SUNDAY REFLECTION: THE “POLITICS” OF “DIALOGUING” WITH GOD

THE “POLITICS” OF “DIALOGUING” WITH GOD

Far from its negative connotations sequel to the
influence of the erring man, the idea of politics is so rich and brilliant for
it has to do with our societal wellbeing. Springing from the Greek root πολιτικός” – politicos”, which literally means “for, or relating to citizens”; thus we can say that Politics
is the process of making uniform decisions applying to all members of a group.
It also involves the use of power by
one person to affect the behaviour of another person or group. As a follow up, the
verb “to dialogue” simply means “to take part in a conversation or discussion
in order to resolve a problem”. Having said these, I want to establish or lay
proofs to the veracity that dialoguing with God involves a good sense of
politics (in the positive light which I explained above); for it portrays the
message of our Sunday Readings (July 24, 2016). What has politics to do with dialoguing;
and in this context, with God? This we shall come to understand at the end of
this reflection.
For
centuries of Christian thought and tradition, the Genesis narratives have
usually been understood to reveal an all-knowing, transcendent God.  This
understanding is well attested by the church fathers, and theologians of the
church throughout the centuries.  
Yet upon closer examination perhaps the Genesis narrative reveals a different
kind of God altogether – a God who responds to and with His people, and a God
who can change His mind and genuinely be surprised; a God who discovers new
things in relationship to His creation, a God who seeks
information; a God who acts in relation to human
decisions, and who adapts his course of interaction in response to
circumstances. I want to make clear that a plain reading (or a literal
understanding) of these accounts leads to a slightly different understanding of
God than the all-knowing, transcendent God with which we are so familiar from
our theological confessions. It might interest us to know that Biblical authors
make use of anthropomorphism (the attribution of human characteristics or
behavior to a god, animal, or object) in presenting God, in order to illustrate
a close relationship of God with His creatures, far from being a Transcendent
God alone. This anthropomorphic representation of God would enable Abraham to
dialogue and plead with him persistently in a political manner.
In relation
to the existing backdrop, the First reading (Gen. 18:20-32) presents us with the first “solemn prayer” (solemn dialogue) recorded in the Bible;
and it is a prayer for the sparing of Sodom and Gomorrah. Here, we see a God
who has come to seek information or to confirm a fact; here, we see a God who
changes his mind at the intercession of a just man – Abraham (a man who loves
his “brothers” and intercedes for the people). The scripture text says: “the
LORD said: ‘The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great,
and their sin so grave, that I must go down and see whether or not their
actions fully correspond to the
cry against them that comes to me. 
I mean to find out…’” After
hearing this, Abraham applied his political sense in dialoguing earnestly and persistently;
put differently, dialoguing with God that Sodom might be spared. Abraham acts
as an advocate or a defense lawyer here. He has introduced the ethical dilemma
and now makes it specific. He picks a number — fifty in this case — and asks
God if he will fail to forgive the cities for the sake of fifty righteous
people. By raising the issue of fifty righteous people, he allegorically draws
a line in the sand. Will God cross that line and commit the injustice of
destroying fifty righteous people? Will he not spare the city for the sake of
the righteous fifty? This is what I call a good use of the sense of
politics. Abraham begins with supposing fifty righteous persons in the
cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and then he ends his approximation abruptly at
ten. Why didn’t he end with the number five or one? Why does Abraham’s
supposition begin very optimistically with the number fifty and abruptly end at
ten? What significance did this number have in his time? Were these numbers
just a random selection, or did they have some cultural, historical, or
theological meaning? How does the inter-textual study of these numbers within
the Pentateuch illuminate this text?  According
to Amos 5:3, we see that the number fifty represents half of a small city
(hundred); hence Abraham might be hypothetically expecting an equal number of
wicked and righteous in the city. It would be more fitting to suggest that in
Abraham’s social context; perhaps these two numbers represented the sizes of
the two smallest groups in descending order. The number ten represents the
