With this third class, Pope Benedict begins a subset of his teachings on prayer that will focus on a “biblical review on this subject,” and
…will lead us to deepen in the covenant dialogue between God and man that animates the history of salvation, up to its culmination in the definitive Word that is Jesus Christ.
To me, this means he’s going to teach us how the great “friends of God” prayed in the Old Testament.
In this class, our Holy Father teaches about Abraham and his prayer of intercession in Genesis 18:17-33. The true motivation for Abraham’s prayer was that
God decided to reveal to him what was about to happen and brings him to know the gravity of the evil and its terrible consequences…
This understanding leads Abraham to conclude that
…it would be unjust to punish in an indiscriminate way all the inhabitants. If there are innocents in the city, they cannot be treated as the guilty. God, who is a just judge, cannot act like that…
The Pope then highlights the heroic virtue in Abraham’s prayer, in his thought process, in his heart:
…we realize that Abraham’s request is even more serious and more profound, because he does not limit himself to ask for the salvation of the innocent. Abraham asks for forgiveness for the whole city…
Our teacher explains:
By so doing, he puts into play a new idea of justice: not the one that limits itself to punish the guilty, as men do, but a different, divine justice, which seeks the good and creates it through forgiveness that transforms the sinner, that converts and saves him. Hence, with his prayer Abraham does not invoke a merely retributive justice, but an intervention of salvation that, taking into account the innocent, also liberates the wicked from their guilt, forgiving them. Abraham’s thought, which seems almost paradoxical, can be synthesized thus: obviously the innocent cannot be treated as the guilty, this would be unjust; instead, it is necessary to treat the guilty as the innocent, putting into act a “superior” justice, offering them a possibility of salvation, because if the evildoers accept God’s forgiveness and confess their fault letting themselves be saved, they will no longer continue to do evil, they will also become righteous, without any further need to be punished.
Our own prayer time, our relationship with God, if it is authentic and ever-deepening, should lead us to understand the “terrible consequences” of sin, selfishness, and a life that excludes God. It should spawn in us a faith-based intercession, especially for the needy members of our family, an intercession that
…is based on the certainty that the Lord is merciful. Abraham does not ask of God something that is contrary to his essence; he knocks on the door of God’s heart, knowing his real will.
Because manifested and expressed through intercession, prayer to God for the salvation of others is the desire of salvation that God always harbors for sinful man….the Lord does not desire the death of the wicked, but that he be converted and live; his desire is always to forgive, to save, to give life, to transform evil into good. Well, it is precisely this divine desire that, in prayer, becomes man’s desire and is expressed through the words of intercession. With his supplication, Abraham is lending his own voice, but also his own heart, to the divine will: God’s desire is mercy, love and will of salvation….With the voice of his prayer, Abraham is giving voice to God’s desire, which is not to destroy, but to save…
Alas, after Abraham and his family departed the city, not even one righteous person was left, which would have held off God’s wrath. This leads Pope Benedict to reveal to us the importance of Jesus:
It will be necessary for God himself to become that righteous one. And this is the mystery of the Incarnation: to guarantee a righteous one, he himself becomes man. There will always be a righteous one because he is: it is necessary, however, that God himself become that righteous one. The infinite and amazing divine love will be fully manifested when the Son of God becomes man, the definitive Righteous One, the perfect Innocent One, who will bring salvation to the whole world by dying on the cross, forgiving and interceding for those who “know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Then the prayer of every man will find its answer, then every intercession of ours will be fully heard.
Our Holy Father concludes:
…the supplication of Abraham, our father in the faith, teaches us to open our hearts ever more to the superabundant mercy of God, so that in our daily prayer we will be able to desire the salvation of humanity and to ask for it with perseverance and trust in the Lord who is great in love.