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prayingA reading from the book of Genesis
(Chapter 18:20-32)
 
Imagine making a deal with God, bargaining with God over the fate of thousands of people. That is the scene here with Abraham asking God to spare the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. It is like a scene from a Middle Eastern marketplace, except this one has the fate of two cities in the bargain. The authors of Genesis use this story because they know it will resonate with their audience.
 
“In those days, the Lord said: ‘The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah 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.” Standing in the divine Presence, Abraham sees an opening and asks, “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? Far be it from you to do such a thing to make the innocent die with the guilty so that the innocent and the guilty would be treated alike!’” God then says that he would spare the city for the sake of the innocent people, and the bargaining begins! Abraham keeps on lowering the bar to forty five, then forty, thirty, twenty, and finally ten. God then relents: “For the sake of those ten, I will not destroy it.”
 
This may seem like a strange story about an all-loving and forgiving God, but remember, this was written at a time when most people believed in pagan gods that were unloving, violent, and untrustworthy. Abraham was the first of a whole new order, a new relationship with a God who was just and always on the side of his people. We Christians come from that tradition, which was fulfilled in the long-awaited Messiah, Jesus Christ.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 138:1-2, 2-3, 6-7, 7-8)
 
“O Lord, on the day I called for help, you answered me.” That’s the refrain, from verse 3; we also read in Psalm 138, “When I called, you answered me.” But there is no timetable. Prayer is not like putting your card in the machine, and out comes money. Even if we know that, we can be disappointed when it seems there is no answer, or at least not the one we want and when we want it. We need, then, to pray for discernment and patience.
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Colossians
(Chapter 1:24-28)
 
“Brothers and sisters: You were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.” Paul wants all the converts to Christianity to know that in baptism they died with Christ and were raised with him. There was no need for them to be circumcised. “And even when you were dead in transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, he brought you to life along with him, having forgiven us all of our transgressions.”
 
There was a major controversy in the early Church about whether gentiles who wanted to be baptized needed to be circumcised. Paul spoke out many times against this obligation and eventually won the battle, thus opening the Church to thousands and soon millions of new converts.
 
For Paul, baptism was the first step in finding a new life, a new community, and the presence of the Holy Spirit who comes to all in baptism. That is so important for us to remember—that the very Spirit of God dwells in each of us, even if and when we may have our doubts and major failings.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
(Chapter 11:1-13)
 
A disciple said to Jesus, “‘Lord, teach us how to pray.’” He said to them, ‘When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name, your Kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us, and do not subject us to the final test.’”
 
Then Jesus told a parable about a man who knocked on the door of his neighbor at midnight to ask for food for a friend who had just arrived hungry. The sleepy neighbor replied, “Do not bother me; the door has already been locked and my children and I are already in bed. I cannot get up to give you anything.” Jesus then said, “I tell you, if he does not get up to give the visitor the loaves because of their friendship, he will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence. And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”
 
The point Jesus is making with this short parable is that we need to be persistent in prayer. It may be that we ask God to grant us a request, an important and appropriate request, but nothing seems to happen. Persistence! The answer may come to us slowly, or it may not be the answer we are hoping for, but we should persist and trust in a God who is not far away, but who lives within us.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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Lord God,
in your wisdom you invite us
out of our complacency.
You open our eyes
to see you with new vision.
You open our hearts
to love you with greater passion,
and you open our hands
to serve you with the purest intentions.
Lead us more deeply
into the mystery of discipleship
so that we may follow you
with steadfast faithfulness.
Give us the heart of Mary,
so that we may be transformed
by your Word
and fortified by your presence.
Give us the mind of Martha,
so that we can diligently accomplish your mission.
But above all, continue to invite us
into intimate and lasting relationship.
We ask this through Christ, our Lord.
Amen.

 
Adapted from The People’s Prayer Book, © RENEW International.

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A reading from the book of Genesis
(Chapter 18:1-10a)
 
“The Lord appeared to Abraham by the terebinth of Mamre. … Looking up, Abraham saw three men standing nearby.” So, God appeared to Abraham, but not as one person but rather as three. It is hard to know who these men were except to say that they represented God or that one of them was God. In any case, Abraham knew that they were special, and so he asked his wife, Sarah, to make them a meal.  After they ate, the men asked Abraham where Sarah was. He replied, “There in the tent.” Then, one of the men said something wonderful to a couple who had no children and a woman who was beyond child-bearing age: “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah will then have a son.”
 
This is how it all started. Abraham would be the father not only of children but of a whole nation who would be called the People of God. Throughout the Scriptures, God comes to his people in the context of a meal, and so he does today, at the celebration of the Eucharist.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 15:2-3, 3-4, 5)
 
“He who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord.” Do you consider yourself a just man or just woman—in your family, your business, your community? Great! Beyond that, where do you stand on so many of the justice issues of our day: sexism, racism, economic inequality, the criminal-justice system, immigration, tyrants around the world? It may be that you feel powerless facing these difficult issues but living in a democracy means we need to keep informed so we can act are not passive to injustice and can act when it is within our power.
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Colossians
(Chapter 1:24-28)
 
In this letter, Paul writes about one of the deepest and most important elements in our lives, mystery— not a mystery story that eventually is resolved but the Divine Mystery, the very presence of God in our lives, not in some far-off future but NOW. Paul writes that he is “to bring to completion for you the word of God, the mystery hidden from ages and from generations past. But now it has been manifested to his holy ones, to whom God chose to make known the riches of the glory of this MYSTERY among the Gentiles; it is Christ in you, the hope for glory.”
 
