29 July 2007

DEAL OR NO DEAL?

17 Sunday in Ordinary Time
Lk 11:1-13


One of the popular television game shows in the Philippines today is “Deal or No Deal”. The show begins with the contestant choosing one briefcase from among twenty-six, with the hope that it contains the three million peso jackpot. A banker then bargains for the chosen briefcase. If the player says, “No deal,” a briefcase from among those not chosen has to be opened. If the player says, “Deal,” then the game is over and the contestant goes home with whatever amount of money he has inside the briefcase he chose at the start of the show. Aside for the beautiful “26-K” (the sexy ladies carrying the briefcases) and the colorful gown of Ms. Kris Aquino (the lady host), the audience – both in the studio and in their homes – are overly excited for the three million peso jackpot briefcase to be opened. The show gets more interesting as the bargain goes up and up and up. Unfortunately, sometimes, the banker’s offer goes down and down and down. No one has gone home yet with the three million peso jackpot, but several players already went home with less than their expenses getting into the show.

I remember a Jewish story about a man who bargained with God. One day, the story goes, Ben Ezra was praying inside a synagogue. He prayed very vigorously so that the rabbi of that synagogue noticed him and became rather disturbed about him. The rabbi approached Ben Ezra and, with anxiety, asked him, “What are you praying about, Ben Ezra? I am afraid you are arguing with rather than praying to God.”

“Listen, rabbi,” Ben Ezra answered, “this is my prayer.” Thereupon, Ben Ezra started to pray in this fashion, “O Yahweh, Maker of the universe, this is what I have to say to You:

‘I have many sins, and I confess them. I argued with my wife, but you know my wife! I lost patience with my children, but what parent doesn’t? I cheated a little in my trade, but just a little. My sins are very small, O Creator of everything, but they are mine and I confess them all. Now, let’s look at Your sins. Now and again You lock the gates of the heavens for a very long time and so our fields dry up and our crops wither. Because You send us too much sun, our harvests burn and our blood pressure shoots up. When You are done with drought and heat wave, You suddenly open the gates of the heavens and let down rain even before the poor man has his roof repaired. Worse, You seem to forget to close those gates! Our fields and streets are flooded; even in our homes, we can drown. About wars – You never intervene to stop them and so our boys leave home even before they become men and most of them return lying inside a box. Look at the matrimonial bed – it is empty and wombs, not only the earth, dry up before delivering even just one child. You take the light from the eyes of an infant and he is blind. You take our loved ones, too, and we are left mourning until we ourselves die. These are Your sins, O Maker of all things, and they are many and great. But I have an offer to make. Forgive me my small sins and I will forgive You Your big sins.”

After praying, Ben Ezra looked at the rabbi and said, “That is my proposal to God, rabbi. If you were God, how would you answer: Deal or no deal?

The rabbi was quiet for a long while, and then said, “Ben Ezra, your offer is too small. So, no deal!” “What with the sins you accuse God of,” the rabbi continued, “you could have instead asked Him to send us the Messiah already! You could have bargained with Him to redeem the world from sin then clear God of all the charges.”

In our first reading today, not Ben Ezra, but Abraham is busy bargaining with God about the number of good people who are needed to save Sodom and Gomorrah from destruction. His dialogue with God sounds like an auction. The bid goes down and down – fifty, forty-five, thirty, twenty, ten. And God said, “Deal!” On the one hand, Abraham is a very good example of one who knows how to drive a bargain. On the other hand, God is an image of a patient dealer who is after all not difficult to deal with. While, Abraham calculates his every word, God is only happy to agree with Abraham’s lowest bid.

In the letter of St. Paul that was read to us today, the image of God as generous and forgiving emerges again: “(God) has overridden the Law, and cancelled every record of the debt that we had to pay….” Paul declares that God did this in a very dramatic way: by nailing our debts on the cross of Jesus. Thus, we can say that on the cross, God cannot read the story of our sins anymore but the story of the love of Jesus. In our Jewish story, the rabbi told Ben Ezra that he should have driven his bargain with God further by asking Him to send the Messiah instead. As Christians, this is exactly what we believe God did. God gave us His only Begotten Son, Jesus, the Messiah, even before we asked for Him, not as a payment for the offenses we may accuse God of but as the forgiveness for our sins against Him. On the cross, we see and experience that God has forgiven all our sins – small and big alike.

Perhaps, we have no problem believing that God is patient, generous, kind, and forgiving. But there are people who find it difficult to believe that God indeed is exactly that. And even we, sometimes, think that God is not easy to deal with – that God is like a police officer who is always on the look out for any misdeed he can bring us to jail for, or an authoritarian parent who makes our life unbearable with a long list of do’s and don’ts, or a severe teacher whose ultimate joy is to flank a student in his course. It is for this reason why Jesus, in teaching His disciple how to pray, encouraged them strongly to treat God as their Father, to approach Him and talk to Him with the confidence of a child who is secured in the love of his parents.

In a culture and religion that considered God to be remote and calling Him by name blasphemous, Jesus insisted that His disciples call Him “Abba”, whose exact translation in our language is not the formal “father” but the familiar “dad” or “papa” or “daddy”. Is it not that blasphemy was one of the accusations hurled against Jesus by His fellow Jews who handed Him over to the Roman colonizers who, in turn, sentenced Him to execution? His enemies tried to silence Jesus because Jesus kept on calling God “Daddy” and He wanted His disciples to do the same. Jesus died fighting for His teaching regarding treating and calling God “Abba” or “Dad”, and He died not before He first uttered, “Dad, into Your hands I entrust My spirit.”

In every Mass we celebrate, it is Abba, God our Father, who first makes an offer, not us. His offer? Jesus, His own Son. And this is Jesus’ offer to us: forgiveness from all our sins and everlasting life. If the world would propose a bid to match God’s offer, how would you answer: deal or no deal?

Then, why is it that many say, “Deal”?

2 Comments:

At 1:32 PM , Anonymous honey - grnblt said...

Yup, we have nothing to bargain with. All that we have is God's and we should be grateful He is sharing them with us. God never gives us what we deserve...He gives us what He wants us to have---the best of everything---because He loves us. All we need do is ask as a child asks his daddy.

Thanks, father. Your reflection is indeed enlightening. God bless

 
At 10:15 PM , Anonymous Bubut said...

Father God, thank you for giving us your only Son to save our sins and to be with you in our eternal life. We are sinners but you still call us your children.

We love you, Abba Father for everything you have given us.

God bless po.

 

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