Throughout his time among us, Jesus offered countless revealing glimpses of our good and gracious God. The image most dear to me came in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. That welcoming and forgiving father with arms outstretched to his wayward son encouraged me early on to seek an equally intimate relationship with God. I admit that it has taken a lifetime for me to appreciate the demands of true intimacy. When one is intimate with another, one hides nothing. Those involved in such a relationship expose themselves in all of their vulnerability with every flaw and every virtue in full view. When God is a partner in such a relationship, God knows even those things which a person does not know or understand about him or herself. For us imperfect humans, this is both a frightening and absolutely life-giving arrangement. Acknowledging that God sees us and loves us as we truly are frees us to approach God with absolute confidence, the same confidence which Abraham exhibits in Genesis 18:20-32.
The God to whom Abraham speaks is both approachable and compassionate. The author of Genesis portrays this encounter as a conversation during which the Lord and Abraham walk together, just as we walk along with those we love. Though aware that he is in the presence of the Almighty, Abraham speaks freely as he bargains for the lives of the innocent inhabitants of Sodom. Though the Lord intends to respond to the outcry regarding the city’s sinfulness, God listens to Abraham. Abraham begins by begging that the city be spared if there are just fifty innocent people there. Then, he pleads on for forty-five, forty, thirty, twenty and ten innocent lives. The Lord responds sympathetically. The next chapter of Genesis reports that the Lord is mindful of Abraham’s request and spares the lives of Lot and his family.
The God of Abraham is the God to whom Jesus referred his disciples in Luke’s gospel (11:1-13). Jesus had just returned from praying when the disciples asked him to teach them how to pray. Jesus offered them The Lord’s Prayer and some important instructions regarding prayer. Jesus reminded the disciples of Abraham’s persistence and God’s generous response. Jesus speaks further of a man who responds to his neighbor’s need in the middle of the night, not so much out of love as out of weariness at the neighbor’s persistence. Jesus continues, “And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Jesus points out the disciples’ concern for their own children: “What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will God in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”
I have taken Jesus at his word more often than I dare admit here. One poignant example occurred during my mother’s final illness. My sisters and I gathered to tell our mother that cancer was about to change her life forever. Early on, I called upon the God of Abraham to walk with my mother and us as we began this difficult journey. Like Abraham, as soon as I had God’s attention, I pleaded on. First, I asked for my mother’s freedom from pain. When that request was granted, I went on. “Take away the confusion and allow her to hang on to her dignity,” I begged. When I felt assured of this, I requested the strength my sisters and I needed to remain present to our mother for as long as necessary. I knew God was listening as always, so I continued. I began to set limits on as long as necessary. “If she was my daughter, oh God, I would have her home for her birthday!” I challenged God to hear and to respond to my prayer as Abraham and Jesus taught me to do.
As my mother’s birthday drew near, she seemed pleased that she would reach that milestone. Perhaps she had done her own pleading because it was six days after her birthday when my mother embraced eternal life. The night before my mother’s funeral, I apologized to our good and patient God for my insolent and demanding prayer. I also thanked God for listening to me once again. If I could not have turned to my God in my need, I would have had no place to turn. The same is true for each of us. So it is that I join Abraham and Jesus in inviting you to talk to God, the One who listens- always!
©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved