Our readings for Sunday speak to us in various ways about prayer. And I found myself being led in two directions. One has to do with what is going on in the world, and the other has to do with what might be going on within ourselves. Either way you look at it, I think the Scriptures tell us that God’s ways are not our ways. Prayer isn’t so much about converting God to our way of thinking, but opening ourselves up to God’s way of thinking.
Now when we read our first reading from Genesis, it might seem to put a lie to what I just said. In our reading, God has heard the “outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah,” and decides to see for Himself “whether or not their actions fully correspond to the cry against them that comes to me.” Right here, we see a contrast between how God works and how we often work. Too often we seem to rush to condemn and characterize whole groups of people, without trying to find out what is really going on, or thinking about the consequences (I recommend reading Mark Twain’s The War Prayer). As God shares His intent with Abraham, Abraham begins to find out how just and merciful God is: “Will you sweep away the innocent with the guilty?” At the end of their conversation, God states that indeed He is just, willing to spare the city for the sake of ten innocent people. Less than that number are directly saved, as we see with Lot and his family.
God’s mercy is repeated in our second reading from Colossians. As St. Paul writes: “And even when you were dead in transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, he brought you to life along with him [Christ], having forgiven us all our transgressions; obliterating the bond against us, … he also removed it from our midst, nailing it to the cross.”
Although we may feel tempted to pray for the destruction or removal of our enemies, we need to remember God’s mercy toward us, and pray for that which is life-giving, not death-dealing.
In our Gospel reading, Jesus is asked to teach His disciples to pray, and thus we have the version of the Lord’s Prayer according to Luke. When we read this prayer, we need to make sure we don’t skim over the more uncomfortable parts. There is always this bothersome phrase: “Give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us…” Man, that is so challenging! It’s okay for us to be forgiven, but them? If we take Jesus’ words seriously we simply can’t get away from recognizing that asking for forgiveness is connected to forgiving others.
And then, later on, Jesus again calls us beyond what we might think. When He speaks about making our entreaties to the Father, He assures us: “…ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? If you, then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to
Holy Spirit?! Jesus, I was sure you were going to say “that new car,” or “some extra money,” or something I really wanted! But again, Jesus assures us that we can receive what is really important to live our lives, but maybe not what the world says is important.
Again, prayer is not so much trying to get God to give us what we want, but trusting that God will give us what we need, and can do in us what is necessary for us to do what God wants of us. I found this description of prayer working with Faith and Fr. Pat on a project. It comes from Kathleen Norris in Amazing Grace: “Prayer is not asking for what you think you want, but asking to be changed in ways you can’t imagine.” May we be always open to God working in us and through us.
Fr. Phil, CP