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Friday, 22 July 2016

Homily for 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, By Fr Munachi E. Ezeogu, CSSp

Genesis 18:20-21, 23-32, Colossians 2:6-14, Luke 11:1-13

On the Gospel, Praying as Jesus Taught Us

A businessman who needed millions of dollars to clinch an important deal went to church to pray for the money. By chance he knelt next to a man who was praying for $100 to pay an urgent debt. The businessman took out his wallet and pressed $100 into the other man’s hand. Overjoyed, the man got up and left the church. The businessman then closed his eyes and prayed, “And now, Lord, now that I have your undivided attention….”

Robert A. Cook, president of The King’s College in New York, once spoke at the Moody Bible Institute. Cook said that the day before, he had been at a gathering in Washington and had talked with Vice President George Bush. Two hours later he spoke briefly with President Ronald Reagan. Then smiling broadly, he said, “But that’s nothing! Today I talked with God!”

These examples of two men at prayer, a businessman and a college president, can teach us a lot about Christian prayer. Positively, it shows us that even top-level executives and professionals still make time to pray. But in a very subtle way they also highlight the problem that today’s gospel seems to focus upon, that of the right disposition for Christian prayer. In both instances we see that God is portrayed as the big boss or the CEO of a corporate establishment. Is that the right disposition for Christian prayer? The request of the disciples to Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1) can be understood as a quest for the proper disposition for Christian prayer. The reply that Jesus gives them can be summarised in one sentence: the right disposition for Christian prayer is the disposition of a child before its father.

The gospel reading, Luke 11:1-13, consists of the request of the disciples in verse 1 and the long response of Jesus in verses 2-13. The response of Jesus begins in verse 2 with the words, “When you pray, say: ‘Father’” and ends in verse 13 with the words, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to yourchildren, how much more will the heavenly Father.” We see immediately that prayer, according to Jesus, is a child-father affair. In other words, it is a family affair based on a relationship of familiarity and love. Jesus uses the imagery of father here in order to correct the dominant image of God as the boss or the king who is to be revered rather than loved. Speaking of God as father has practically the same force as speaking of God as mother. Both images speak to us of a relationship based on tenderness and intimacy and not on power and authority.

To pray as Christians is to put ourselves in the situation where we see God as father (or mother) and speak to Him as His children. When children speak to their parents, there is hardly a right or wrong way. They simply focus on one thing, to put into words and body language what they feel in the heart. I know a man who took issues with his pastor for using the wrong prayer formula. His pastor had said “Almighty and ever-loving God” instead of “Almighty and ever-living God.” One wonders what kind of image this man has of God. Maybe he thinks of God as the Chief Judge or the Law Enforcement Officer before whom one must use the “right” words. Certainly he does not think of God as “Abba” (Daddy) before whom there are no correct formulas.

Children trust their parents to always do what is in the children’s best interest. “Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion?” (verses 11-12). God’s children should likewise come to God with a spirit of trust and expectancy, knowing that God will always do for them whatever is in their best interest. Children, like the friend at midnight, refuse to take no for an answer. Say no to them and tomorrow they are sure to come back with the very same request. Jesus teaches us, as God’s children, to show the same spirit of perseverance in prayer. He makes this point with the Parable of the Friend at Midnight who refuses to take no for an answer.

Speaking of prayer as a father-child affair finally reminds us that prayer is an activity that flows out of a relationship. We do not learn how to pray better, we become better women and men of prayer when our relationship with God becomes more intimate like that of father and child. If you want to improve your prayer, focus on improving your personal relationship with God, our Father.

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