PERSISTENCE IN PRAYER

HOMILY FOR SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR, C. Readings: Genesis 18:20-22; Psalm 138; Colossians 2:12-14 and Luke 11:1-13.

We are in an epoch in which ‘some Christians’ have questioned the existence of God. If God truly exists, why will He allow certain evils to triumph despite our prayers? A friend once asked, “Where is God in the midst of the calamities that befall us as a nation and in particular, as Christians?” With this question, I pondered on ‘where God was’ when His only Son was dying on the cross. Today’s liturgy aids us to reflect deeper in prayer. When and for how long shall we pray for things to get better?

The first reading presents to us Abraham’s persistent prayer of intercession for God’s mercy and compassion for the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. These cities are known for their grave sins and they saw nothing wrong with their sins. Gen. 19:1-3 indicates the sin of homosexuality as the men in the city were determined to have carnal knowledge of the two angels that went towards Sodom, whether they consented or not. These cities practically lost the sense of sin such that it was difficult to find there a just man. We recall an earlier occasion when “God saw the wickedness of man and their rejection of His love and plan” (Gen. 6:5). In that situation, He responded by sending a flood to destroy all but a righteous remnant (the story of Noah).

In view of this, Abraham drew near to the Lord and interceded for the cities when he asked, “Will you indeed destroy the righteous with the wicked?” (Gen. 18:24). He boldly raised an ethical dilemma. Seldom is there a place so wicked that there are no righteous people sprinkled among the wicked. He probably had concern for Lot and his family (as well as other righteous people who might have lived in the cities). Perhaps, the prospect of hurting innocent people might cause God to change His plans. He began a negotiation with the Lord from fifty to ten righteous people, and the Lord said, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it” (v.32). Interestingly was his act of persistence in his prayer of intercession. Pleading with the Lord not to be angry with the cities. Through his intercession, the subsequent chapter expresses how the angels saved Lot and his family, except “His wife who looked back and became a pillar of salt” (19:26).

In the gospel, since the disciples have seen Christ go to a lonely place, hills and garden of olives, for prayers, one of his disciples requested, “Lord, teach us how to pray, as John taught his disciples” (Luke 11:1). Luke uses this prayer to introduce a section on prayer that also includes a parable (vv.5-8) and a promise for those who ask, seek and knock (9-13). This pericope of Luke’s account of the Lord’s Prayer, is quite different from Mathews’. Matthew has the longer and liturgical form of the prayer while Luke has the shorter form. Luke commences with “Father,” showing the intimacy of Christ and the Father. Mathew makes us aware of the dignity of our adoption as children of the Father by saying ‘Abba Father’ or ‘Our Father.’

Luke presents five petitions in the Lord’s Prayer: the first two (v.2) have to do with God (“hallowed be your name” and “your kingdom come”). The last three (vv.3-4) have to do with the fulfilment of our needs. Each of those three is plural (“give us; forgive us; lead us”), emphasizing the community of faith of which we are a part of rather than our individual needs. However, Matthew’s version of this prayer presents seven petitions, including, (“your will be done” and “deliver us from evil”).

The last petition in Luke’s account presents the theme of temptation as Jesus also experienced the trial of temptation in the wilderness (Luke 4:1-13). Another time of the trial was the night He was betrayed and went to the Mount of Olives to pray, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but your will be done” (22:42), but the cup will not be removed. Christians frequently undergo trials. When Luke was writing this gospel, Luke’s church was encountering persecution. Today, Christians are being persecuted and martyred for their faith in many parts of the world, precisely, our nation. We need God’s protection from the evil set to destroy us. Being Christian is enough to be a target for kidnappers, how much more for priests and religious. Poor governance has led us to a collapsed system where evil seems to be triumphing and instead of us having a negotiation with God like Abraham, we find ourselves negotiating with herdsmen, bandits and kidnappers. It is quite appropriate for us to pray for deliverance from evil for our dear nation and ourselves. Lest we forget, the marks of a Christian is to “Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering and persevere in prayer” (Romans 12:12). Soon God will hear our prayers.

Christ compared our perseverance in prayer to a friend requesting help from his friend at midnight, who in turn replied, “Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything” (v.7). Parents with little children may understand better the plight of this friend. Who knows how long it will take the children to sleep off again if they are awakened? If not because of friendship, but because of importunity or persistence, he will rise and give him whatever he needs (v.8). Hence Christ gave the promise to “All who ask, it will be given you; he who seek shall find and he who knock, it will be open to you” (vv.9-13).

Finally, St. Paul in the second reading calls us to turn away from evil towards good, through the baptism we have received, which makes us sons and daughters of God.

Happy Sunday!
Fr. Ken Dogbo, OSJ

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