27 Jul Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Times
July 24, 2016
Father Stéphane Pouliot
Our Lord Jesus has a special message for us today about prayer. The Church, whom He has founded, is His ally in arranging the Scripture selections we just heard today, so He can teach us what we need to learn from Him.
Right off the bat, there are three things I wish to convey. First, what does the story of Abraham interceding for the salvation of the inhabitants of Sodom have to do with prayer? What does it teach us about the attitude, the mentality we should bring to prayer? How does God want us to approach Him? How does He see us and what attitude does the Lord particularly like us to display when we pray to Him?
Secondly, Jesus told us today the story of a man who arrived inconveniently at an indecent hour to knock on a friend’s door asking for a loaf of bread in order to feed his guest. What does this story teach us about prayer?
Thirdly, I wish to answer our problem with unanswered prayers despite us persevering for years in sending them God’s way.
Let us begin with the story of Abraham interceding for the salvation of the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham is a friend of God. The tone of Abraham’s plea is that of one who has an awesome respect, reverence and awe for His Divine Friend, but who nevertheless addresses Him with boldness and familiarity.
Abraham’s attitude is the kind of attitude we have with our best friends: willing to push their boundaries, because we trust that our friendship can survive straight up talk.
Look at Abraham’s way of transitioning from saving fifty people, and negotiating a deal for forty-five. He minimizes the potential difference of opinion he has with God by highlighting a difference of only five people. It is the kind of negotiation you have with a friend who know you well and is able to handle your gutsy challenge.
Abraham does have a purpose in negotiating with God: he wishes to save from destruction his nephew Lot who lives in those towns, Lot’s wife, their daughters, and their daughters’ husbands: all in all six people. But notice that Abraham does not barter all the way to six, but stops at ten. There lies the beauty of Abraham’s heart for the lost, which exceeds his immediate concern for his extended family, while including it.
God wishes us to consider Him a friend, and therefore speak to Him as a friend, never forgetting that He is above us, but wishes to be with us. God loves gutsy prayers, where we are not afraid to reveal to Him how we really feel about something, since we know that He wishes to help us and awaits our permission to let Him bless us.
The second point I wish to discuss has to do with this story of a man who shows up at an uncivilized hour at his friend’s house to get a loaf of bread for a passing guest who is hungry. I have heard that good etiquette usually implies no phone calls or visits after nine at night, and yet here is the guy, showing up at midnight, to get enough bread to make sandwiches for his friend. Jesus even hints that we are to identify ourselves to the man showing up unannounced, not taking no for an answer. Let us imagine the scene in our world today.
Here we are, trying to get into the building of our friend, but not being buzzed through via the intercom. Our friend has put all his kids to bed, and is already sleeping under the covers, finally having rocked the baby to sleep. Bam, we ring the door bell, the baby wakes up, and we are surprised to find our friend in a bad mood? Having been put into our place, we ring the doorbell a second, then a third time, and when being ignored, call the cell phone of our friend, and if that does not work, message him on Facebook. Half an hour later, our angry friend has given us what we wanted: he must sleep, and we needed a loaf of bread. We get what we came for, because we would not give up and our friend realized that at last.
The implication is clear: God wants us never to give up on praying, because if dysfunctional dads know how to give good things to their children, our Heavenly Father who was never not a Dad, is the perfect dad who always delight in us and wishes us to give us the best gift of all: the Holy Spirit who teaches us how to pray.
It is here helpful to appreciate that God does not pay attention to us because we behave, but rather because we are His kids and He loves us.
Here we come at last to the final section of this homily. “If what you said is true Father…”, you might tell me, “… why is it that I have been praying for so long, maybe decades, and still God ignores my prayer?” The Gospel of today gives us the answer.
“Your kingdom come” (Luke 11:2), Jesus taught us to pray. When praying, we must adopt Jesus’ standard, and therefore, we cannot just focus on what we want, because it may not be what we need.
Would it not be good for us to ask Jesus regularly: “What do you want me to do Jesus here? What do you think about this? Do I really need this Jesus?”
Some people ask Jesus for prosperity, and since they are already mismanaging their money, how would they be doing if they had more? Some have what they need, and do not share it. What would happen if they had even more of what they don’t need?
If we ask our Heavenly Father to give us the wrong thing, isn’t it like asking our dad to give us a snake instead of a fish, and a scorpion instead of an egg? Is it any wonder then that our prayers go unanswered since God is a Good Father, the Best Father Ever?
Sometimes we think that the other person is the problem, and Jesus tells us that the problem either lies with us, or lies with both of us. So, we will say to Jesus that we will change only if our spouse, child, friend, roommate, boyfriend or girlfriend, boss or co-worker changes first. But it does not work that way.
Jesus also teaches us to pray: “… forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us” (Luke 11:4). In plain English, it means: “Treat me Lord the same way as I treat others.” Ouch. Let us think about this one. In other words, if we treat others harshly, without mercy, we are asking God to treat us harshly, and mercilessly. Do we want to reconsider what we may be doing to others now?
Here is now one final take on this Gospel as far as unanswered prayers.
We ask the Lord to take over something which we cannot handle. We are not as soon finished completing that prayer, and we have already made a list of how we will fix it, in case the Lord does not come through or does not do it our way. Can we leave it alone? God is saying to us: “You want me to take it over. Then let me help you. Stand back. Watch me work. Give me time. Free will is hard to handle. This is a difficult conversation you are asking me to give you the right words to say, therefore can you give me an hour to teach them to you?”
Or: “This is a difficult appointment you are preparing, can you give me a week to do what must be done to prepare your heart and hers?”
Or: “This is a difficult relationship you are dealing with, can you give me a month to bring you both back down from your mountains of pride?”
Or: “What you just asked me is border line impossible, can you give me a year, and not interfere with my work?”
Let us pray that we may put into practice the lessons of prayer the Lord just taught us this Sunday.