The lectionary selection from the Hebrew Scriptures for the 17th week of the year is one of my favorites. Listening to Abraham haggling with God like a trader in the bazaar reminds us that the Judeo-Christian Scriptures have always seen God in relationship with the Chosen People. That relationship, of course, reached it purest manifestation in the incarnation. But from the beginning of Genesis, when God walks in the garden with Adam and Eve in the cool of the evening, the inspired writers show us a God who is both immanent and transcendent, near to us as we are to one another, but nevertheless the unbounded Creator.
When I think of bargaining with God, I usually have in mind a rather self-centered approach where I make all sorts of promises to God if he’ll get me out of some bind that I’ve gotten myself into or grant some deep-seated desire. On a more serious note, we know that bargaining is the third of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s five stages that follow catastrophic news. It comes between anger and depression.
What I noticed this time through the Abraham story is that Abraham is not bargaining with what he will do or what the people will do. His bargaining chip is set squarely on who God is. He’s staked everything on God’s merciful love. And quite possibly on his sense of humor. The lectionary selection stops before the end of the story. As it turns out, not even ten innocent people were found in Sodom and Gomorrah, but God did save Abraham and Sarah and Abraham’s nephew Lot and his wife, thus remaining true to the covenant and true to the divine nature.
Abraham’s story, despite appearances, is one of coming to complete trust in the God who called him. And so is ours. In the Gospel, before Jesus tells the story of the man who woke his neighbor for three loaves of bread, he teaches us the way to rely on God for all that we need, beginning with the words, “Our Father.” It reminds us of who God is and of who God is for us. And all it asks in return is that we accept the gifts he offers and offer those gifts to one another. One heck of a bargain when you think about it.