In today’s readings we meet the Lord our God speaking to us through very particular human customs and practices, starting with Abraham’s haggling with God. I am very open to this story for it reminds me of my early up-bringing in a Catholic-Jewish neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. It was a regular thing for each of us four boys to be taken in turn by our parents early on a Sunday morning, right after Mass, over to Canal Street in Manhattan, where all the Jewish clothing stores stood side by side the length of the block. We went looking for the best bargain for our grade school graduation suit, our first suit with long pants.
The haggle would take place as soon as they found a suit they liked. My father, consulting alone with my mother, feeling the material and commenting with her, would then turn to the owner and make a much lower offer than the price listed.
The haggle was on. Back and forth they would go, broken only to consult with my mother, then back to haggling, each giving a little. I was marched out into the street to see the color in the true daylight, and marched back in for the haggle to begin again. It was an eventful morning, with several turnings away to leave and being called back by the owner, "Mister, Mister." And it always ended with everyone happy.
What kind of God is this Lord of Abraham? How very humanly he debates first with Himself whether he should let Abraham know ahead of time what He is thinking of doing with Sodom and Gomorrah (where Abraham’s nephew Lot then lived, incidentally). And how Abraham argues with Him – not putting forth how good he himself has been, how loyal he has been, but rather reminding God of His own goodness, His own justice and mercy. What a wonderful relationship our God has with Abraham and all of his descendants. How open and wonderful is His great love.
Is Jesus in the second reading giving us some profound truths in somewhat the same style as the story of Abraham? It reminds me of an old Yiddish (Jewish) joke I heard as a kid. A man went into the delicatessen and said, "I’ll have a turkey sandwich." The owner replied "I have no turkey."
"Well. Then give me a chicken sandwich."
"If I had chicken, wouldn’t I have given you a turkey sandwich?"
The replies of Jesus to the scribe and to another of his disciples have the same kind of snap to them. Especially the second one: "Lord, let me go first and bury my father." "But Jesus answered him, ‘Follow me, and let the dead bury their
dead.’" What is Jesus really saying to us?
Br. Peter A. Fitzpatrick, CFX, a Xaverian Brother, is a Passionist Associate at Ryken House, across the creek from the Passionist Monastery, in Louisville, Kentucky.