17th Ordinary Sunday (Year C)
First Reading: Genesis 18:20-32 Second Reading: Colossians 2:12-14 Gospel Reading: Luke 11:1-13
There is a story told of the two frogs that fell into a bucket of cream. They tried very hard to get out by climbing up the side of the bucket. But each time they slipped back again.
Finally one frog said, “We'll never get out of here. I give up.” So down he went and drowned. The other frog decided to keep trying. Again and again he tried to climb with front legs and kicked with his back legs. He had almost lost his strength and his tired feet could hardly move. He said to himself, “Now...now my end has come...I am going to drown.” Then suddenly, he hit something hard. He turned to see what it was behind and discovered that all his kicking had churned up a lump of butter! He hopped on top of it and leaped out to safety.
It was perseverance in his effort that saved the second frog. Perseverance is an important virtue. It means to be persistent, to continue without stopping; it means to start something and to finish it to the end.
Today is the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time and the general theme of today's Scripture Readings is 'perseverance.' The thread tying together the First Reading and the Gospel reading is 'perseverance in prayer,' and the Second Reading reminds us of our 'perseverance in living faith.'
“THE PRAYER OF ABRAHAM”
The First Reading of today from the Book of Genesis presents us with a moving example – the prayer of Abraham, our father in faith. He happens to discover that God has become so appalled at the goings-on in Sodom and Gomorrah that He has decided to destroy the towns with all their inhabitants. He cannot believe that God would really destroy the good persons along with the wicked – so he pleads for these cities by talking directly to God and asking God to change his plans. But he doesn’t just ask, he is persistent in asking, pushing for more and more mercy each time. He begins by saying, “What if there are 50 just men in the town? Will you really overwhelm them, will you not spare the place for the fifty just men?... Will not the judge of the whole earth administer justice?” And God says that He will not destroy the town because of the fifty just men. And as the conversation progresses, Abraham finally 'persuades' God not to destroy the towns even if there are only ten good people there. God listens to Abraham and answers that he would spare the cities if even ten just people could be found.
As an example of persistence and of trust in the justice and mercy of God, Abraham’s prayer would be hard to beat. It is interesting too that he is not just 'negotiating safe passage' for the good people - he is using their goodness, in a way, to save the whole town - including the less savory characters there. Perhaps it is his own search for a just and merciful outcome that allowed God to seem to be conceding points...and perhaps God was showing too that there were not even ten good people in the towns - for they were, in the end, destroyed.
On the other hand, it also shows that God is loving, kind, just and merciful. He is ready to forgive thousands of sinners for the sake of a handful of just men. He is willing to forget the sins and iniquities of entire cities for the sake of the love and adoration of ten people. This is an unmistakable teaching for all of us who seek to follow the Lord closely. According to Divine logic, the good works of a few people can out-weigh in value the sins of thousands. It is so necessary therefore that every just man pray and negotiate with God to redeem the world from injustice.
“LORD TEACH US TO PRAY...”
The Gospel of Luke is often described as 'the Gospel of Prayer,' because in his Gospel St. Luke presents Jesus always praying to the Father at all important moments of his life. Today's Gospel Reading also begins with Jesus praying. What a wonderful scene Luke paints for us today! The disciples watch Jesus at prayer. They see how much prayer means to him. Impressed, one of them comes forward and says to him, "Lord, teach us to pray..."
In response, Jesus does more than he is asked, for he teaches them WHAT to pray for, HOW to pray and WHAT RESULTS they can expect from their prayer. He begins by sharing the Lord's Prayer with them. Then Jesus completes his lesson on prayer by telling two parables. The first urges us to persist in prayer. The second reminds us that we do not always pray for the right things. God knows best how our prayers should be answered. So, today's Gospel passage can be divided into three sections:
1. The Lord's Prayer:
The first is St. Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer - the Our Father. We notice that it is a shorter form and slightly different from the version we usually use which is the longer, more familiar and deeply-loved version found in St. Matthew's Gospel. As such it may indeed be the earlier version and closer to what Jesus actually said. However, the basic elements of the prayer are always the same.
For centuries now we have been reciting the Lord's Prayer (in Matthew's version). We do so before Communion at every Eucharist and, for instance, when we say the Rosary. Yet, as it is presented here by Jesus, it is less a prayer to be recited than a list of things around which our prayer should be centered. Each phrase, in a way, can stand on its own and be a topic for prayer in its own right.
So, when we pray, we must approach God as His children, praise God and His holy name and ask that His kingdom be realized; we should ask for what is needful for the day, acknowledge our sinfulness, ask for forgiveness, forgive others, and pray that we be not tempted. The prayer tells us how to respond to God's love for us and it also tells us how we should treat our neighbor.
