in bed with his children (Lk 11:7). No: God sees us and hears us, and he wants us to bring him our concerns. The original Hebrew text of our Genesis passage says that God stood in Abraham’s presence. Later Jewish scribes, shocked by such language, inverted the terms, making Abraham stand in God’s presence. But no: God in his mercy comes down to our level, in order to draw us up to his level, to heaven. He would do this supremely, of course, in and through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Hallowed by thy name
Only the just, or those who have repented of their sins and been forgiven, can hallow God’s name: can give him due worship and glory. The lives of unrepentant sinners by definition are turned away from God, away from charity, away from heaven. Abraham hallowed God’s name when he entertained the three mysterious guests at Mamre. He hallowed God’s name also in his prayer of intercession. The men of Sodom by contrast blasphemed God’s name by their behaviour and attitude. In their unashamed sinning they somehow anticipated hell on earth, already separating themselves utterly from God, from his justice, his mercy, his purity, his love.
Thy Kingdom come
The Kingdom of God will come when the reign of Christ is finally and universally established; when all sinners are made just with Christ’s own justice. Abraham knew that even a very few just men can be sufficient to save the City. Now still, in the time of the Church, we hold that Saints are always needed for the salvation of the rest. Even a very few Saints among the whole human race can somehow be enough to counter-balance the multitude of sinners. These few will always draw many others with them to heaven. St. Thérèse of Lisieux, notably, understood this as the heart of her vocation. What we say of Saints can surely be said also of monasteries. Far be it from any monk to think of himself as more holy than anyone else at all. Nevertheless: the monastery itself is set up as a school of the Lord’s service, and please God also a school of Saints. So we believe it matters, very much, for the whole world, that there should be monasteries, and that the monastic life in them should be lived well.
Thy will be done
Abraham seemed to be striving to change God’s will; haggling as at a market stall; beating down the terms he understood to have been established from the outset by God. Yet Abraham’s prayer for the salvation of others was certainly pleasing to God. How odd, therefore, that apparently his request was not granted. His nephew Lot was saved, but the City was destroyed. Ask, said Jesus, and it will be given (Lk 11:9). Here then we have an example of how prayer, apparently unsuccessful, can be super-abundantly answered, in ways beyond the imagination of the person praying. Abraham would become the father of all the just; of all who would be saved. From Abraham’s prayer would come that whole People, called out of the nations in order to be God’s own People, a People consecrated to him, in order in all things to do his will.
Give us this day our daily bread
The men of Sodom were not content with their daily bread. The Prophet Ezekiel (16:49) tells us that their sin began in pride, gluttony and idleness, and in refusal to help the poor and needy. Then they turned to unnatural lusts, to violence, and even to a direct attack on the very Angels of God (Gn 19:9). Our prayer for daily sustenance is also a declaration that we will be satisfied with what is sufficient for us. It may also be understood to include the plea that God not rain down fire from heaven upon us. Looking around at our society these days, you might well think that such punishment is long overdue. Apart from the ever more dangerous proliferation of nuclear weapons, we have the words of holy Scripture in many places warning us of that possibility. If these words were not enough, we also have prophetic warnings received in the Marian apparitions; together with exhortations to pray and do penance that the catastrophe be averted.
And forgive us our trespasses
St. Paul makes very clear that all of us need forgiveness (cf. e.g. Colossians 2:13, second reading). Only Christ was perfectly just. Yet since Christ poured out his blood for the forgiveness of sins, there is no sin, however foul, however heinous, however destructive, that cannot be forgiven. But we have to ask. In a time of national distress St. Gregory the Great set up penitential processions through the City, in order to beg for God’s mercy. But in our day we have City parades, which precisely celebrate disordered desires, boast about acts contrary to God’s law, take Pride in the refusal to ask for forgiveness.
As we forgive those who trespass against us
Yes, we must always forgive. But also we must not condone. We need to be clear about what sin is, when necessary name it, and have a great horror of it, above all in ourselves, but also in others.
And lead us not into temptation
All of us are subject to temptation. Jesus was tempted. Different people are tempted in different ways; some to abominable crimes; some to small infidelities. Our faith teaches us that no one ever needs submit to the temptation to sin (cf. 1 Cor 10:13; Hb 12:4). But we always need to ask God for grace and strength and light, if we are to remain faithful.
But deliver us from evil
Abraham’s prayer was for delivery from the temporal evil of God’s just punishment. But the ultimate evil is not that: the ultimate evil is eternal separation from God. The Cross of Christ was itself a prayer for us to be delivered from that evil. And the holy Mass, which is an extension of the prayer of the Cross, does the same. So now we offer Christ’s blood to God our Father for our own salvation and the salvation of all the world; for our own conversion, and for the conversion of all sinners.