I would venture to say that most human beings, when encountering people who have harmed others, who live evil, ungodly lives, would instinctively believe that such people should be punished. Furthermore, most people would say that leaders and governments have the duty to protect the innocent and the law-abiding populace by removing those who wound and destroy.
At times, each of us may sit in judgement over others. We may be inflamed with indignation at the sins of others, seeking that they be punished and even destroyed. In today’s first reading we hear of how God plans to render justice to the evil doers in Sodom and Gomorrah. Furthermore, we hear of an intriguing dialogue between Abraham and God, where Abraham pleads for the lives of anyone who may be righteous in the cities. In reality, Abraham is pleading for his nephew Lot who had moved to Sodom – despite Lot abandoning Abraham and ignoring his advice and warnings, Abraham prays for Lots wellbeing and protection. In Genesis 19 God tests Sodom by sending two disguised angels, who were offered shelter by Lot. Genesis 19 relays that all the men from every part of the city of Sodom–both young and old–surrounded the house and called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.” Lot tried his best to protect them, and as such was proved righteous. God was true to his word – those who were righteous – Lot and his family were saved – while the evil doers were ultimately destroyed.
Sometimes we can get frustrated that evil people seem to get away with their evil deeds, and even thrive. In many places the Scriptures remind us that this is due to God’s patience, as God desires that all people be saved and that He gives us time to repent.
In today’s Second Reading St Paul, in writing to the Christians in Colossae, points says to all Christians “even when you were dead in your sins and your flesh was uncircumcised, God gave you new life along with him. He has forgiven us all our sins, erasing the record against us with its decrees that are hostile to us.” St Paul is reminding each of us that even though we now are in right relationship with God, by our sins we too deserved death but that by the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross our sins have been forgiven – our debt has been paid.
Does this them mean that people’s conduct is no longer important? Does this mean that nothing may be judged to be evil? Does God just overlook everyone’s sins and admit them to heaven after death? The quickest of Google searches on what Jesus taught about judgement and hell proves that this is certainly not the case. For instance, our Lord taught that:
• “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Matthew 7:13-14.
• Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” Matthew 25:41
Yet it is not God’s will that anyone should be condemned to hell – in fact 1 Timothy 2:4 the Bible teaches that God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. Yet this salvation is offered as an invitation, and as with all invitations it may be accepted or refused. In Genesis it is reencountered how God invited Abraham and his descendants into a saving covenant, with God dialoguing with Abraham. In the person of Jesus this invitation to be in right relationship with God is extended to all nations.
As all relationships thrive or wither depending on the frequency and quality of communication, our Lord’s disciples realise that to be in a good relationship with God one need to pray, and to pray correctly. Thus they ask Jesus to teach them to pray. As we know, He teaches them the “Our Father prayer.” Sometimes people struggle with the sense that their prayers are not heard or answered. How does Jesus want us to pray? I present three out of many possible ideas for reflection”
• Firstly, the Our Father begins by focussing on God and the unfolding of His will. Sometimes when our prayers are focussed on ourselves, they are not answered as the request may not be in line with God’s will or in our best interest. We may not be perceiving that God is replying – we may be so focussed on what we asked for that we do not open to what God is communication. Jesus promised “The one who asks always receives, the one who searches always finds, the one who knocks will always have the door opened.”
• Secondly, are we praying only for ourselves or are we interceding for others? As Abraham pleaded with God, so too are we to implore God’s grace for others. The words “I, me, and my” do not appear in the Our Father!
• Thirdly, is our prayer about seeking a deeper relationship with God, for us and for others? Jesus did not promise that we would receive goods or a comfortable life – he promised that the heavenly Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!
All humans have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Abraham was called by God – many times his faith failed but ultimately he learnt to obey God’s will in faith. Thankfully, God in his mercy affords us many chances too for repentance and to return to him and to grow in holiness and love. For those who seek this He sends the Holy Spirit, the indwelling presence of God to help us and to change us. As Abraham prayed for the salvation of others, may we also be a people of intercession rather than of judgement, seeking that God’s kingdom may come that that all people be saved.