Readings for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Genesis 18: 20-32; Psalm 138: 1-8; Colossians 2: 2-14; Romans 8: 15bc; Luke 11: 1-13.
My remarks this Sunday will be brief. All day yesterday, I worked hard on a revision of my letter to my granddaughter, Eva. Recall that last Thursday she left for a two- week service project in Panama. That made me want to help her understand her context and how it related to U.S. history and even to U.S. support for the war in Ukraine. You can find that revised text here. I published it on OpEdNews where I’m a senior editor.
But even as this Sunday is running out (It’s now 5:00 in the afternoon) I find myself unable to resist reflecting on the extraordinarily beautiful readings for this 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time (as if these times could in any way be described as “ordinary!”).
My inability to shut my mouth is sparked by the fact that this Sunday’s readings speak directly to my lifelong struggle to free myself from a very primitive understanding of God inflicted on me (and so many others) by my strict Catholic upbringing. Thankfully, today’s readings end up offering liberation from that understanding.
I mean, here I am a would-be theologian formally trained in that discipline for 12 years in the Catholic seminary, and for five years in Rome till I got a doctorate in moral theology. And then I taught theology-related courses for 40 years at Berea College — all the time studying liberation theology with some of its greatest proponents in Italy, Germany, Brazil, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Mexico, Zimbabwe, South Africa, and India.
And though it’s true that all that study long since caused me to change my idea of God INTELLECTUALLY, I must confess that PSYCHOLOGICALLY and EMOTIONALLY, I’ve struggled to liberate myself from an idea of God inflicted on me initially by the good Sisters of St. Joseph (whom I still love and admire) at St. Viator’s Elementary School on Chicago’s Northwest side. (I went to school there from 1946 to 1954.)
It was an idea of God as strict patriarch, law giver, and judge. Yes, he (sic) was one who judges, condemns, and punishes especially any transgressions connected with sex.
(Do any of you share my experience?)
Anyway, that idea was driven even deeper by my pre-Vatican II seminary training in the Society of St. Columban by the wonderfully good and sincere Irishmen who taught me there from 1954-1967. But at least until Vatican II (1962-’65) they too were captives of this Great Judge who (in retrospect) I now see as closer to a devil figure than the Divine One manifested in Yeshua of Nazareth — along, of course, with the Buddha, Krishna, Mohammed, and untold (literally) indigenous religious figures.
I’m pleased to say that my post-Vatican II studies in Rome (1967-’72) liberated me from my primitive conceptions — at least, as I said, intellectually. Ironically, I was saved there (and in my late seminary years) from “God” (or should I say “Satan?”).
Well, it’s that more angelic Divine One replacing the diabolic Great Punisher who receives welcome emphasis in today’s lessons. Please read them for yourselves here. Then check out my “translations.” I hope I got them right.
I know that I’ve joyfully tried to capture their liberating spirit.
Genesis 18: 20-32 Imagine a man, A human being, Mere dust and ashes Proving himself More moral, More just, More compassionate, Than his entire tribe And even (It seems) Than God Himself! That was Our Ancient Father Abraham Who incredibly Defied his Vengeful people And persuaded Its wrathful War God Not to massacre The 50,000 Of arch-enemy Sodom If only 10 innocents Could be found Among them. Now there Was a great theologian! Psalm 138: 1-8 Yes, Abraham replaced Israel’s unforgiving Warrior God With a loving Parent, Responsive to human need, Truthful and kind, Especially to the oppressed Protecting them From all harm. That Great All Parent Indeed merits Praise and thanks. Colossians 2: 2-14 And imagine That Great Parent Further manifesting Compassionate divinity Even more fully Than Abraham. Yes, It happened in Yeshua, The precious expression Of God’s boundless Forgiveness Though our transgressions Might be greater Than Sodom’s And condemned By merciless human law Even demanding Our execution As it did Yeshua's. Romans 8:15bc Far from A cruel War God, Yeshua said We could Call such a Source of Life Daddy! Yes “Daddy!” Halleluiah!! Luke 11: 1-13 That’s what Yeshua meant When his friends Asked for A prayer like John’s. "Say this," The Master replied: “Papa, we love you, Keep all of us Safe, Well fed, Debt free, just, Unthreatened, And filled With your Spirit. "The One Who always gives Good Gifts (Never stones or snakes) Inevitably responds To a simple prayer Like that Or even a silent one Breathed Only from Your heart’s Holy Spirit."
Isn’t that great? Far from being a harsh Patriarch, Judge and Punisher, Yeshua’s Yahweh (and Abraham’s at least in this tale) is more like a soft loving Mother, one who frees from reactionary human laws, and who loves, appreciates, and rewards.
We can’t hear too much of that.