To read the texts click on the texts: Gn18:20-32; Col2:12-14; Lk 11:1-13
What is prayer? If all the books that could be written to answer this question were written, it would be difficult for the world itself to contain them all.
There is an old story of a monk who was bothered by mice playing around him when he prayed. To stop it, he got a cat and kept it in his prayer room so the mice would be scared away. But he never explained to his disciples why he had the cat. One day, the monk walked down the corridors of the monastery and noticed that each of his disciples had a cat in their prayer room. After seeing their master with a cat, they thought that having a cat was the secret to powerful praying.
Prayer has been defined as “talking with God”, “listening to God”, “petitioning God” “intimate communion and communication with the Lord”, and so on. However, a definition that makes the most sense to me is “Prayer is action”. This is because, all too often, prayer has been relegated to theory and verbosity. It has often been understood to be sterile. Not too many of us who pray believe that our prayers will be answered. This is proved because we are often surprised and even astounded when we get what we pray for. However, in Jesus’ definition, prayer is not the last but the first resort. When we need something, we go first to our heavenly father who is the primary cause.
The Gospels contain only one instance of Jesus’ teaching his disciples on Prayer. While the text of today’s Gospel is also found in Matthew and is known popularly as the “Our Father”, it must be noted that there is no “Our” in Luke’s version of the prayer. Luke’s version seems to fit the historical context better than Matthew’s. It is more likely that Jesus taught his disciples the meaning of prayer and how to pray when he himself was praying.
There are many aspects to the Lord’s Prayer in Luke’s gospel. It contains five petitions. The first and second petitions concern God directly. They petition for God’s sovereignty to be established. They petition for the full coming of God’s kingdom and for the time when all creation will acknowledge and celebrate the holiness of God. The term “Father” is not static, but dynamic, and indicates an endearing relationship, a relationship of trust and confidence. It is imperative that one approach God with confidence and conviction, much like a trusting child approaches its trustworthy parents. The third petition is for bread, for sustenance, in our everyday life. This is an indication that God is concerned with even the mundane, ordinary things in our daily lives. The fourth petition is for forgiveness of our sins in the same way in which we forgive others their sins against us. One who will not forgive cannot receive forgiveness; mercy flows through the same channel, whether being given or received. There is no quid pro quo here; however, the ability to forgive and to be forgiven is part of the same gift. We stand in need, not only of daily sustenance but also, of continual forgiveness. The fifth and final petition is a climactic one. It underscores our relationship to God as a Father to whom we can appeal for protection from any circumstances that might threaten our lives. We can appeal to him for protection during the trials or tests accompanying the full manifestation of God’s kingdom.
Though not part of the prayer that Jesus taught, the instructions that follow the prayer, in Luke, are as important as the prayer itself and must be seen along with it. The core of these instructions is that God answers all prayer. What is required is perseverance and persistence. This is the kind of persistence shown by Abraham in the first reading of today when he keeps petitioning God, who finally grants Abraham what he asks. Indeed, God exhibits no disapproval even though Abraham is direct and resolute. As Abraham continues to keep petitioning, God responds in a consistently positive way. Abraham’s concerns are matched by God’s. God will go to any extent to save the righteous. God’s will to save outweighs God’s will to judge. God takes Abraham’s thinking and petitions into account before deciding the final outcome. God takes prayer very seriously.
This is shown in the last part of the Gospel text for today when Jesus assures his disciples that God answers prayer. To be sure, the answer may not be as we expect or even as we want, but God does listen and God does answer. Without a doubt, what God gives will be infinitely better than what we want for ourselves. A striking example of this is Jesus’ own prayer in Gethsemane. As persistent as Jesus was that the cup be taken from him, he was equally persistent that God’s will be done. The first part of the prayer was answered. However, God did not take the cup away from Jesus. The second part of the prayer, that God’s will be done, was answered. Though he did not “hear” his Father respond, Jesus rose fortified from his prayer. He was ready now for action. He was ready to face the cross. It is evident today, two thousand years later, that this was infinitely the better answer. It is very likely that, if God had taken the cup away, Jesus would have lived for a few more years. However, if this had been the case, Jesus would not have gone to the Cross. There would have been no resurrection. Jesus would have been remembered as yet another good and holy man. The fact that God’s will was done is the reason why Jesus died, why he was raised and why he lives, even today.
Paul speaks of this fact in the second reading of today when he reminds the Colossian community of believers of who they have become through the death and resurrection of Jesus. They who were dead have become alive to God through the forgiveness they have received in Jesus’ resurrection.
Thus, this is what prayer means: We petition God with confidence and persistence. We free our minds and hearts of every negative and of every bit of blame and lack of forgiveness that will prevent us from receiving his bountiful grace. We believe that every prayer of ours will be answered. Our prayer, like that of Jesus, must fortify us and prepare us to face the realities of the world.