Pastoral Message – July 24, 2022
All things in this world are relative to one another. On cloudy mornings, before or after Mass, people will say to me, “Oh, Father, it’s so cold and gloomy this morning.” Yet, relative to New York, our cloudy summer mornings are much more pleasant than the heat and humidity that they feel even at 8 am. Relative to Portland, our cloudy mornings are much more pleasant than a steady drizzle. I govern my reaction to a cloudy morning in Huntington Beach by comparing it to my prior experiences and then I can draw conclusions about the relative merits of each.
There were many evil people, cities and nations in the Old Testament. Relative to all of those, the scriptures present Sodom and Gomorrah as the very worst. In fact, to this day, they remain the archetypical examples of sinful cities. It is likely that both Abraham and Lot knew of the immorality of the cities even before Lot moved there. There were many victims of the injustice and violence rampant in the city. In fact, in the next passage from Genesis we hear of the great violation of the sacred duty of hospitality because some of the residents of Sodom tried to harm Lot’s guests.
Abraham may have been thinking about Lot when he is negotiating with God on behalf of the hypothetical “righteous” people of Sodom and Gomorah. On the other hand, he may simply have assumed that even in such evil cities there had to be at least ten people who were “righteous.” Abraham appeals to God’s sense of fairness and explains that, relative to all the other gods that people worship, God should hold Himself to the highest possible standard and should never be unjust or unfair. As it turns out, God is willing to spare Lot and his family, but not the remainder of Sodom and Gomorrah.
There are two reasons why I love this exchange between Abraham and God. First, Abraham is boldly advocating on behalf of strangers even though he knows that God might get angry. Second, God DOES NOT get angry. He doesn’t lose His patience, He doesn’t dig in his heels. He remains calm and gracious throughout the exchange. Abraham boldly pushes, God calmly responds. Both God and Abraham knew their place in the conversation. Abraham knew that God was God and he was not. Therefore, he approached the conversation in complete humility. God was not concerned about being challenged or questioned. He remained securely in control. He did not take Abraham’s questions as an affront to His authority.
How often have we had an opportunity to participate in a similar exchange with our spouses, parents or children? How often did both parties stay calm? How often did pride cause the conversation to become heated, abrupt or rude? If we were speaking with our kids or elderly parents, how often did we become exasperated and simply say, “BECAUSE I SAID SO, THAT’S WHY!” That’s very different from the polite conversation that Abraham had with God.
God so loved Abraham, that He chose Abraham to be the father of the great nation of the chosen people. Abraham so loved and trusted God that he was willing to obey God even when God called on him to sacrifice his only son. We might argue that the negotiation between God and Abraham went so smoothly because of that enormous love. Yet, we seem to be less patient, less humble, and less open, precisely when we are speaking with those whom we love the most in this world. If we can’t have this kind of calm and loving conversation with those whom we love, perhaps it’s time to re-examine how we see those relationships and how we see ourselves relative to the other people in our lives. Do we think that we are more important than they are? Do we think that we are busier or more stressed than they are? Do we think that we have less time to speak with them than they have for us?
One of my favorite Harry Chapin songs is “Cat’s in the Cradle.” It tells of a father who is too busy working to spend time with his young son. At the end of the song, the father is heartbroken because the son is the one who is too busy to spend time with his father. I remember playing the song for my son when he was about 11 years old. The lyrics say, “My son turned ten just the other day, he said, ‘thanks for the ball dad, come on let’s play…can you teach me to throw?’ I said, ‘Not today, I got a lot to do…’ He said, ‘that’s OK.’” As tears streamed down my face, I worried that I was making the same mistakes as the dad in the song. Fortunately, my son made me feel a lot better when he said, “Dad, how come the kid is 10 and doesn’t know how to throw a ball? You taught me that a long time ago and we throw all the time.” It’s nice to get some things right as a dad.
Of course, Jesus tells us in the Gospel that even the most loving, caring father on this earth doesn’t come close to being the kind of perfect father that God is. The only way that we can hope to approach the level at which God loves us is if we make time be there for one another – whether it’s throwing a ball, engaging in a long (perhaps tedious) conversation, helping with homework, or simply laying on the couch in sweatpants watching Sandlot or Star Wars. The more time we spend together, the easier it is to spend time together. It gives us a chance to recharge our relationships so that we can try to be as patient and loving as God. Time is precious, don’t waste a second of it.