Sunday Homily – 17th Sunday C
At every Eucharist we pray different kinds of prayer. We praise God, we thank God, we say sorry to God for doing wrong, and we ask God for what we need. We pray these kinds of prayer at other times as well – at work, at home, in a car, on a tram, train, or bus – in short, anywhere and everywhere. All these different kinds of prayer say 1. we are very needy people; and 2. we look to the power and love of God to give us what we lack.
When Jesus was on earth, the teachers in the community, the rabbis, would teach their followers some simple prayers. So, we are not surprised when the friends of Jesus ask him to teach them. Luke recalls the beautiful prayer which Jesus taught them, the prayer of about forty words in Luke’s version, that we call the ‘Our Father’ and ‘the Lord’s Prayer’.
Jesus teaches us to ask for what we need, seek for what we want, and knock on the door of the heart of God with unwavering trust. He assures us that we will receive what we request, that we will find what we are looking for, and that God will open the door to us. In other words, God is always willing to give us what we truly need. But for this to happen we have to tell God that we are not self-sufficient, that we need God’s power and goodness to keep giving us the gifts and blessings we lack.
In both the story of Abraham and the story of the man in the gospel, prayer is prayed for the well-being of others. Abraham asks for mercy for the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. The man in the gospel asks for three loaves of bread for his friend. So, we are meant to pray for others in need and not just for ourselves. That’s why we have so many prayers for others at Mass. We go well and truly beyond just saying to God, ‘look at me, look at me, gimme this, gimme that, please God, gimme’. So, we pray with warm, loving and generous hearts for others, both people we know and people we don’t.
Both stories tell us to keep on praying, and never give up. Neither Abraham nor the man in the gospel was put off by not getting what they needed right away. But we don’t keep praying to change God’s mind, but to gradually find out what God is thinking and wanting for our well-being.
The Lord’s Prayer starts by calling God ‘Father’. It does not mean that God is a male person, e.g., an old man with a beard. It suggests that although God is spirit, God is everything and much more that a good human father is. God is simply the best possible father, who gives his children all they truly need. This is not saying that God gives us everything we want. God’s answer must sometimes be ‘no’. After all, you and I don’t see the big picture. If we did, we would surely back off from trying to manipulate or bludgeon God into submission, and feeling discouraged when we don’t get exactly what we want. Once when I was celebrating Mass with a Year 2 class, one little boy said that he asks God for lots of toys. I gently asked him: ‘Do you need so many toys, or do you just want lots of toys?’ He had to admit that he wants them more than he needs them. When we speak to God as ‘Father’ we are thinking of someone who is always there for us, someone who loves us and cares about us, someone on our side, indeed someone who listens carefully to every word we say, and wants to give us everything we really and truly need. So, let’s leave all our concerns, worries and troubles with God, trusting that God cares, and that at least in the long run everything will work out for the best.
It’s important to respect the way Jesus has arranged the words of the Our Father. Before we ask a single thing for ourselves, we praise God for God’s greatness and goodness. We ask that reverence and respect be given to God and God’s name. We pray that God’s kingdom (reign and rule) of justice, peace and love, will happen all over the world. We ask that people everywhere will seek to know and do what God wants.
Only after praising God and praying that God will be everywhere known, loved, and served, do we start praying for ourselves, starting with ‘give us this day our daily bread’. Asking God for ‘our daily bread’ covers everything we need in the here and now. Jesus is implying that we don’t need to worry about the unknown future, but to live one day at a time. In his famous poem and hymn Lead, Kindly Light, John Henry Cardinal Newman wrote: ‘I do not ask to see the distant scene – one step enough for me.’
Prayer brings us face to face with the all-pure, all-holy, all-good God. So, we go on to ask God to forgive our sins, but only if we are willing and ready to forgive anyone and everyone who has hurt and harmed us.
The ‘Our Father’ focuses too on our future needs. ‘Lead us not into temptation,’ we ask, and ‘do not put us to the test.’ We are not simply asking God to save us from temptations, inclinations, and inducements to sin, but stay with us in every testing and difficult situation. We are asking God to help us stay loyal and true to God, to ourselves, and our loved ones, in any situation that tests our character, commitment, integrity, and fidelity.
We always begin our immediate preparation for Holy Communion by saying the Our Father together. At our next Eucharist, let’s pray it with maximum awareness, that we are praying for God’s interests first of all, and only then for our own. Can we also remember that every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer, the wording is addressed to ‘OUR Father’, not just ‘MY Father’? So, let’s pray not just for ourselves as individuals but for all the people to whom we belong. Surely, that includes the whole wide world of human beings, simply everyone in need of God’s loving presence, care, protection, and guidance! In our prayer too, let’s expect the unexpected from our ‘God of surprises’, and always pray with trust that God never stops loving us, no matter what, and that God wants only the very best for us, at all times and in every situation!
Brian Gleeson is a Passionist priest, and a member of the Passionist community in Endeavour Hills, Melbourne.