17th SUNDAY -C- July 28, 2019

Genesis 18: 20-32; Psalm 138; Colossians 2: 12-14; Luke 11: 1-13

by Jude Siciliano, OP

Dear Preachers:

WELCOME: We have a new feature on our webpage, "Breath of Ecology." These will be weekly reflections by Sr. Joel Gubler, OP to help people discover God in nature. Sister is a native of New Orleans, lives in Springfield, Ky. and is a member of the Dominican Sisters of Peace. She has been a teacher, school and parish administrator, social worker, religious educator, and missionary. Go to our webpage and click on "Breath of Ecoloy." https://www.preacherexchange.com/

Welcome to the latest email recipients of "First Impressions," the Dominican Sisters of Blauvelt, NY

Someone returned recently from a tour of the Holy Land and described their experience to me. They live in the mid-west on a farm and were excited about the wonders they saw of modern irrigation in Israel which made, they said, the "desert bloom." As for the rest of the land, my farmer friend told me, "It looks like the face of the moon; so rocky and parched."

Imagine 2000 years ago. It was still the Holy Land, but the vast majority of people were desperately poor. It was also a hostile land for travelers. The terrain, "the face of the moon," was not just uncomfortable, it was dangerous because of the thieves who attacked travelers. In such an environment hospitality for a friend, or stranger, was critical and could be a matter of life or death.

Hospitality was a fine art. The rule was that you supplied your best, even more than a guest could eat. But such hospitality was not unique to those times. I was at a luncheon a while back honoring a Catholic sister who spent years working in a major southern city with the poor. She was asked what got her started on this road; sensitivity to the needs of the disadvantaged. She described an incident from her youth. In the days of segregation, six African-American men were digging a ditch on a hot summer day in a vacant lot next to her home. One of the men knocked at the back screen door and asked for water. She got the jelly jar glasses her family drank from and was filling them when her mother came in and said to her, "No dear," and replaced the jelly jars with their best Sunday-visitor glasses – from the top shelf of the cupboard. Her mother said to her, "Honey, you always serve guests with the best glasses." That gesture was imprinted on her the rest of her life and she names it as a key moment that opened her eyes to the stranger in need. She said, "I woke up to the importance of hospitality for each person."

In today’s parable a neighbor knocks at the door of a home in the middle of the night. In a small village all would know each other. They would also have shared a common oven for baking and know where to find the best bread to serve a visitor. The homes were small, more like a hut. At midnight when the neighbor came calling, the family would be stretched out, asleep in the same room. What a disturbance it would be to get up to respond to the person knocking at the door. Even more, to share from the family bread basket. Would that sharing mean less for the family? Hospitality at midnight could also be a risky undertaking – was it really a friend knocking late at night?

But Jesus’ hearers were well trained in hospitality. Not to be gracious and welcome a traveler would have been put a stigma, not only on the host family, but on the entire village. There was no suspense in this parable. The listeners would have known what the response would be. The person would get up and fulfill the request, with generosity – no matter what time of day or night it was. It would be unthinkable to hold back. Sharing food was really sharing life and rules of hospitality required sharing the best you had – the freshest bread.

Jesus begins the parable saying, "Suppose one of you has a friend to whom he goes at midnight...." He is really posing a rhetorical question, presuming this response from his hearers: "No one would turn down a friend coming for bread for another friend." Their ways of hospitality presumed a generous response. And that is where the parable comes home to us.

Jesus is the hospitality of God; the best and always-ready-bread for the hungers we face on our sometimes arduous life journey. Hungers like: trying to keep doing what is right and fair; loving those who are less than loving to us; addressing the overwhelming issues of poverty, education, racism and other seeming-immovable mountains; facing serious illness, or the physical hardships of old age, etc.

I always thought asking, seeking, and knocking were kinds of guarantees. If I prayed the right prayer, hard enough and long enough, what I asked for I would get; what I sought I would find and when I knocked, I would get a quick and easy entry. And, like you, I have prayed hard and long for some not-trifling things. Today I hear Jesus say, "How much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him." That always sounded like a consolation prize for what I prayed hard about and didn’t get by "asking… seeking… knocking."

Now I realize I have been heard and given the bread of Jesus’ very Spirit. The Spirit was given when: I stayed with a difficult situation and somehow muddled through; I persevered in a struggle for what I thought was right even though things did not change quickly; was able to make a difficult sacrifice I hadn’t thought possible; found myself changing, becoming more compassionate towards folks who drive me to distraction!

Jesus says God will give us the Spirit if we ask. That means a new breath inside to quicken our spirits; breathe new life into some lifeless situations; give hope when we are ready to throw in the towel. So we ask, seek, and knock for that Spirit which Jesus promises us, believing that we are knocking at a door of a friend who is hospitable and has good bread waiting for us.

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings: