GENESIS 18:20-32/ PSALM 138/COL 2:12-14/ LUKE 11:1-13
THEME: DEVELOPING A DEEP PRAYER LIFE THROUGH PERSISTENCE SND PERSEVERANCE
“LORD, TEACH US TO PRAY.” This is the request of the Disciples in today’s Gospel. And, through the sacred liturgy, Holy Mother Church places upon our lips this same request: "Lord, teach us to pray." It’s a request we make willingly, however, because so few of us have mastered the art of prayer; so few of us can be called people of prayer. Yet we know that to advance in the Christian life, we must pray, and we must pray well.
The First Reading of today narrates the PERSISTENT attitude of Abraham in accessing the Mercy of God on behalf of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. The reading gives us the opportunity to reflect on divine justice and casts its reflections in the form of a dialogue between Abraham and Yahweh. Abraham is the mouthpiece of the conviction that, as a God of justice, Yahweh would not destroy Sodom if it also meant the destruction of a few righteous men with the guilty majority. As it turned out, the dialogue came to an abrupt end because God could not find even ten righteous people.
Again, Abraham was again sensitive to the plight of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah and anticipated their need of God’s Mercy.
Abraham in last Sunday’s First Reading waited upon the Lord and so he was rewarded with been privy to God’s counsel (God’s decision to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah). When we wait upon the Lord he rewards us with knowing his future plans for us and that of others. Like Abraham, when we meet with God’s favour, let us not be selfish but to intercede for others. So God said “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall become a great and mighty nation and all nations of the earth shall be blessed in him. No, for I have chosen him, that he may charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice; so that the Lord may bring about for Abraham what he has promised him” ( Genesis 18:17-19).
Again, the encounter between Abraham and God shows that our God is an approachable God who is ready always to dialogue with his Children. This is a God who tells us that come let us reason together (Isaiah 1:18). Although Abraham showed a lot of persistence in asking the Lord to spare the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, there was something he lacked, something which was only fully revealed in the coming of Christ: it was that attitude of filial trust. God is not just the fearful Creator and Master of the universe, distant and unapproachable. He is our loving Father, eager to give good things to his children.
In the Gospel reading, Jesus gives some examples from human parenting: "What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg?" We know better than to play cruel tricks on our children, giving them something harmful in place of something they need. How much more will our Father in heaven give us the good things we need. In fact, he will give us the best gift of all: his Holy Spirit (Luke 11:11-13).
So, what do we learn from the Gospel? How does our Lord respond to this simple, yet profound and utterly essential request? He answers his Disciples in two ways. First, he teaches them what they should pray for: the content of prayer. Second, he teaches how they should pray: the attitude or spirit of prayer. Let’s look at both of these.
This is important to remember because, while it is certainly good to repeat these words as Jesus gave them to us, we should never let our prayer become thoughtless and mechanical: mere repetition of formulas which have lost their meaning for us. Rather, when we say the Our Father, we should say it as if we mean it and we should let it inform and guide all our prayer. So let’s look at these four petitions:
"Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come." From this we learn that when we approach God in prayer, we do so as devoted children coming to speak with a loving Father; and that, even before we mention a single personal request, our first concern is with the honor and glory of God and that His reign of love and peace extend throughout all the world and all of time.
The first personal request we make is "Give us each day our daily bread," and here we show our complete dependence upon God’s providence for the most basic needs of human life: our daily sustenance. But the Church has always understood this to mean, not only our physical needs, but our spiritual needs as well, and that "daily bread" refers primarily to the Bread of Life—the Body of Christ—given to us in the Holy Eucharist. And, if we avail ourselves of it, we do indeed have the privilege of receiving this wonderful food every day.
The next petition is, "forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us." Here we ask for forgiveness—another basic spiritual need—but only to the degree we have shown forgiveness. Not because God’s mercy is conditional, but as a reminder to us that we have no right to expect God’s forgiveness if we have refused to forgive others.
The last petition, "and do not subject us to the final test," is more commonly translated, "and lead us not into temptation." The Greek word rendered "test" or "temptation" is also used by Saint Luke in the fourth chapter of his Gospel to signify Satan’s temptations of our Lord after he was led by the Spirit into the desert. Here, Jesus seems to be saying, "Pray that God will never allow you to endure the kind of temptation I had to suffer; but if he does, he will always supply you with the grace you need to conquer the devil just as I did."
The rest of today’s Gospel is a lesson in how we should pray—our attitude in prayer. And that attitude has two characteristics: it is an attitude of persistence and it is an attitude of filial trust—the kind of trust a small child has in its daddy. Jesus tells us the reason why we must persist in our prayer. The reason being that God is our Father. To drive home the point about persistence, our Lord gives a little parable about a man who needs to borrow some bread from his neighbor. The neighbor gives an unbelievably lame excuse for why he can’t help: "Do not bother me; the door has already been locked and my children and I are already in bed. I cannot get up to give you anything” (Luke 11:7). But in the end he does help simply because of the man’s persistence. The point is this: if persistence works with a stubborn, selfish human being, think how effective it will be with our heavenly Father, who never sleeps and who is always ready to hear his children when they pray. And how do we show persistence in prayer? By a willingness to put some effort into prayer. "Ask and you will receive;" says our Lord, "seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you." Notice how the level of effort increases from asking to seeking to knock. The triple sayings “Ask, seek, knock” offers us the assurance that ours is a God who gives, opens and allows us to find Him (Jeremiah 29:13-14). The danger comes when in our asking, knocking and seeking, we do not become selfish in our request. Jesus assured his followers that God answers prayer but he did not guarantee that they would receive whatever they requested. The assurance that follows the Lord’s Prayer assume that those who ask, seek and knock are asking from their need and for God’s will. An example is the man who knocks at the door of his friend at night. This is real persistence.
We may be anxious about the necessities of life but Jesus calls us to a higher pursuit: “ Seek his kingdom, and these things shall be yours as well for it is the father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12: 31-32). Our praying should be consistent with our seeking. Then, when we pray as Jesus taught us, the assurance that God answers is hardly needed.
Jesus’ teaching on prayer, therefore, require that the one who prays will pray as one aware of desperate self-need of God. Jesus’ teachings assures us that prayer is effective not because of our cajoling, or because we have found the right words, but because of God’s nature as a father who loves his own and wants to give to those in need. Both the model prayer and parables elsewhere in the Gospel underscore the related point that prayer is ultimately the worship of God as father, acknowledging God’s holiness and devoting ourselves to the coming of God’s kingdom. Prayer is, therefore, where we bring our need to God’s love in faith."Lord, teach us to pray." There is much more we can learn about prayer—to become proficient in prayer is really the work of a lifetime. But the basic truths our Lord teaches us today are all we really need to know. May God help us to pray for what we truly need, with persistence and with childlike trust?