17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
All three readings in today`s liturgy deal with prayer. Abraham, our Father in faith, literally persuades God to save two entire cities simply by prayer. St. Paul’s letter shows what faith in Christ can accomplish. And in the Gospel, while Jesus and his disciples journey to Jerusalem, he teaches them how to pray by introducing The Lord’s Prayer. Then he follows this with the parable of The Friend at Midnight, that stresses the importance of perseverance in prayer. Finally, Jesus stresses the effectiveness of prayer by comparing the readiness of God to answer the requests of his children with the loving response of human parents.
The context of Jesus’ teaching is most significant. His disciples ask him to show them how to pray, just as John the Baptist taught his disciples to pray. In answer to their request, Jesus presents them with an example of a Christian communal prayer, that stresses the condition of God as Father and acknowledges him to be the source of man’s daily sustenance, forgiveness, and deliverance from the final trial. Jesus shares his experience of God -God as a loving Father- with his followers. The way Jesus addresses God by the title Abba is amazingly revolutionary.
Sometimes, it is the experience of every believer to have ardently prayed for that which is greatly desired, but which is not granted. As a result, some conclude that prayers of petition are not worthy prayers. The teachings of Jesus proclaim just the opposite. Both the Abraham story (1rst read.) and the Gospel entail the consoling lesson that prayer of petition is fruitful. The Gospel in particular reminds us that it is a loving Father whom we address in prayer. Supposedly, God our Father is most gracious and ready to respond to the needs of his children. If a friend will aid a friend, if the father will provide for his child, how much more will God care for the disciples of his Son Jesus. The man who keeps knocking until someone answers the door symbolizes persistence. Perseverance is necessary; we must not give up on prayer, ever. We must persevere in prayer until we (not God) become the listener. Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays, said Kierkegaard.
Some others believe that God always answers our prayers, but his answer can be “Yes” or “No” or “Wait a while.” “No” is a valid answer to prayer.
The last part of today’s Gospel speaks about the certainty of receiving from God’s bounty, because prayer is a relationship between the disciple and our heavenly Father. God gives and God opens the door as we need it opened. Jesus tells us that we must do the asking, seeking and knocking if we are going to receive, find and have doors opened. Asking is our way of acknowledging our dependence on God. Prayer is not a passive sort of thing. It is very active. We need to ask to receive, seek to find, knock to have doors opened. We must do our part.
There is an element of joy present in one’s praying to such a Father. If human parents rejoice in granting their children’s requests, how much more will God attend to our requests! Human fathers meet the needs of their children by providing for their bodily needs -a fish or an egg. St. Luke presents the gift of the holy Spirit as the response of the heavenly Father to our prayer.
Jesus’ assertion that the Father grants the holy Spirit to those who ask, provides an occasion for us to deepen our appreciation of the prayer of petition. The Spirit is the greatest of all gifts. It is the Spirit who leads us to Jesus. When we pray, then, we can ask our Father for the gift of the Spirit; He will help us to deal with loss, disappointment and tragedy. Strengthened by the Spirit, even in our bitterest disappointments, we will find opportunity to enter more fully into our Father’s loving care.
Despite the seeming delay, we can be sure that God will always grant one request -the gift of the Holy Spirit. God says that he offers his Holy Spirit to anyone who asks. His Spirit is the best gift ever.