Tuesday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Early the next morning Abraham went to the place where he had stood in the LORD's presence. As he looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah and the whole region of the Plain, he saw dense smoke over the land rising like fumes from a furnace.
Thus it came to pass: when God destroyed the Cities of the Plain, he was mindful of Abraham by sending Lot away from the upheaval by which God overthrew the cities where Lot had been living.
Rightly we celebrate our faith in God as the immediate ground of our freedom. When scripture declares we are created in "the image of God" we understand that we resemble God by our intellect and will. Though human knowledge is imperfect and human will is impaired we have enormous power to create and destroy.
We might consider our freedom to create machines, build cities and develop culture as our greatest accomplishments but those achievements pale before the more wonderful power to conceive a human being. Men and women give life to babies.
In that freedom lies our greatest joy and our profoundest grief. Even as we delight to learn of a friend's giving birth, we wonder why a good and merciful God permits certain people to have babies.
In today's first reading -- chosen not because it's Independence Day but because today is Tuesday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time -- we hear of the destruction of the "cities of the plain," Lot's escape with his family, and Abraham's watching the spectacle from afar. We can reflect on our freedom with any scripture passage but this one has particularly intense meaning.
What went through Abraham's mind as he realized he had been dickering with this very Yahweh Sabaoth the day before? He had not hesitated to bow before the Lord, declaring himself nothing but dust and ashes, but he had to plead nonetheless for the city and its inhabitants. The divine author does not say if he knew Lot and his family had escaped. Perhaps Abraham felt his dickering had failed altogether.
What was this terrible freedom to bargain with God "face to face?" Perhaps his astonishment and horror in that moment were similar by their intensity to the amazement of new parents. Holding their first child, they must wonder, "What have we done? What has God done through us? Are we worthy to have this child? Are we mature enough to take care of this tiny, helpless creature?"
Thus it came to pass: when God destroyed the Cities of the Plain, he was mindful of Abraham by sending Lot away from the upheaval.
By his audacious prayer, Abraham had won the life of his nephew. There was no other explanation for his escape from the mushroom cloud that rose over the cities.
On July 4 we should consider the magnitude of our freedom and the scope of our responsibility. Creatures of earth we cannot know and can hardly imagine the consequences of our behavior. How many impulsive youths consider the eternal consequences of their sexual acts, that a child may be conceived whose soul will stand before God for all eternity? Do they even think about the danger of recreational drugs or reckless driving?
The great Franciscan theologian John Duns Scotus taught that humans demonstrate our resemblance to God when we restrain ourselves. We have limitless freedom but its worth is proven by self-control. Americans take pride in their weapons, but if they cannot control them they should not have them. We are still incredibly wealthy but our money is good for nothing if we do not invest it in health care, education and maintenance of our infrastructure. We enjoy our sexual impulses but we exercise those desires only at grave risk.
Only restraint can assure our freedom.