The 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Year C
Peace be with you and greetings on this, our celebration of the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Does everyone here know what the word “paradigm” means? Just in case you don’t know or have forgotten here it is; a paradigm is a widely accepted belief, example, or concept by a society or person. Honestly, paradigm is a relatively new word in the English vocabulary but I often like to say, one of the Jesus’ missions in the world 2000 years ago was to eliminate any paradigms hindering humanities’ relationship with God. And we have a perfect example of one of Jesus’ paradigm crushers today as he tells his disciples how to pray.
Today in Luke’s Gospel we hear Jesus tell us to say, “Father” in Matthew we hear him say “Our Father” and in Mark he says “Abba Father”. “Abba Father” is also a phrase used by Paul in Galatians and Romans. And since the whole New Testament was originally written in Greek the word used would have been “Pater” where “Abba” is actually the Hebrew or Aramaic word Jesus probably spoke 2000 years ago but our Biblical scholars translate both words simply as father. And for most of my life I never gave it a second thought as I mechanically recited the Our Father until something happened in about 1989. Now I’m going to tell a story I told the children on the last day of Vacation Bible School so for those parents who were there – too bad. You’re just going to have to hear it again.
I was on a business trip to Israel and my hosts took me up to Lake Tiberius in the North. It was called the Sea of Galilee in Jesus’ time. I was standing on a little beach watching kids and families playing in the water and sand when a little girl about 5 or 6 years old running full speed, fell face first in shallow water, and hit the sandy bottom. She came up sputtering, spiting sand and water and then, in a few seconds the crying started. She looked around frantically until she found her father and then went screaming across the beach with her arms flailing in the air crying loudly, “Abba, Abba, Abba!” Now, it didn’t take too long for the old wheels to start turning and translate this whole scene into one that probably happens everyday during the summer on the Gulf Coast and realize she was crying, “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!” in Hebrew. And from that day forward I’ve never said the Lord’s Prayer in that same old mechanical way again.
At the time of Jesus Christ, Yahweh, the formal Hebrew name for God, was considered so sacred it would only be spoken out loud by the High Priest when he was alone in the Holy of Holies of the Temple. No common Jew would ever dare speak the sacred name of God out loud. That was a paradigm. And now we have Jesus telling all Jews to start verbally calling God a completely intimate name used in the closest of family relationships. He told them; when you pray to God your creator and the creator of the universe, call God – Daddy. Really? As we sit here in Church some 2000 years later it’s almost impossible to appreciate the effect of what Jesus was saying to his 1st Century audience. I’d suggest to you this however; my little story may merit a little prayerful meditation sometime, not only as you say the prayer Jesus gives us in today’s Gospel but the story really applies to all prayer.
There is one other image I’d suggest you think about as you recall the little story I just told about intimacy with God in prayer. The U.S. Catechism for Adults says this; “The point where God’s call and our response intersect is prayer. The event is always grace-filled and a gift.” Now of course we all know prayer takes many, many forms and reciting a formal prayer like the Our Father is just one of those forms but think about what I just quoted from the Catechism for a second. “The point where God’s call and our response intersect is prayer.” Consequently, the inverse must be true, no prayer, no intersection with His call – but remember, prayer takes many forms and that intersection with his call just may be nothing more than a simple “yes”.
OK, I’m sorry folks. As a technical engineering kind-a guy I tend to be very visual at times and when I read a sentence like; “The point where God’s call and our response intersect is prayer,” I visualized graph paper and intersecting lines. I can’t help it, but even out of this somewhat worldly technical visualization I suddenly saw something that actually helped my personal prayer life. A vertical line and a horizontal line intersecting in, you got it, the Cross! God’s call and my response represented by the Cross. And as a Catholic Christian I also visualize the suffering Jesus Christ at the center, forming a Crucifix as validation of God’s unimaginable love for us all.
So here’s your homework for today. Take a few minutes sometime soon to quietly meditate on that hurt and frightened little girl crying “Abba, Abba, Abba,” as she ran to her father and recall this is how Jesus told his disciples to speak to God in prayer. And always remember anytime you pray, even if it’s just a simple “yes” or “thank you” to God, it is an intersection with his call to you, it is always grace-filled, and it is a gift.