To read the texts click on the texts: Gn 18:20-32; Col 2:12-14; Lk11:1-13
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 the books that could be written.
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 having a cat was the secret to powerful praying.
Prayer had been defined as “talking with God”, “listening to God”, “petioning 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 and this is proved when 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 which seems to fit the historical context better than Matthew’s version. It is more likely that Jesus taught his disciples the meaning of prayer and how to pray when he was praying.
There are many aspects to the Lord’s Prayer in Luke which contains five petitions. The first and second petitions concern God directly. They are both a 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 in concerned with even the mundane, ordinary things our daily lives. Fourthly the prayer 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 final petition is a climactic one that underscores our relationship to God as a Father to whom we can appeal for protection from any circumstances that might threaten our lives or our relationship to and 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 does answer 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 petioning God who finally grants him what he asks for. Indeed, God exhibits no disapproval even as Abraham is direct and resolute. As Abraham continues to keep petioning, 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 does take Abraham’s thinking and petitions into account before deciding what the final outcome will be. God does take prayer seriously.
This is shown in the last part of the Gospel text for today when Jesus assures his disciples that God does answer prayer. To be sure, the answer may not be as we expect or even want, but God does listen and God does answer and 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 away from him so he was that God’s will be done. While the first part of the prayer was not answered and God did not take the cup away from Jesus, the second part that God’s will be done was certainly 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 were the case, then Jesus would not go to the Cross, there would be no resurrection and 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 and was raised and 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.
This is thus what prayer means: We petition God with confidence and persistence, free our minds and hearts of every negative and unforgiveness that will prevent us from receiving his bountiful grace and 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.