28Jul 28 July 2013. 17th Sunday (Homily notes)

Gen 18:20-32. Abraham intercedes and haggles with God to spare the city of Sodom.

Col 2:12-14. Through baptism into his death and resurrection, we rise to a new life.

Lk 11:1-13. When asked how we should pray, Jesus teaches the “Our Father.”

Jesus taught his disciples to call God “Father.” We are indeed his children, so if we need anything we ask our Father for it, trusting that he won’t let us down. See Kieran O’Mahony on today’s readings at http://www.tarsus.ie/page6/index.html

First Reading: Genesis 18:20-32

Then the Lord said, “How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin! I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not, I will know.” So the men turned from there, and went toward Sodom, while Abraham remained standing before the Lord.

Then Abraham came near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” And the Lord said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will forgive the whole place for their sake.”

Abraham answered, “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” Again he spoke to him, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.” Then he said, “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak. Suppose thirty are found there.” He answered, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.”

He said, “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.” Then he said, “Oh do not let the Lord be angy if I speak just once more. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.”

Second Reading: Colossians 2:12-14

When you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross.

Gospel: Luke 11:1-13

He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, 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 indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.”

And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.

“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Joined Together in Faith and Prayer

An episode is beautifully told in the Acts of the Apostles, of how St Paul said goodbye to some of his Christians for what he thought was the last time, before leaving for Jerusalem, where he knew he would end up in prison. It gives us graphic insights into the change the new Christian faith had brought about in these converts from paganism, and the esteem and love they had for Paul. On the Turkish Mediterranean coast, Paul stopped at Miletus, the port serving the great city of Ephesus. The elders of the Church at Ephesus came out to hear his farewell message to them, and when Paul had finished we are told that he knelt down and they all joined together with him in prayer.

As soon as one ceases to pray, it is a clear-cut indication that one is no longer walking with Christ, Christ who, according to Luke, went out into the hills to pray, and even spent the whole night in prayer to the Father before selecting his Apostles (Lk 6:12). This obviously was one aspect of Christ’s life that made a deep impression on Paul. Time and again he reminded his converts of the need for prayer. “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing,” he warned the Thessalonians (15:17f), and to the Philippians he wrote, “Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything, by prayer and thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (4:6). And his last word of advice to those at Ephesus was to pray at all times in the Spirit, to persevere in their prayer, and to pray for one another. Why is it then, you might ask, that our prayers, especially our prayers of petition, seem so often to go unanswered?

The fact, however, is that every prayer of petition is answered, provided it is made in faith, made with a readiness to accept God’s will, and made with a heart devoid of any feeling of hatred or ill-will towards others. “Have faith in God,” Jesus said to his disciples; “I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you receive it, and you will” (Mt 11:24). The problem is, do we know how to pray, and what to pray for? When Jesus said, “believe that you receive whatever you ask for,” he was telling us that above all we must have faith in God. The only place Jesus could not work miracles was his home town, Nazareth, because people did not have faith. St James, moreover, in his letter has this warning (4:2), “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” We may in fact be asking for something harmful, and our heavenly Father will only give what will be for our good.

A certain man once asked a Carthusian monk how he should pray, and the reply was, “Pray in, not up” – just four words. It is indeed true that most of the time we imagine the One we are addressing in prayer as being somewhere above or outside ourselves. But scripture tells us that we are temples of the Holy Spirit, and we should focus on God’s Spirit dwelling within us. Furthermore, the Spirit pleads for us with sighs too deep for words, and intercedes for us according to the will of God. May we never leave off praying, but rather ask God daily for the gift of prayer, as did Matt Talbot, who set for us such an example of a life wholly dedicated to prayer, by day and by night, at home or at work.

Lord, Teach Us To Pray

Methods and techniques of prayer have always been in demand and the variety on offer has multiplied recently. Yet, when all is said and done, what can compare with the perspicacity of the disciple who, having watched Jesus praying, said, “Lord, teach us to pray.” The first step for us too is to ponder on the prayer-life of Jesus and the content of his prayer. Even a cursory glance at St Luke’s Gospel would justify our dubbing it the Gospel of Jesus at Prayer. How many times is Jesus found in the Gospels praying – alone, on the hills, with his disciples!

