17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 28, 2013
Luke 11: 1-13
Gen 18: 20-32
St. Ursula, Mt. Vernon
“When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name” (Luke 13: 2).
The version of the Lord’s Prayer, the Our Father, that we’re familiar with comes from St. Matthew’s gospel. Today we heard St. Luke’s slightly shorter version. Jesus follows his model prayer with several parables, so that we get a comprehensive teaching on prayer.
|Jesus teaching his disciples, by Fra Angelico|
That teaching is reinforced by the episode we heard from Genesis, which as it happens is the immediate sequel to last Sunday’s reading from Genesis. (I think it’s the only time in the 3-year cycle of readings that we get sequential 1st readings.)
And what is Jesus’ teaching on prayer?
1st, the Lord desires to hear our prayers and to extend his mercy to us. See how easily he yields to Abraham’s pleading for Sodom in spite of that city’s notorious wickedness. The story is a practical variation of Jesus’ parable about persistence in prayer (11:5-8). Jesus also tells us that our Father in heaven is eager to give us the good things we need (11:13). The psalm refrain today reminds us that the Lord helps us when we call out to him.
2d, Jesus begins his prayer with submission to God: may God’s name be revered, held up as holy, and may the Lord reign everywhere over everyone! This is God’s wish, of course—for our benefit, not for his. St. Paul points out to the faithful of the town of Colossae that God “brought you to life along with [Jesus], having forgiven us all our transgressions” (2:13). God wishes us to live! And our life rests upon him, upon our participation in his kingdom.
|Lot Fleeing Sodom, by Benjamin West|
The negative side of that we see if we continue reading the Genesis story (19:1-29): God destroyed Sodom on account of its utter wickedness; not one just or innocent person could be found in it except Abraham’s nephew Lot and his family. Abraham worked the Lord down to 10 just people, but he couldn’t find even that. When the Lord’s 2 angels got to the city, the people insulted and tried to abuse them—a sin against traditional Mideastern hospitality (such as Abraham offered to his 3 guests last week, you may remember); the story tells us the people’s utter wickedness was marked by homosexual behavior (19:4-5). Consequently, the angels were able to save no one but Lot and his family. Rejection of the sanctity of God’s name and of his rule over us leads to our own destruction. If we choose the kingdom of darkness and misery rather than the kingdom of light and of love, that’s what we’ll get.
The positive side of Jesus’ teaching comes in the last verse of the gospel: “How much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” (11:13). If we seek holiness, if we seek God’s action in our lives, if we submit our own wills to his—then he’ll come to us, he’ll work with us, he’ll bestow his spiritual gifts upon us, and he’ll share his own life with us.
The Collect or opening prayer of today’s Mass also is related to this theme. We prayed that God grant that “we may use the good things that pass,” that is, all the good and wonderful things of life, “in such a way as to hold fast even now to those that ever endure”; that is, that as we enjoy all God’s blessings, like family, health, wealth, sexuality, power, leisure time, our talents, etc., we may always keep eternity in mind—eternal truths, eternal virtues such as love, fidelity, justice, and purity. On such virtues God’s kingdom is founded.
3d, Jesus teaches us to ask for what is truly for our benefit. After the primacy of God in our lives, we pray for the substance we really need, which Jesus refers to as “daily bread.” That could mean literal bread, the basic necessities of life. Certainly we ought to pray for those necessities. It could also mean spiritual bread, such as God’s grace, God’s accompaniment in our day-to-day lives, the spiritual sustenance we need to do what will please God when we do our work, interact with our families, travel, play, rest, and so on. Then we pray for forgiveness. Who doesn’t need that? And we pray to be spared “the final test,” which doesn’t mean school exams (sorry, kids!); rather, it seems to mean severe trials associated with the Lord’s Second Coming; or perhaps just any severe temptation at the moment of death, so that we may go peaceably and happily to the Lord.
4th, Jesus links our prayer for forgiveness to our readiness to forgive others: “forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us” (11:4). That’s not a financial statement but a moral one! Jesus tells a noteworthy parable about a servant who doesn’t forgive a man who owes him a small sum of money after his master forgave him a humongous debt, and the master condemns this unforgiving servant. If we truly revere the name of God, if we truly seek the coming of God’s kingdom, if we truly model ourselves on Jesus, how can we not forgive even the most horrendous offenses? It’s a hard thing to do, but Jesus encourages us: “Ask and you will receive” (11:9). “Won’t the Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”
You can pray to win the Power Ball if you want. You’ve got better odds of winning forgiveness and the other gifts of the Holy Spirit! God bless you.