Chapter Talk – 17th Sunday of the Year – July 24, 2022, cycle-C
St. Luke’s gospel for this Sunday has three pericopes, all on the theme of prayer. The gospel begins with one of the disciples asking Jesus to teach them to pray. And Jesus’ reply is the Lord’s prayer. Jesus spoke in Aramaic, and he begins by addressing God as ‘Abba’. Most scholars assert that the use of Abba in his native language was very personal and intimate: Abba in Jesus’ language is more like ‘daddy’ in English. What is this saying? For Jesus God was very close to him in an intimate bond of love: a covenant of love between Son and Father. This covenantal relationship was confirmed at his baptism.
In the second pericope, Jesus gives a story of persistent prayer. Its backdrop is the first reading from Genesis where Abraham is pleading with God for the ‘righteous in Sodom’. Fr. Hans Urs von Balthasar describes Abraham’s intercession as “the first great and the lasting model for intercessory prayer. It is simultaneously insistent and humble” (p.334). ‘Insistent and humble’: two words that so aptly describe the interior posture of intercessory prayer. Von Balthasar continues: “If God has entered into a covenant with humanity, he has no wish to behave like a tyrant toward his covenant partners. Instead he is willing to let himself be shaped (in human terms, one might say, ‘be persuaded’)…God has granted the human person who is in covenant with him power over his heart” (p.334). This is the power of a faith-filled prayer, that is at once persistent and humble, and conscious of its covenantal relationship with God, a relationship bonded by God’s unconditional love.
In the third pericope Jesus says: ‘Ask and you will receive, search and you will find, knock and the door will be opened’. But how are we to ask, how to search, how to knock? This is a prayer of surrender, ‘believing surrender’, for in the asking, the seeking, and the knocking is the will of God. In the asking we always add ‘if it is your will’. In the seeking, we plead to know God’s will, in the knocking we say, ‘I am here…I am here to do your will’.
Prayer is an encounter…an encounter that is already grounded in a conventual relationship of love, a relationship with the One who has loved us first and has not stopped loving, for this love is God’s nature and this Divine love will never leave us. And then, from our side, what is our interior posture? We enter prayer, on our knees (metaphorically or literally!) in an attitude of surrender, a faith-filled surrender, and keeping in our consciousness this utterance of the heart, ‘your will be done’.
We need prayer…we need prayer like we need each breath of air…it is our lifeline, our lifeline to God, to the source of life, mercy, and love. How hopeful and sustaining it is to hear Jesus teach us his prayer and then encourage us to pray insistently, importuning, not stopping, our asking, our seeking, and our knocking. And, to repeat again, we never forget to say, ‘your will’, ‘your will not mine’ and ultimately that your will be done in me. We can image prayer as an encounter of ‘wills’…our will meeting the Divine will. Our will surrendering in the asking, the seeking, and the knocking. In the secret room of the heart, we pray insistently and humbly, surrendering to grace as our will unites with the Divine will.
Sr. Kathy DeVico, Abbess