Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, 07/28/2019
Ask, Seek, and Knock: The Example of Abraham
Readings: 1st- Gen. 18:20-32; 2nd- Col. 2:12-14; Gospel- Lk. 11:1-13
Abraham takes on a responsibility that is both tough and frustrating- pleading for the sinful Sodom before the Lord. In this encounter, God reveals to Abraham his plan to destroy Sodom. Scripture tells us that Abraham pleads incessantly that God considers some righteous persons in the city and for their sake, spare Sodom of the intended destruction. The righteous will always plead for sinners.
The manner of Abraham’s appeal before God is interesting- bold, insistent, and deferential. Abraham begins by drawing near to the Lord, “Will you sweep away the innocent with the guilty?” He begins by asking for pardon if fifty innocent people are seen in Sodom, then knocks it down to forty-five, to forty, to thirty, to twenty, and then to ten. Abraham represents here, the power of holy intercession. He stands out as a model of prayer before God. Abraham is very clear about his demands from God- do not destroy the righteous because of sinners.
Abraham’s approach also sets a model of persistence and diligent consistency. While pleading for Sodom, Abraham does not take God for granted. He recognizes that his interaction with God is a privilege. His choice of words shows God’s supremacy in their conversation: “See how I am presuming to speak to my Lord, though I am but dust and ashes!” “Let not my Lord grow impatient if I go on.” “Since I have dared to speak to my Lord…” “Please, let not my Lord grow angry if I speak up this last time.” Abraham does not give up. He introduces the concept which Jesus deepens in the gospel about perseverance in prayer- prayer is interaction with our Father.
One of the disciples of Jesus says to him in the gospel, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples” (Lk. 11:1). What is this disciple doing -reminding Jesus of his responsibility, telling him what John does, or what? I think he is presenting to Jesus our human limitations to prayer. It’s obvious that prayer could be a hard thing to do. Why? Because in prayer we are dealing with God who is invisibly present. We do not see him as in every other conversation we have with human beings. I remember a few times when I have spontaneously called upon people to lead in prayer. The usual answers I have received go like this, “I can’t. I don’t know how to pray.” Most people are short of words when it comes to prayer. That means it is different when we converse with God. So, the first part of that gospel reminds us to always invoke the Spirit of Christ in order to help us to pray. Saint Paul says, In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit intercedes with inexpressible groanings” (Rom. 8:26-27). Always ask Jesus to teach you how to pray. It is God who directs you in prayer.
What does Jesus teach? He tells the disciples, “When you pray, say:
“Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation” (Lk. 11:2-4). I was at an A.A. meeting recently and was impressed at the way the members, struggling and recovering alcoholics united hands to say this wonderful prayer.
Jesus teaches us to recognize that God is our Father. That’s important in order to build a relationship, a connection that depicts God’s love for us. God is that Father who invites us to his love; the Father whose kingdom reaches out to the ends of the world; the Father full of mercy and forgiveness; the Father who accompanies and guides us on the right path. Remember how the Psalm 23 begins, “The Lord is my Shepherd, there is nothing I shall want.” Understanding the Lord’s prayer means understanding that God can do everything for us because He is our Father.
The second aspect of Jesus’ teaching exposes persistence as an important aspect in prayer. Jesus goes deeper in answering the question. It’s both: about knowing how to pray and recognizing the demands of prayer. He uses the analogy of the friend who comes to make a demand from his friend late at night. Even though the friend inside the room seems unwilling to satisfy the demands of the friend who’s making the request, the recipient does not give up. Such persistence would therefore elicit a response from this reluctant friend. Jesus says, “I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need” (Lk. 11:8). Mark those words, “because of your shameless audacity.” Are there times you feel unworthy to appear before God? Are there times you feel you’ve bothered him enough. Haven’t you heard someone say to you, “I’m not sure whether God still hears me.” “I think I have given God a lot of troubles, maybe I am asking so much from Him.” Jesus says, you must persist in your shameless audacity. God is still waiting.
How do you do it? Jesus gives us three steps: “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Lk. 11:9). Step 1: Ask. Step 2: Seek. Step 3: Knock. That’s the key, ASK! Did you notice that acronym? (A…sk, S…eek, K…nock). To ask is to make an active request or demand. Say what you want. Tell your Father. The next is to seek. Search for Him. Make visits. Go to him. Spend time with him. To knock means to ask to be let in. Press the doorbell. Press again. Hang on as you press. Don’t go because He might show at the door the moment you turn your back. Jesus tells us that these actions must be performed continuously in our relationship with God.
The great difference lies understanding the difference between our human nature and the nature of God. Human/earthly fathers have a relationship with their children. They care for them, provide for them, and support them. But human nature can disappoint. Jesus says, “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Lk. 11:13). We all have images of our earthly fathers. Some dads are good and wonderful, others could be nasty and crazy. Some good dads have become crazy along the line for some reasons beyond our explanations while some nasty dads have also turned good by the grace of God. However, God’s nature is that He is all-good, in fact, the Highest Good. It is his nature to be that loving, caring, wonderful, supportive, and unchangeable Father. Abraham teaches us that He is the Father who listens.
Just do the three steps: Go to Him in prayer. Ask him of your needs. Seek him with your strength. Knock at his door of mercy and love. However you want to do it! Sit down, stand up, be on your knees, bow down, lie down if you want. Visit the Chapel. Go to the Blessed Sacrament. That’s His door. Press the bell and wait. Hang around for a while. He will answer because He is (y)our Father.