Abraham & Yeshua Correct My Primitive Understandings of God

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.

Hallelujah indeed!