2. Perseverance in Prayer:
The second section in the Gospel speaks of perseverance in prayer - especially in intercessory or asking prayer. Jesus tells a story about a man who wants to be hospitable and is asking his neighbor to lend him some food to give his guests. When he doesn’t get the response he wants from his neighbor, he asks again and again until he breaks the neighbor down and does get what he wants. Jesus praises the man for his persistence in asking. The major lesson here then is to have persistence in asking God for what we want.
3. Need for Perseverance in Prayer:
The final section reinforces that need for persistence in prayer. Jesus concludes his teaching by saying that if you ask, it will be given to you; if you search, you will find; and if you knock, the door will be opened to you. Jesus never tells us what to ask for; all he tells us is that our Father will give us the Holy Spirit - his abiding presence in us and among us. What he is saying is that God will give us himself; he is the only good we will need. It should be noted here that the reference to asking, searching and knocking is a reference to requesting the Holy Spirit. For it says, "How much more will the Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him." It is a reference to the gifts of the Holy Spirit and its fruits. All of these are needed for the sanctification of the soul during its perseverance in the living faith.
“PERSEVERANCE IN OUR LIVING FAITH IN CHRIST”
Today's Second Reading from St. Paul's Letter to the Colossians reminds us of the need of 'perseverance in our living faith in Christ.' St. Paul asks the Colossians and us, too, to reflect on the wonderful gift of redemption that is given to us as a result of Jesus’ death and resurrection. He says that through our baptism we die to our sins and are raised through faith in the power of God. We are sinners, but God’s love for us pardons all our sins and gives us new life in Jesus - a sharing in the very life of the risen Lord. It reminds us to live our lives in Jesus, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, abounding in thanksgiving, just as we were taught.
So, we should have 'perseverance in our living faith in Christ.' And what does our living faith include? It includes: our worship of God; our struggle to inherit the salvation that we have received through Jesus Christ who is Lord and God; and our concern for the salvation of our spiritual brothers and sisters in Christ. And such is persevering in our living faith.
Now, in prayers of petition, perseverance is most important. “ASK...KNOCK...SEEK...” Jesus tells us to continue knocking even when the door is bolted. Perhaps it is our heart's door that need to be opened since the problem may lie in us; i.e., our lack of faith. For with faith, we will discover that it is not really we but God who knocks at our door and He is just waiting to be let in so that He may fill us with Himself.
Again, when we persevere in our prayers (or pray constantly, with endurance, or unceasingly, or always, etc.) we are essentially putting our complete trust in the Lord. We are going to God helplessly and presenting our requests to Him. When we persevere, our faith and hope is in Him. In essence, we are not losing heart. We can go to God and persevere because we know He is omniscient and omnipotent. He will not leave us out to dry.
Moreover, this is a mystery - that there are things we pray for and do not get. God doesn't need to be persuaded, to have his arms twisted to give us what we NEED. But he certainly does not always give us what we WANT, for our wants are often short-sighted and self-centered. Also, there are things we do not pray for but which God is most willing to give. We pray for material gifts, whereas God wants to give us life. We pray for things outside ourselves which we think can make us happy for some moments but He is thinking of happiness from within which lasts.
A story is told of a mother whose only child, a son, was confined in a hospital, seriously sick. She cared for him as best she could. When some relatives or friends dropped by, she asked them to attend to her son while she went to the Chapel. On her knees and in tears before the Blessed Sacrament, she began by acknowledging God as the Source of life, and thanked Him for the gift of her son who has brought joy to her life. Then she beseeches God to spare him. The worse his condition became, the harder she prayed. But her prayers notwithstanding, her son died. Her relatives and friends were worried how she would take this turn of events. Were they surprised to see her take her son's death in peace!
When asked how come, she answered, “What I prayed for was what I wanted. But during my prayer, there was something in me that said, 'Let go, let God.' Thus at one point, I finally said, 'Your will be done, Lord.' With my child's death, it was obvious that God did not go along with what I wanted. Though painful, I accepted His will wholeheartedly. He knew best.”
If something doesn’t happen that we ask for, something better is in God’s mind. Something greater is on the way. For these reasons, we can persevere in prayer and pray continually.
Finally, praying for Christians is not about making God human, but about our becoming divine. God’s one desire for each of us is that we be his children, trusting in his goodness. When we learn to pray with trust, then we will also learn to see the goodness of our God in whatever comes to us in our daily lives. The Spirit within us will give us the strength and courage we will need to handle the situations of our life-journey. And this is the Good News of today.