28 July 2013
Genesis 18: 20-32
One day in a supermarket I witnessed a small 6-year-old boy persistently calling his father: ‘Daddy, chewing gum’. He kept on repeating just these few words. In all whilst I was there about 15 times. But as he left the place with his father he went without getting his chewing gum. Obviously his father did not think it was good for him. Refusing him didn’t mean he loved him less, in fact it was because of his love and knowing better than his son did that he refused his request when it would have been easier to give in.
Perhaps prayer is a bit like that. The readings for this Sunday invite us to reflect on the dimension of prayer in the Christian life. It is an attitude of trust in God our kind Father who is always ready to listen to his children but who like the father of the little boy doesn’t give us always what we want because it would not be best for us. Luke in his gospel delights in frequently presenting Jesus praying. In all the important moments of Jesus’ life, Luke never forgets to point this out. Jesus’ frequent prayer and his unique way of starting it with “Abba” (more like our Daddy or Papa today) is the best sign of his relationship with his Father
So Jesus always begins his prayer addressing his father as “Abba” meaning ‘Daddy’ in Aramaic the language Jesus spoke. Is this not telling us that first of all prayer is about a relationship – one between our loving heavenly Father and us his children? It is interesting to note that this model of how we ought to pray puts the focus first of all on God our Father. We start by calling God, “Father”. Of the 5 petitions in the Our Father today the first two focus on God. We are told to pray: ‘may your name be held holy’. For the Jews a name was the same as the person. Thus we are asked to adore, honour and glorify our Father in heaven. Before mentioning any of our requests, praise and adoration of God are foremost. Then, in praying ‘your kingdom come’ we are told the how this might be carried out in our lives. Working to bring his kingdom about is more than just words. It calls upon us to be peacemakers, to work against all kinds of injustice, to live the truth of God’s love and forgiveness in our lives. We are called to do this wherever we are, in our homes, with our families, in our workplaces, when we recreate etc.
Then the next three petitions allow us to pray for our own needs and those of others. They represent all time: the present (give us this day our daily bread), the past (forgive our sins, that is all we did that was contrary to God’s kingdom), and the future (do not put us to the test – that is ‘do not demand more of us than we are capable of doing). So in asking our generous Father for our daily bread we are asking him to give us what is best for us – we may not get what we think is best like the little boy in the story. Or now may not be the best time to get it as God knows we are not ready yet. Of course, God may want to give us certain gifts but others may refuse to cooperate with God’s plan. Forgiveness is mentioned quite a number of times in the gospels and it is included here. We promise God to forgive others, though this is not always easy. That is why in the second parable that follows, Jesus tells us that God’s best gift to us is the powerful Holy Spirit who enables us to do what God asks of us to bring about his kingdom and to forgive others. Our Father knows that will power is not enough, we need Spirit power to live as God’s children and to act accordingly.
The first of the little parables that follow the Lord’s prayer tells us of the need to persevere in prayer and not to give up if at first we don’t receive what we ask for. I knew a woman whose husband left her. She prayed daily for his return. Then one day he walked into her house again. This was after 19 years. She really persevered in prayer and believed God would answer her. Jesus tells us that there are 2 conditions needed to have our prayers answered by God. In John’s gospel ch.14.13 he says
1) ‘whatever you ask for in my name (that is according to my will) I will do and
2) ‘so that the Father may be glorified in the Son’ (that is that it will give glory to God).
Many times we forget this and want God to respond to our demands.
Sometimes, of course, we try to bargain with God: ‘If my sick husband lives a few year’s longer, I will go to Mass daily and pray a daily rosary’. Yet God doesn’t think this is foolish. In the first reading we heard about Abraham bargaining with God. He was saying in fact that he trusted God enough to bargain all the way. It doesn’t mean we will always get what we want but it does show a great trust in God and I feel God appreciates this bargaining as we take him seriously as he does us.
Ultimately prayer is about a relationship of trust. We trust we have a loving Father who passionately cares for us. More than anything he hopes we will develop an ever greater intimacy with him and he asks us to work to bring about his kingdom. He takes all this so seriously that the best gift he can give us now is the Holy Spirit who can empower and enable us to respond to his invitation.
“Lord Jesus, thank you for teaching us how to pray by giving us the best model in the “Our Father”. May we say not only the words but also put them into practice in our daily lives. Amen”.
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA