Theme: Humility and Perseverance in Prayer
Christians and non-Christians pray, and they pray differently. One common thing is that everyone who prays acknowledges that they are in communication with a deity. Our Christian prayer is categorised into three levels: vocal, mental/meditation, and contemplative. The readings today teach us some essential elements of vocal prayer. In the first reading (Gen 18:20-32), Abraham prays on behalf of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. In the gospel, the disciples of Jesus asked him to teach them how to pray, and he taught them the model of all prayer. The common element in both readings is the need for humility and perseverance when we pray.
Last Sunday, in the first reading (Gen 18:1-10), Abraham welcomed some men into his tent, unaware of who they were, only to discover they were messengers of God. Because God had chosen Abraham to be great and become a mighty nation, God decided to reveal his mission in Sodom and Gomorrah to Abraham. Once Abraham knew that God would visit the sin of the people against them, Abraham asked: suppose there are fifty righteous people in the city. Will God destroy the righteous and the wicked? God said he would not destroy the city for the sake of the fifty, and Abraham kept reducing the number until he got to ten. God said he would not destroy the city if he found ten righteous people. Abraham persevered in his request, pleading on behalf of the people until he bargained to ten. But while he persisted in asking, he showed respect, honour and humility before God. Abraham said: behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes.’ Abraham acknowledged his worthlessness and humanness before God. What was Abraham doing? He was praying. Praying not for himself but the whole nation of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Prayer is a communication between the person who prays and God. In this case, Abraham engaged God in vocal prayer but with his heart open to hear what the Lord was saying. Whether vocal prayer or meditation, that is, praying without speaking out loud, we must focus on whom we are talking to and listen to him to get the reply to our request. The prayer of Abraham is further characterised by perseverance and humility. When we pray, these two qualities must come together – persevere until we get what we are looking for and be humble before God. Ours is not to command God to arm-twist his will. Ours is to recognise that we are mere mortals who are not worthy of standing before God’s presence and may not understand what God is doing. We also learned that our request might not be granted. Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because God could not find even ten righteous people in them.
In the gospel, the disciples of Jesus saw Jesus praying and asked him to teach them to pray, as John taught his disciples. Jesus constantly communicated with this Father, and so was John the Baptist. They must communicate with Him, who sent them on their mission. In response to his disciples, Jesus taught them the pattern of all prayer, which we call The Lord’s Father or Pater Noster. The Lord’s prayer in Luke is shorter than the one in Matthew, with which we are familiar. In Matthew, there are seven petitions made to God the Father – Let your name be hallowed, your kingdom come, your will be done, give us this day our daily bread, forgive us our trespasses, lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil. But in Luke, we have five petitions – hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, give our daily bread, forgive our sins and lead us not into temptation. Luke may have summarised the version in Matthew because they are substantially the same. After all, the prayer has both
vertical and horizontal parts – the first part directed to God and the second to our needs. In praying, we must begin by praising the name of God and pray that the life lived in his kingdom be lived here on earth. Based on the will of God, we can then ask for our needs, forgive others as God forgives us and pray to be delivered from the power of evil.
Jesus went further to tell the disciples a story of the man who had guests and went to his friend in the middle of the night to ask for three loaves. His friend said he and his family were already in bed and could not get up to give what the man needed. Jesus concluded that persistence and friendship would compel the friend to provide the man’s needs. Two points are vital here concerning prayer. First, Jesus presents God as a friend, and we must speak to him as such. No wonder then that St. Teresa of Avila describes prayer as ‘an intimate sharing between friends.’ Secondly, persistence is essential to receiving what we need in prayer. In prayer, we must never give up even when it appears that God is not responding.
God will always listen to the needs of his children. Therefore, ‘Ask, seek and knock’ at God’s door because whoever asks Him, seeks Him and knocks at this door receives, finds and has the door opened. However, God will not give his children what will destroy them or damage their lives. Hence, Jesus says, ‘What father among you would hand his son a stone when he asked for bread? Or hand him a snake instead of a fish? Or hand in a scorpion if he asked for an egg?’ God knows the needs of his children and what is suitable for them at the right time. Therefore, the most important prayer we must make is to ask God to give us the Holy Spirit to discern His will for us to ask, seek and knock rightly.