today's readings are Genesis 18: 20-32; Psalm 138; Colossians 2: 12-14, Luke 11: 1-13
In today’s gospel, Jesus teaches His disciples how to pray, by giving them the Lord’s Prayer. If you study the Lord’s Prayer closely, you will notice that it is made up of petitions, 5 of them in fact. The first 2 petitions involve praising God. “Hallowed be your name” and “your kingdom come, your will be done”, speak of things no human can do but that God can easily do, if God so wishes. After praising God, the last 3 petitions ask God for daily food, forgiveness of sins, and deliverance from temptation and evil. Notice that these three petitions have a communal rather than individual dimension – note the use of “us” rather than “me”, “our” rather than “my”, indicating that this prayer is said for everyone, and not just for oneself.
With that in mind, an important point to remember about the Lord’s Prayer is that it isn’t simply a prayer of praise to God. It also involves asking God for things we need – daily bread, forgiveness, deliverance. Having needs and desires, and then presenting them to God should come naturally to us – and Jesus not only recognizes this reality, He commends it – so He tells us, “Ask the Father!”
However, a second point to consider about the Lord’s Prayer, and in fact all prayers of petition, is that we don’t always get what we ask for in prayer. Yes, Jesus does say ask and you shall receive. But how many people pray the Our Father each day and then go without food? And lack of food is just one example. In each mass we ask for healing for ourselves and for others – whether it is in the prayers of the faithful or just before communion when we pray, “Only say the word and my soul shall be healed”, and yet the illnesses, both physical and mental, the suffering, the pain, keeps on going.
And that brings us to a third point. Nowhere in the gospels does Jesus ever promise that we will get the very thing we ask for. He says, ask, and you shall receive; but He never specifies what we will receive. He just says you will receive – but maybe not what you want, or what you think you need. Why does that happen? Let me try to explain in a couple of different ways.
First, Jesus encourages us to view God the Father as just that, a loving parent. And any good parent who loves his or her child very much does not always give their child what it asks for, so God realizes that sometimes the things we think we need are maybe not so good for us.
Another explanation is this: If a sick person could heal himself, he would be the doctor, not the patient. But when you are the patient, what’s your job? To desire to get better. It is the doctor’s job to figure out how to get you better. Now, just like the neighbour in today’s gospel who persistently asks for the 3 loaves of bread, our job is to persistently ask God. It’s God’s job to figure out what to give us which will truly feed us and heal us.
Ask, and you shall receive. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and the door shall be opened. Jesus tells us to do those things. And do so with faith and trust, trusting that God will give us what we need – which may be quite different from what we think we need. But keep asking, for Jesus promises we will receive – from the God who knows us and loves us so much.