smallest number to make a group; this highlights the fact that even a very
small number of innocent men is more important in God’s sight than a majority
of sinners and is sufficient to stem the judgment. Little wonder the number ten
was used to designate Abraham’s tithe to Melchizedek – ‘a tenth of everything’
(Gen.14: 20) – “the smallest of everything”.
Returning
to our focus, we see that the only reason Abraham can appeal to Yahweh’s mercy
is because of what Abraham knows about Yahweh’s character. Yahweh can be
merciful because he is righteous and just. Put differently, Abraham understands
God as one who will act justly and righteously, and that understanding
emboldens Abraham to dialogue the way he does.
Recalling
the definition of politics as cited above, “the use of power by one person to affect the behaviour of another person or group. In this vein,
Abraham stands as one in power (a prophet) and makes good use of his
prophetic power in praying for the safety of others. Put differently, in
interceding for Sodom, Abraham is portrayed as fulfilling a role particularly
associated with prophets (see Exodus 32-34; 1 Samuel 12:23; Amos 7:1-9; Jeremiah
14:7-9, 13; 15:1). Here Abraham is not praying for his own people (he does not
mention Lot) but for Sodom, and this makes this episode unique among prophetic
intercessions. Little wonder God calls Abraham a prophet in Gen. 20:7 –
a privileged and a powerful intercessor who stands before God and therefore,
inviolable. Dear friends, this has a lot to do with us whenever we pray. The
Gospel Acclamation says: “You have received a Spirit of adoption, through which we cry, Abba, Father.” In this
same Spirit, we equally make good use of our prophetic power to pray and
intercede for our “brothers and sisters”. Little wonder, Christ (in the Gospel Reading – Lk. 11:1-13)
in teaching his disciples to pray, said: “OUR
FATHER”;
this shows that, while praying, we bear in mind that God is the
Father of all, and we are to pray not only for ourselves, but also for all
others, just as Abraham did in the first reading.
In his
dialogue with God, Abraham applies a good sense of politics, reminding God who
He (God) is – “the Judge of all the earth”; the one who loves righteousness and
hates wickedness (Psalm 45:7). Will the one who requires righteousness and
justice from others fail to act righteously and justly himself? Having
reminded God of who He (God) is, Abraham now remembers who he (Abraham) is. He
is dust and ashes — formed from the dust of the earth and destined to return
to dust. This is analogous to the way Christ taught us to pray. After saying “Our
Father”, He went on to say “Who art in heaven”, “Hallowed be thy Name” “Thy
Kingdom come” “thy Will be done on earth as it is in Heaven” This is a clear
indication of acknowledging who God is whenever we dialogue with him in prayer;
One who lives and reigns in Heaven, in our hearts, the Supreme Judge of all the
earth. We are called to imitate the Abrahamic sense of politics in dialoguing
with God.
Dear friends,
God did not counter Abraham’s inquiry concerning the fifty righteous people,
not a single one of Abraham’s requests meets with the slightest resistance.
Fifty, forty-five, forty, thirty, twenty, even ten. Does this teach us of
persistence in spite of the difficulties centered on the request we seek?
Therefore, God’s mercy outstrips our expectations.
We are called to dialogue with him in prayer and acknowledge His worth, and of
course He would have mercy on us, heal our land, and grant our humble request;
just as we see in the case of the Psalmist who dialogued with God and received
answers, put differently, from the Responsorial Psalm (Ps. 138:1-2,2-3,6-7,7-8), we see: “Lord, on the day I called for help, you answered me.” In dialoguing
with God, we have to bear in mind that he is a merciful God, just as Abraham
acknowledged; a God who is ready to forgive us our sins when we turn to him
with a sincere heart. Ipso facto, Mercy is the attribute of God. This is what
the Second Reading (Col. 2:12-14) clearly points out. Part of the text says:
“He
brought you to life along with him, having forgiven us all our transgressions; obliterating the bond against us, with its legal
claims, which was opposed to us, he also removed it from our midst, nailing it to the
cross”.
Above all, as the
children of Abraham, we are called to be agents of blessing to all of the
nations of the world. Praying for the good and the justice of our rulers and
nations is a primary dimension of the Church’s social and political vocation.
God has set us apart to seek his mercy for the sake of others.

Shalom!

Happy Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary
Time, Year C.

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