JESUS’ TEACHING ABOUT PRAYING
(A biblical reflection on the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time [Year C] – July 24, 2016)
Gospel Reading: Luke 11:1-13
First Reading: Genesis 18:20-33; Psalms: Psalm 138:1-3,6-8; Second Reading: Colossians 2:12-14
The Scripture Text
He was praying in a certain place, and when He ceased, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And He said to them, “When you pray, say:
“Father, hallowed be Thy name. Thy Kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread; and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive every one who is indebted to us; and lead us not into temptation.”
And He said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him whatever he needs. And I tell you, Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” (Luke 11:1-13 RSV)
Many times Jesus told His apostles that they should pray, but had never explicitly told them how. Then one day, they silently observed Him at prayer and were greatly impressed. When He finished, one of His disciples approached Him with the request: “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples” (Luke 11:1) Thereupon, Jesus taught them the Lord’s Prayer, which is recorded by Luke in today’s Gospel.
Jesus had previously told them how not to pray, for He had expressed His disappointment with the way hypocrites approached prayer. He said that when you pray, do not stand on the “street corners in order to be noticed and praised by men, and do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do …” (see Matthew 6:5-7).
Prayer, we might think, is something simple: just talking to God. But that is really not simple after all. What qualities make up a good prayer? What are the internal feelings we should have? Is there a correct time or place to pray? Today’s Gospel answers these questions.
- In regard to the prayer itself; note that the Lord’s Prayer begins with the proper address of “Father”. It is followed with an expression of praise, “hallowed be Thy name.” It would seem thoughtless to begin immediately with along series of “give me’s”, without first showing some reverence and praise to the Almighty One, Whom we are addressing. Following our initial praise, our thoughts and words can move to petitions for spiritual or material blessings, or to expressions of thanksgiving or to request for pardon for our sins.
- Times to pray. It is the old Jewish tradition to pray at the 3rd, 6th and 9th hours of the day. This custom was incorporated into many monasteries and religious houses. Jesus, however, assures us that prayer at any hour is fine, for He is always “on call”. In this Gospel, the Lord tells of someone shouting for help “in the middle of the night” (Luke 11:5). We should pray when most awake and alert , in order to be at our best when talking to God.
- Dispositions of the person praying. We’re asked to view God as our Father (and Friend) with tremendous faith in His goodness and love for us (see Luke 11:11-13). If we are offering petitions, the quality of perseverance is of utmost importance. We are told to continue to ask, seek and knock even when all the doors appear to be closed and bolted, with a dozen good reasons to leave them locked. Yet if we persevere, there is one better reason to open them. “Whoever asks, receives; whoever seeks, finds; whoever knocks is admitted” (Luke 11:9-10).
These solid Bible teachings come from the One who hears the prayers of the world, and He says that these are the kinds He likes to hear.
Prayer: Most gracious Father, all praise and glory be to You. Teach us to pray with confidence and perseverance, and lead us to Your Kingdom. Amen.
Jakarta, 21 July 2016
A Christian Pilgrim