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I will spare the whole place for their sake ~Genesis 18:26
Most of us are familiar with the biblical story about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. In chapter 18 of the book of Genesis, we read about the effort of Abraham to prevent this destruction by pleading to God: Suppose there are fifty innocent people in the city; would you wipe out the place, rather than spare it for the sake of the fifty innocent people? (Gen 18:24). As the story unfolds, this number is ultimately reduced to ten: But he (Abraham) still persisted, “Please let not my Lord grow angry if I speak up this last time. What if there are at least ten there?” “For the sake of those ten,” he (God) replied, “I will not destroy it.” 

In his catechesis on prayer, Pope Benedict XVI ponders on this story and writes: “If we read the text more attentively we realize that Abraham's request is even more pressing and more profound because he does not stop at asking for salvation for the innocent. Abraham asks forgiveness for the whole city.”

As Abraham continues to bargain with God and the number needed to spare the city decreases, God patiently listens to the prayer and grants Abraham’s requests: “I will spare ... I will not destroy ... I will not do it.” (Gen 18). On this Pope Benedict XVI observes: “This is what the Lord desires and his dialogue with Abraham is a prolonged and unequivocal demonstration of his merciful love. The need to find enough righteous people in the city decreases and in the end 10 were to be enough to save the entire population… The reason why Abraham stops at 10 is not given in the text. Perhaps it is a figure that indicates a minimum community nucleus (still today, 10 people are the necessary quorum for public Jewish prayer).”

Pope Benedict XVI continues: “By voicing this prayer, Abraham was giving a voice to what God wanted, which was not to destroy Sodom but to save it, to give life to the converted sinner … It is a word that is also addressed to us: so that in our cities the seed of goodness may be found; that we may do our utmost to ensure that there are not only 10 upright people, to make our cities truly live and survive and to save ourselves from the inner bitterness which is the absence of God.”

But the brilliance and masterful theological insight of Pope Benedict XVI is made evident when he relates the prayer of Abraham to the prophecy of Jeremiah and ultimately to the mystery of Incarnation: “If in order to save Sodom 10 righteous people were necessary, the Prophet Jeremiah was to say, on behalf of the Almighty, that only one upright person was necessary to save Jerusalem: ‘Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, look and take note! Search her squares to see if you can find a man, one who does justice and seeks truth; that I may pardon her’ (Jer 5:1).”

Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because ten upright persons were not found and Jerusalem fell because there was not even one righteous person. Reflecting on this, Pope Benedict XVI writes: “It was to be necessary for God himself to become that one righteous person. And this is the mystery of the Incarnation: to guarantee a just person he himself becomes man. There will always be one righteous person because it is he.” The Pope assures us: “Therefore the prayer of each one will find its answer, therefore our every intercession will be fully heard.”

Some years ago I was flying from Manila to Bangkok, where we were residing, and was scheduled to fly with Jean to Phnom Penh in the evening of the same day to give teachings as CFC country coordinators for Cambodia. The plane was descending normally and was about to land when suddenly it pulled back and ascended steeply. After a while the pilot announced that the control panel was indicating that the front landing gears were stuck. He requested all to prepare for a very rough landing, not certain whether the front landing gears were up or down. As we descended, a recording announced repeatedly, “Emergency, keep heads low!” We all ducked with our heads close to our knees. 

Fearing death or loss of limbs or other serious injuries, I was praying all the time; and like Abraham bargaining with God to spare us this one time for the sake of our families. And sure enough, we landed safely, stopping in the middle of the runway, with fire trucks and other emergency vehicles converging on us. The indicator lights were wrong. The front landing gears were down after all.

I arrived home with no time to rest and just enough time to prepare our things for the mission to Cambodia.  Jean said that I might want to postpone the mission to Phnom Penh for a day so that I do not have to fly again that same day. But the thought never crossed my mind.

There was a heavy thunderstorm as we rode to the airport to catch our flight to Phnom Penh. Still recovering from the ordeal of the events earlier that morning and concerned about our safety since we were taking a small plane, we pleaded for God’s protection and blessing. We asked God to remember the participants waiting for us that Friday evening and the other participants in the teachings scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, particularly the CLP participants who would be prayed over. And as Pope Benedict XVI assured us that “there will always be one righteous person because it is he” and “therefore the prayer of each one will find its answer”, we arrived safely in Phnom Penh. 

From the airport we proceeded directly to the home of the CFC leaders in Cambodia where the participants of the tongues workshop were already waiting. We dropped our bags on the kitchen floor and proceeded to greet the participants waiting in the living room and give the talk on the gift of tongues. 

The following day, Saturday, we gave the teaching on Living as a People of God. Then on Sunday afternoon, we gave the talk on Receiving the Power of the Holy Spirit to over 30 CLP participants followed by the mini-talk on vocal prayer and full charismatic worship. The worship was full of life and spirit with everyone praising and singing enthusiastically, clapping and raising hands and dancing with abandon. We were still perspiring profusely and breathing heavily when we boarded the car to the airport. We arrived home in Bangkok about midnight, our thoughts filled with images from three days of excitement and danger, of service to the Lord, and of intimate conversations with God. We slept soundly and woke up early the following day ready to face the challenges of UN duties, thankful to God for sparing us from harm for the sake of the Righteous One. (Reflections of Jun and Jean Uriarte)
Added on Monday, October 3, 2016


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