17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Gospel of Luke 11:1-13 NAB
Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us, and do not subject us to the final test.” And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend to whom he goes at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, for a friend of mine has arrived at my house from a journey and I have nothing to offer him,’ and he says in reply from within, ‘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.’ I tell you, if he does not get up to give the visitor the loaves because of their friendship, he will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence. “And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. 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? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”
Jesus Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. “Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9), He says. In contrast, pagan gods tended to be images of the visible traits of humankind. Thus, they tended to mirror fallen man’s tendencies toward power, greed, lust, and narcissism. This answered man’s nagging questions about the origins of good and evil but it also left him subject to the whims of unpredictable powers. Be it Greek, Roman, or Babylonian gods, people tried to satiate the needs of their deities to avoid calamities and possibly manipulate them for favors. This explains, for instance, why the Romans did not care who a person worshipped provided they did their part to appease the Roman gods too and why they blamed Christians for the fall of Rome.
This appeasement of the gods should not be mistaken for relationship. It would be more apt to describe it as mutual manipulation. In some places it spiraled into superstition bordering on the obsessive-compulsive. For instance, some farmers would address one god for the successful tilling of soil, another for the planting of seed, another for the growth of the seed, another for the harvest, and so on. Even well after the West became Christianized this practice proved difficult to root out since it had become so ingrained in the culture and in fallen man’s temptation to control rather than to trust.
In modern times, we must fight the secular attempt to lump Christianity with other religions into one vague spirituality. The history of pagan worship differs in an absolute way from Judeo-Christian worship. God distinguished Himself from every other faith from the moment He revealed Himself to Abraham to the death and Resurrection of His Son and the sending of His Holy Spirit.
This difference is most notable in the way in which Christians pray. Rather than the “multiplying of words” to appease or manipulate, Christian prayer is grounded in familial relationship. When Jesus teaches the apostles to pray, He shares with them His own prayer. Through Baptism we become incorporated into the Mystical Body of Christ, receiving adoption and becoming children of God (see John 1:12, Galatians 3:26, Romans 8:15-16). We cannot make ourselves someone’s child. The intimacy and privilege of familial relationship comes to us as a gift – either through nature or through the will of the parents by adoption. God has willfully adopted us, and Christ has made that possible through His sacrifice. Thus, He teaches us to address God as Father and enter into a relationship of sonship or daughterhood with the Lord. Consequently, we should begin prayer by simply meditating on the gift of God’s fatherhood and the reliable, selfless, pure love that it bestows. Even one moment of contemplation of this sublime gift moves our hearts to praise God and so Jesus instructs our next words to be “hallowed be Your Name.”
In pagan practices, calling on gods by name provided connection and sometimes a power over them. This can be true to some extent even in our human relationships. On the positive side, by knowing someone’s name a person can network, get in contact with him or her, or continue the relationship. On the negative side, it can also mean identity theft, access to personal information for the purpose of fraud, etc. Christ instructs His disciples to avoid these tendencies with God’s name. God desires authentic relationship. He knows every person’s hearts and He cannot be manipulated. Thus, Jesus warns, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven (MT 7:21)
As a result, authentic relationship with God recognizes Him as the true Good and petitions: “Your kingdom come.” God ought to rule our lives, not the other way around. How does God do this? How does His kingdom of love, joy, and peace come to reign in our hearts? Through the gift of the Holy Spirit. Consequently, Jesus teaches us to ask God for our daily bread and explains directly after that God will always increase the Holy Spirit if we ask: “If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”
Lastly, since sin and hatred are incompatible with God, Jesus tells us to give forgiveness and ask for forgiveness that we may be reconciled with God and one another. Moreover, He encourages us to ask in advance for God to spare us from temptations which would be too much for us and lead to abandoning Him.
Should you be afraid of God’s response (or lack thereof) if you pray, Jesus revealed how the Father views our prayers so we may approach Him with confidence. God is not an image of us, we are an image of Him. Even though we may be lazy or slow to help others, God is not. As a teenager I noticed the difference between my response to my parents requests and their response to mine. If asked to run to the store or help with a chore, I might drag my feet, feel too tired, grumble, or say no. If I needed something however, they always responded promptly and reliably. When I became a mother I finally understood this phenomenon. (Even while writing this I have been interrupted with requests from my kids a dozen times!) The difference was mature love. The love of good parents is an image of the love of God – self-less, prompt, generous, and happy to help. Hopefully as children of God, we can mature in our prayer so that our petitions move from the emotional demands of a toddler or elementary school child, to the respectful, humble, and grateful petition of an adult child confident in the relationship with his or her parents.
- Have you ever helped someone even when it was inconvenient and would rather have avoided it? Have you done things for your kids you never would have imagined doing before you had them?
- Consider the difference between asking your mom or dad for help as opposed to a friend or neighbor. What things might you ask of them that you wouldn’t from the others?
- Reflect on God’s love as that of a perfect Father. Reflect on the loving gratitude that should emanate from this relationship.
- Where do you need God’s kingdom to come more in your life? Where do you need His peace, joy, justice, love…?
- Do you forgive others as you would have God forgive you? Are there any grudges you need to let go? Are you quick to reconcile when someone apologizes?
- Imagine how Christ must have looked while praying alone. Imagine you are one of the apostles, witnessing Him regularly taking time in solitude with the Lord. What do you think moved them so much that they asked Him to teach them to pray in the same way? Ask Christ to teach you to pray as He did too.
- Pray for an increase in trust and a purified sight of God.
Make a Resolution (Practical Application):
- Pray the Our Father slowly and meditatively each day this week.
- Pray each day for an increase in trust.
- Maybe repeat the words given to St. Faustina by Christ to have written under His image: “Jesus I Trust in You.”
- Or pray the words of the father who brought his son possessed by a mute spirit to Christ (MT 9:22-24) “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus said to him, “‘If you can!’ Everything is possible to one who has faith.” Then the boy’s father cried out, “I do believe, help my unbelief!”
- Each day be forgiving toward someone in the same way you would like God to be patient and forgiving toward you.
- Ideas: The person who cuts you off in traffic, the colleague who annoyingly one-ups you, the child who throws a tantrum or acts ungratefully, the spouse who forgets something or acts irritably, the fast food employee who messes up your order…
~ Written by Angela (Lambert) Jendro © 2016 edited © 2019
Recommended books on prayer:
(with links to Amazon)