On the Day I Called for Help

On the Day I Called for Help

The Light of the World by William Holman Hunt (between 1851-1856) Manchester Art Gallery
via Wikimedia Commons

(An off the cuff reflection on Sunday’s Readings.)

“The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great… 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.”

“Lord, on the day I called for help, you answered me.”

Today’s antiphon for the responsorial psalm threw a new light on the familiarity of the first reading from Genesis. I don’t think I’d noticed as clearly before that God is on his way to answer a call for help when he stops on that visit to Abraham. Someone has been crying out for help, and God is going to figure out what to do about that cry. Because that’s what God does: he answers the cries of the poor and needy and oppressed.

But Abraham also cries to him, a competing cry. There’s a cry for justice that God is responding too, and now we get Abraham’s cry for mercy: Lord, spare the innocent! “Far be it from you to do such a thing, to make the innocent die with the guilty so that the innocent and guilty would be treated alike.” 

Now God is faced with complexity: the innocent and guilty all mixed up together: how to punish the one but spare the other. Of course the end of all of Abraham’s bargaining is that God cannot find even ten innocent people and does destroy the cities… Or does he? He sends an angel to tell Lot to get himself and his family out of the city. Presumably, God has found some innocents that he is willing to spare.

Of course, God doesn’t really change his mind… the purpose of the story is to teach Abraham, and us, something about the nature of God: to demonstrate that he listens to our cries, that he responds to persistence and that he wants us to beg, plead, persist in asking for the things that we need from him, be they justice or bread or eternal life.

St Paul says: “Having forgiven us all our transgressions, obliterating the bond against us, with its legal claims… he removed it from our midst, nailing it to the cross.”

I love that image. The sentence is written up with its list of all our transgressions and failures, for which we are duly condemned— and he nails it to the cross. Mark: Paid in Full. Debt: cancelled. Sentence: reprieved. Is there anything more glorious?

And then we get to the Gospel. Jesus who has been praying is asked to teach his followers how to pray. And it’s so simple. So beautiful. So easy. God is your father. He wants to give you all the good things. Just ask him. Just let him feed you.

Don’t worry about being annoying: he’s saying, do what Abraham did: keep asking. Ask some more. You aren’t asking for enough. Be bold. Be persistent. Do you need bread to feed your friend because you’re plumb out but can’t bear to turn your friend away? It’s the middle of the night, you don’t want to be a pain. Your neighbor’s already in bed, his lights are out, his door locked. Who wants to be the annoying guy who ticks off his neighbor? Who wants to be the pest.

Jesus says, where God is concerned we should not be afraid of being the annoying needy guy. We should ask, every single day, for what we need. Every day. Not only the big things. Not only when we are in crisis. He wants us to talk to him every day, tell him what we need, all of it, even the small stuff. He wants us to trust him, to rely on him. To realize that he’s the one it’s all going to come from regardless. We are all infants, unless our parents feed us we are going to starve. So we raise our voices and cry: we weep and wail and tell God what we need. And he… he comes down to find us. He listens to us. All of us, not just the guys on one side or the other. He listens to both sides. And then feeds everyone. Rescues everyone. No man left behind. That’s God.

How often do I dare to bring him all my little troubles and lay them in his lap? How often do I instead hold them close, certain that I can deal with them myself, self-sufficient, needing nothing? Sigh. Yeah, all too often I’m the stubborn two year old shrieking: I do it ‘self! Spurning help.

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