Reflection for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)
Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.
Two siblings, Bill and Ben, came to visit their grandparents for the weekend. Their grandpa had promised to buy them bicycles, but it seemed he was not in a hurry as he kept promising each time they reminded him. The younger of the two, Ben was frustrated and wanted his bicycle badly. So, he came up with a plan which he didn’t share with his brother, who might discourage him.
During their prayers before bedtime, as they do at home, Ben decided to include their grandpa’s promise as a prayer point, and he did so in a very loud voice: “God, please make grandpa buy us bicycles immediately.” Bill, the calm and gentle sibling, cautioned Bill not to be loud because God is not deaf. Turning to his brother and speaking in a low voice, Ben said, “Bill, you don’t understand; grandpa needs to hear this prayer too.” The next day they got their bicycles from their grandpa.
Have you ever prayed for anything before, and nothing changed, or have you seen the situation worsen as you pray? In this reflection, our Lord Jesus Christ provides practical steps to effective prayer while teaching his disciples to pray.
“Lord, Teach Us to Pray!”
In the Gospel of Luke (11:1-13), the disciples of Jesus approached him to teach them to pray. The background was that they observed him praying in a certain place, and they could have been attracted by the way and manner he prayed, and they wanted to be taught to pray just as John taught his disciples.
I was listening to a friend’s reflection on this narrative, and he said that Jesus taught them to pray, not how to pray. The problem with this interpretation is that it presumes that the disciples were not praying at all. But we know that an average Jew at the time prayed three times a day.
The Effective Prayer Steps
The disciples could have noticed something in the prayers of Jesus that contrasts their manner of praying. The response of Jesus proves this point as he said to them, “when you pray, say:” That means they have been praying but were not strategic regarding the formulation of their prayer.
Magnify God’s name: Notice that the Lord’s prayer started with the invitation to exalt the name of our heavenly Father. There is power in the name of the Lord. The Book of Proverbs (18:10) says that the name of the Lord is a strong tower, and the righteous run to it and is safe. Even St. Paul would say that those who call on the Lord’s name shall be saved (Romans 10:13). David could defeat Goliath because he came in the name of the Lord (1 Sam.17:45).
So, in our prayers, we begin by praising and exalting the name of the Lord. The Book of Psalm says, enter his presence singing (100:2); enter His gates with thanksgiving and His court with praise (100:4). For this reason, the Holy mass starts with entrance songs.
Be Kingdom Conscious: Jesus asked them to be kingdom conscious in the Lord’s Prayer. This means they should focus on eternal values, not just on fulfilling earthly needs. In another place, Jesus instructs his listeners to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and other things will be given as well (Matt. 6:33)
Pray along the Will of God: Some time ago, I was counseling a desperate young lady to submit to God’s will for what she was praying, and she said, “Father, sometimes the will of God goes off our route!” I was shocked, but that shows how we want God to answer us according to “our will” and not His will. So again, we can learn from Jesus, who prayed for the will of his Father at the agonizing moment in Gethsemane (Luke 22:42).
Pray for Needs, not Wants: Indeed, there are many things we may want in life, but we only need some things. Notice how the Lord’s Prayer tells us to ask for daily bread. The daily limit here is symbolic. It invites us to focus on the things we need indicative of the boundary of God’s promise of provision. St. Paul tells us that God will supply all our needs (not our wants) according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:19).
Come without Sin: God is allergic to sin, and anyone who comes to him must do so with clean hands and a pure heart (Psalm 24:4). So, Jesus encourages us to ask God to forgive us our sins much as we should forgive those who offend us. This section of the Lord’s Prayer calls for sanity in our relationship with God and others.
Be Persistent: A careful study of the short narrative and the instructions that followed the Lord’s prayer shows the importance of persistence in prayer. Jesus imagines someone who would not let his friend rest at midnight until he responds to his request. This would immediately remind us of Abraham, in the First Reading, persistently prevailing on God to save the righteous in Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:20-32)
Jesus concluded the teaching by saying, “Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you.” What we have here is an extension of the call for persistence in prayer.
A brief study of the original Greek meaning of the keywords shows that “to ask and seek” involves desiring and demanding while “to knock” involves examining or proving. These show continuous action than a one-time activity. So, Jesus was telling them to continue asking, seeking, and knocking. In fact, we could conclude that it was Jesus’ persistence in prayer that attracted his disciples to ask to be taught to pray
Moving Forward: Keep Praying
Prayer without persistence is a disservice to our faith and trust in God. On the contrary, persistent prayer is dependable proof to God that we do not have an alternative and believe that He exists and rewards those who seek Him (Heb. 11:6).
Keep asking, seeking, and knocking no matter what comes your way. Abraham was persistent in his intercession for the righteous in Sodom and Gomorrah, and God yielded to him. “Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you.When you search for me, you will find me if you seek me with all your heart”. (Jer. 29:12-13).
God bless you!