There it is! That is the great mystery, Christ in us. The spirit of Christ lives in us. Amazing, but, of course, like any great gift, we need to accept it. How and when have you experienced the presence of Christ in you and all around you? How have you responded? Please remember that you and I and all of us are living in the mystery of God’s eternal love right now.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
(Chapter 10:38-42)
 
This is the story of the two sisters, Martha and Mary, whom Jesus loved. At first, what occurs in the incident described in this passage may seem unfair. There was “Mary who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” It sounds like a reasonable request. But, “The Lord said to her in reply, ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need for only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.’” It seems as if Jesus is putting Martha in her place. Maybe so, in a way, but we know that Jesus deeply loved both Martha and Mary and their brother, Lazarus, so much so that he came at their call to raise brother Lazarus from the dead. Here, he is pointing out that he would rather the sisters, and we, spent more time with him and less time absorbed in worldly things.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.
 
Image credit: JESUS MAFA. Martha and Mary, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=48311 [retrieved July 17, 2019]. Original source: http://www.librairie-emmanuel.fr (contact page: https://www.librairie-emmanuel.fr/contact).

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Jesus,
please help us open our eyes and hearts and hands
to those children of God suffering in our midst.
Help us stand with people, as you did,
when they are victimized or vilified
because of their sexual orientation,
their race or nationality,
a disease they have,
or criminal deeds they have done.
Help us, O gracious God,
become good neighbors to all your children.
Help us to become sisters and brothers,
in deeds as well as in words,
and advance the coming of your beloved community.
We pray in the name of your Son, Jesus
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever
Amen.

 
Adapted from The People’s Prayer Book, © RENEW International.

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A reading from Book of Deuteronomy
(Chapter 30:10-14)
 
Moses said to the people: “If only you would heed the voice of the Lord, your God, and keep his commandments and statutes that are written in this book of the law, when you return to the Lord your God, with all your heart and all your soul. For this command that I enjoin on you today is not mysterious and remote for you. . . . No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out.”
 
The Law of Moses was superior to any other law that existed at that time. Moses was saying that the people had this Law not only in their mouths but in their hearts. There was a beautiful intimacy there that became much more complicated over the centuries as various priests of the temple, rabbis, Sadducees, and Pharisees piled on hundreds of dietary and other laws that became a terrible burden for the people and pushed them away from the powerful simplicity of the Mosaic Law, which focused on loyalty to the one God.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 69:14, 17, 30-31, 33-34, 36, 37)
 
“Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.” Which of God’s words give you Spirit and life? Ideally, it is love, God’s love for you and the love you share with others.
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Colossians
(Chapter 1:15-20)
 
This is one of the most beautiful canticles in all of Scripture. It tells us who Christ is: “Christ Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, … He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things he himself might be preeminent.”
 
Paul wants his readers and all who heard him to know the place of Jesus Christ in all of creation. This is not just another prophet or religious leader. No, he is the presence of God in our midst and being “the firstborn from the dead,” he brings eternal life to all. That is worth taking the chance that, even if you are martyred, you will have a new life with Jesus. That is the same promise that awaits us now.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
(Chapter 10:25-37)
 
From time to time there were “smart guys,” in this case, “a scholar of the Law who stood up to test him and said, ‘Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘What is written in the Law? How do you read it?’” So, this smart guy said, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus answered him, “You have answered correctly, do this and you will live.”
 
Then came the trick question. Because the man wanted to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied with one of the most important parables in the gospels, the story of the Good Samaritan. A man coming from Jerusalem “fell victim to robbers” who “stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead.” A priest of the temple and a Levite came that way and passed him by. Why? Jesus does not say, but perhaps it was because they were on their way to the temple and did not want to be defiled by blood and prevented from worshiping in their official roles. Then, there was a twist in the story as “a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight. He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them. Then he lifted him up on his own animal, took him to an inn and cared for him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper with the instruction, ‘Take care of him. If you spend more than what I have given you, I shall repay you on my way back.”
 
Then Jesus asked the man the key question: “Which of these three, in your opinion was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” The man was trapped by his own smart-guy question. So he answered, “The one who treated him with mercy.” Jesus said to him “Go and do likewise.”
 
Jesus expanded the Law of Love to everyone, including someone you might consider your enemy, as a Jew would have regarded a Samaritan. That’s a tough one! Is there someone that you consider an enemy, in your family, your neighborhood, our country or state? Even though you may strongly disagree with that person, would you help the person in a time of need? Could you try to see that person in a different light, from a different perspective?
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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