Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Genesis 18:20-32; Psalm 138:1-3, 6-8; Colossians 2:12-14; Luke 11:1-13

First Reading: Today’s first reading unfolds like a drama, perhaps even like an escalating comedy routine. Abraham beseeches God to spare Sodom, but he knows that there is little warrant for doing so. Sodom is thoroughly corrupt. So Abraham pushes God to extend mercy if there are fifty good people in the city and then barters his way down.

Psalm 138: Psalm 138 is one of thanksgiving because God has answered prayer. Although it was probably written in the postexile period as a confession of the entire community, the voice of the prayer is that of a single individual.

Second Reading: It is generally accepted that a liturgical baptismal hymn lies behind these verses. The Colossians were baptized into Christ, and Paul wants them to understand how that experience has influenced their past and their present.

Gospel: Luke’s Jesus is a person of prayer whose personal relationship to God sustains his life and ministry. His disciples, very much aware of this, ask Jesus to teach them how to pray. Jesus responds with what we now call the Our Father or the Lord’s Prayer.

Reflection: Little children can be amazingly persistent about some things. If they want a new toy, they ask, and ask, and ask – often to the point of greatly annoying their parents. Been there? In today’s gospel Jesus teaches the disciples how to pray and then continues with a parable that humorously illustrates the primary message: we should expect God to hear and answer prayer, but we must also persevere.

While both Matthew and Luke portray Jesus teaching this prayer, they do it in very different settings. In Matthew, the prayer is found in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 – 8). In Luke’s account, the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray “just as John taught his disciples.” This reveals that it was a mark of a disciple to share the master’s style and life of prayer. What could be more intimate than to enter into another’s relationship with God?

Luke’s version of the prayer is shorter and less polished than Matthew’s, suggesting that these words might be closer to Jesus’ original teaching while Matthew’s account reflected the prayer as it came to be used in the community’s celebration of the Eucharist. In addition, the instructions about prayer that the two Evangelists record are very different. While Matthew emphasizes the dimension of humility and forgiveness, Luke underlines the need for asking with insistence.

According to Luke, immediately after giving his disciples an outline for their prayer, Jesus offered two familiar examples to teach them about the frame of mind they should bring to it. In the story of the seeker who goes out in the night, the inference is that prayer is meant for more than personal requests. Just as the language of all of the petitions of Jesus’ prayer was in the plural, the nuisance neighbor at the door is doing a double service to others. Not only is he or she trying to obtain food for the hungry, but the praying disciple is awakening someone who has more than necessary, but is willing to sleep peacefully while others are in need.

At the end of the teaching on prayer, Jesus spoke to his listeners about the One to whom they were praying. As he said in the first word of the prayer, they were not approaching a mighty and frightening king, but the God who is his Father and theirs. Thus, if they, in their own selfishness, still strive to give good things to their children, so much more so would God.

In between the two everyday examples, Jesus summarized his teaching about prayer with an instruction about seeking and finding. These two verses clarify what could be misunderstood from the first example. Jesus is not indicating that God must be badgered into responding, but rather that the more we ask the more open we will become to receiving the Spirit.

Question for reflection: Have I been persistent in my prayer? What is the most comforting about prayer and this mark of discipleship?

Copyright © 2016, Scott W. Eakins. All Rights Reserved.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *