One of the criticisms that some Protestants raise against Catholics from time to time is that the Vatican doesn’t emphasize Bible reading.
Such critics may have been startled when this week, Pope Benedict XVI urged 20,000 people filling St. Peter’s Square to “read the Bible, which I hope you have in your homes, and during the week, pause to read and meditate in prayer, to know the wonderful history of the relationship, between God and man, between God who communicates with us and man that answers.”
What prompted such papal advice?
The Pontiff was teaching about the prayer of Abraham for the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah. Genesis 18 shows Abraham asking God for mercy on the decadent cities.
Benedict told the crowd that “the wickedness of the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah had reached its peak, so as to render it necessary for God to perform an act of justice and to stop the evil.”
As you remember, God eventually rained fire and brimstone down on the wicked cities, obliterating them off of the face of the earth. But, Benedict reminded the crowd, when God told Abraham His intention of destroying the two cities, Abraham argued with God.
Abraham pleaded with the Almighty, claiming that it was not fair to punish everybody. Abraham argued that “if the city is guilty, then it is right to condemn its crime and impose the penalty, but it would be unfair to indiscriminately punish all people. If there are innocent people in the city, they can not be treated as the guilty. God, who is a righteous judge, can not act like that,” said Benedict.
On a deeper reading, the Pope continued, “we realize that the request of Abraham is even more serious and profound, because he does not limit himself to simply ask for the salvation of the innocent. Abraham asked forgiveness for the whole city and he does so by appealing to the righteousness of God.”
What’s the lesson for the rest of us? Among other things, God answers prayer, said Benedict. “The prayer of every man will find His answer.”
And sometimes, that answer is “no” — as in the case of Abraham and the wicked cities. God listened to Abraham’s plea. But in the end, the Lord denied Abraham’s request — and thundered His wrath down on their evil.
I wonder if there’s a message of warning somewhere in there for America.