Beginning with the prayer of Jesus takes our minds off the techniques and draws us towards that point where we too, like the disciple, will simply and humbly ask, “Lord, teach us to pray.” But, before that, we may have to wait for a long time in silence, just observing him and listening to his prayer. Then gradually, like the apprentice learning from the master, or rather, like the soil of the earth becoming fertile from the falling dew his prayer takes root and germinates in our hearts. Slowly, and over and over again, we too begin to repeat that prayer – the only one he left us – which is a relating of our whole being to him who is his Father and our Father. to him in whom both he and we – but we because of him – can call, “Abba, Father.”

We are not used to praying Luke’s wording of the Lord’s Prayer. The official version adopted by the Church is Matthew’s, which is longer, more solemn, more harmonious in its seven petitions. Luke’s is shorter, containing only five petitions, but is more direct, more personal. Instead of “Our Father who art in heaven,” as in Matthew, it begins with the simple cry “Father!” It is a way of addressing God that would never have been heard on the lips of anybody except Jesus. It originated in, and revealed, the profound nature of his relationship in the Trinity. He was Son as no other man could know how to be son; he was the unique Son of God.

The early Christians, especially in the communities schooled by St Paul, cherished the moment of Baptism when they became children of God, “sons in the Son.” In the depths of their hearts they could hear the voice of the Spirit of Jesus urging them to make their own this word of infinite tenderness, “Abba, Father” (Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6), a title of familiarity for every child, a title that expressed perfectly the sweet intimacy and total confidence of their new status. Even as it revealed the person of the Son in Jesus, it also brings out for us the dignity of our adoption as sons of the Father. Yes, there could scarcely be any better person to introduce us to prayer than Jesus himself and, of course, his Spirit!

The Guardian of Us All

The Old Testament uses “Father” of God as the guardian of the people or of groups within the nation (see Deut 32:6; Ps 68:5; Is 63:16; 64:8; Jer 3:4, Mal l:6,2:10). There is a more personal touch in Sirach 23:1,4, Wisdom 14:3. But neither in the Old Testament nor in the writings of Qumran is there the intimate tone such as one finds in Luke 11:2. The preservation of the word “Abba” in Romans 8:15, Gal 4:6 and Mark 14:36 are memories of Jesus’ intimacy with the Father.

Jesus differs in the relative frequency with which he is portrayed as speaking of God as Father. Each stratum of the sources of the Gospels contains a number of examples Matthew alone has 44 references, while John has 120. Surprisingly, there is a general agreement among all the sources that Jesus spoke of this subject only to his disciples but not to the crowds. Apparently, Jesus restricted the right to address God so to those who by their loyalty to himself, had shown themselves entitled to regard themselves as children of the Father. Jesus’ view of God was not one far removed from their lives and struggles, but one who could be known intimately like their own parents (10:22,18:15-12.)

The simplicity of Luke’s prayer contrasts sharply with many of the quite fulsome formulations used in Jewish and Greco-Roman prayers, not to mention some modern equivalents! Although “abba” can be translated “daddy,” one should not think of Jesus’ Father as a weakly indulgent “papa,” destroying his children by granting every whim and never chastising them. On the contrary, Jesus taught much about our duties to love our enemies and to trust, love and fear the heavenly Father who is the Lord God Almighty.

The need for structured prayer and for set times has come across more and more to us in recent years. In contrast to the rush for personal prayer “at the time when one feels best,” it has often been forgotten what a structured prayer-life Jesus himself led – regular synagogue and temple-attendance, as well as the daily prayer life of a faithful Jew. Jesus and his family, and the apostles after them, are presented in the New Testament as faithful to the Jewish traditions. The Jerusalem temple was criticised by Jesus for failing to be a house of prayer for the nations of their world.

What about our prayer lives? Do we pray that God’s will be done by us, by me? Do we pray that God’s name as Father be really respected by all, especially by our Church and State leaders? How can we say it is respected if so many, say, are poor? Do we long and hope for the coming of the Kingdom which means the salvation of all people? Do we pray for so many undergoing trials, tests and sufferings of all kinds?