17th. Sunday (Year C)
(Genesis 18:20-32; Colossians 2:12-14; Luke 11:1-13)
People of God, our first reading told a remarkable story revealing to us the power of prayer: it told of Abraham’s intercession with God on behalf of the citizens of Sodom, where his nephew Lot had recently gone to live. However, it’s significance for Christians is much greater because it enables us to have some appreciation of the infinite power and supreme efficacy of Jesus’ intercession on our behalf: Personal intercession for us without let in heaven where He is seated in glory at the right hand of the Father and also the intercession He wills to make with us – each and everyone of us personally – when we, who do not know how to pray as we should , allow ourselves to be guided and assisted by His Holy Spirit to such an extent and in such a manner that even the least and the greatest of our weaknesses and difficulties, our trials and temptations, our longings and hopes, can be transfigured by the Spirit into prayer that Jesus Himself, in heaven, can offer in His own prayer to the Father. All this Jesus hints at when giving His disciples His very own words to use when addressing the Father in heaven:
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 St. Paul pointed to the glorious climax of this saving power of Jesus’ intercession by telling us that, through Jesus’ offering of Himself to the Father on our behalf:
You, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses.
Jesus wants His disciples to have sure confidence in the power of true prayer; their own prayer that is, made perseveringly in 'Spirit and in Truth', that is, in the name of Jesus and under the guiding influence of His most Holy Spirit:
I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you: for everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.
Now, of course, when today’s Catholics are surrounded and influenced by modern, free-thinking, loose speaking, people in so very many ways, those words in our Gospel proclamation might also give rise to the thought that, surely, it is too good to be true to say:
Everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.
What basis could Jesus have for making such a promise?
To help them understand, the Gospel account continues with a comparison possibly drawn from life’s experience:
If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?
Such a son must be in by no means desperate but certainly understandable need when asking for such very ordinary items of daily sustenance as a piece of bread or a single fish -- both of which formed the basic diet for Galileans in general -- or even a little egg, again ordinarily eaten throughout Palestine we are told. Jesus is, therefore, speaking of one aware of his dependency and need and asking, praying, with both honesty, humility, and simple trust, all of which are essentials for any true prayer.
But still there might be further difficulties in peoples’ minds; for those words:
Everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened,
can still seem to be totally unreal, far, far, too good to be true … What if the son were sincerely mistaken about what he thought he needed? … we all know how appearances can deceive and situations can change!
Jesus then went on to the heart of the matter:
If you, being 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!"
Thinking seriously in this way, the importance of the prayer Jesus had given the disciples would gradually become clearer to them and us. The disciples had caught Jesus at prayer: praying to His Father, and He had put that word ‘Father’ into their mouths in prayer; as if He, to Whom they were to speak so confidently, would thereby become, indeed, their Father. They might then recall those words of Isaiah:
So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth, It shall not return to Me void.
That was it! Jesus had, so to speak, put His word ‘Father’ into His disciples’ mouths so that it might bring about Jesus’ own Filial relationship with the Father, in them; in which case Jesus’ Father would indeed become their Father!
And all that would fit in perfectly with those other ‘too good to be true’ words of Jesus:
Everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened;
For, even though those praying might be mistaken about what they wanted, He to Whom they were praying is our heavenly Father, He knows what all of us really want and eternally need, and He will always give us the right gift because, as Jesus assures us, He always gives the Holy Spirit to those who ask of Him:
If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!"
The special name of the Holy Spirit is ‘Gift of God’, the mutual ‘Gift’ of the Father and the Son in the Holy Trinity. Being also Their Gift to Jesus’ disciples on earth, He is the giver and the dispenser of all God’s gifts because He Himself is the ‘Gift of God’.
People of God, this prayer given to us by Jesus Himself, is rightly called, the Lord’s Prayer, for it opens up to us the heart of Jesus’ proclamation, the soul of His Good News. The Old Testament prophets had spoken inspired words concerning the doing of God’s will, and the coming of His Kingdom, on earth. They had proclaimed good news about the rights of the poor and underprivileged, about the need for mutual respect, about honesty and justice in human society and sincerity before God, all matters which had previously been insufficiently attended to in a world where political power, accompanied by terrible slaughter and cruelty, where social influence with its inevitable corruption and inequality, and where religious formality and spiritual superficiality and hypocrisy had come to rule. But Jesus did not come merely to teach us to clean up, somewhat, our sin-stained lives, nor simply to encourage and help us wipe away the tears of suffering from our neighbour’s face, His mission was to do what only He could do: reveal the heavenly Father Himself to us, reveal Him as His very own Father Who wanted us to know, love, and serve Him -- in Jesus and by the Holy Spirit -- here on earth, as a preparation for entering, as His adopted yet true children, into His heavenly Kingdom as members of His heavenly family:
Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name; Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as in heaven.
This God-given prayer is God-giving, gods-making, and at the same time, earthly-life fulfilling, and so it continues:
Give us day by day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins for we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
People of God, we should use the Lord’s Prayer with supremely confident perseverance and with deeply grateful reverence, for it is the ultimate prayer of Christians, and this whole episode in the Gospel is signed through and through with the hallmark of Jesus sacrificing Himself entirely for us, in so far as, through our use of this prayer, He wants His Father to become our Father, while He assures us that His Spirit will unfailingly be given to dwell in the hearts of all those who pray aright in His Name. The Father becomes our Father, the Spirit, now dwelling in our hearts, our Comforter, Advocate, our Guide and our Strength. Where is Jesus? He no longer wants to be seen as coming between us and the Father, interceding on our behalf with the Father Who is exclusively His; for He has ascended, as He said, into the presence of Him Who is, indeed, the ‘righteous’ Father Whom Jesus alone knew here on earth, but Who now is become -- in Jesus -- our Father also. Jesus in Glory is now one with us as our Head, and we are now living members of His Body; and the Spirit, God’s Gift to us, is continually forming us in the likeness of Jesus, so that in Him, the Son, we may become ever more truly children of the heavenly Father: living here on earth for the greater glory of His most Holy Name and the good of our neighbour until, as members of His heavenly kingdom, we can share fully, by the Spirit, in the glory of Jesus in the presence of the Father Who is All in All.
Father in heaven, hallowed be Your Name; Your kingdom come; Your will be done on earth as in heaven.