17th Sunday of the Year

Teaching us to pray

The lesson from the scripture today seems clear enough. In the passage from the Book of Genesis we hear a long discussion between Abraham and God over the fate of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah and in the Gospel of Luke we listen to Jesus offering the disciples the prayer which is part and parcel of our daily lives. What is it that binds both of these readings together in a profound way? Surely they both teach us that God is close to us, attentive to our pleas, and gently directing our thoughts.

The first thing to notice is that God is not hidden from us, but rather he is with us in our midst, ready and willing to engage in our concerns and problems. I propose to go down and see and Abraham stands before the Lord and converses with him one to one. It is a daring initiative which explodes the myth that the God of the Old Testament is distant and dismissive with little concern for the state of his creation. Similarly in the gospel, Jesus is amongst the disciples, with them, alongside them showing concern for them and this provokes the request they put to him – teach us to pray.

The subtlety of this teaching is beautifully portrayed. The teaching and the learning of prayer is a wonder to behold which takes us on a long journey of progression from demand to acceptance. Along the journey we can feel many frustrations and what seems like rejection or dismissal. But consider the method which God employs in his conversation with Abraham. Abraham may think that he is in charge but is he really? Isn’t it more the case that God is teaching Abraham, by bringing out, with each request, a deeper insight into the mind of God. Abraham has learnt through the process which God has brought him, to experience that what he originally feared as impossible becomes possible. That the mind of God is to be made present through the practice of our own deeds and actions. Similarly in the prayer which Jesus prays, the presence of God is made real through the coming of the kingdom and it is our deeds as disciples of Jesus which will bring its fruition.

So we must never lose heart. Experience tells us that if we persevere then we will prevail. Prayer teaches us that the things we ask for, if they are predicated on the coming of the kingdom, will have their effect. Our prayers teach us how to live. What we say, what we ask for, and how we say it, is to be done in a spirit of love and reconciliation.

The whole of our life is a prayer if we truly believe that we are made in the image and likeness of God. It is the ultimate answer to all our prayer. The answer to all the knocking and searching, to all the pleading and demanding, is to bring us to an understanding of this reality; that God loves us and wants each one of us to live that love in all its fulness. So in this school of life, our lessons are taught and learnt through prayer. Some lessons are very tough and teach us hard truths about ourselves, others can be very sobering as we discover aspects of ourselves which sometimes demean us. But so often the lessons we learn are uplifting and edifying as our spirits are raised and our hearts are opened to the beauty of the life we receive through the realisation that in the person of Jesus Christ we have a teacher who accompanies us on our journey, a master who listens to all of our hopes and desires and who knows of what we are made.

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