17th Sunday in Ordinary Time Homily 28 July 2017
Genesis 18:20-32; Colossians 2:12-14; Luke 11:1-13
Lord, teach us to pray. Lord, teach me to pray.
How many times have these words been on our lips? More importantly, how many times have we knelt or sat in the presence of the Lord and uttered these words from the depths of our hearts? Lord, teach me to pray. How many times? How many times?
For what are we praying when we cry out with these words? Are we asking for a formula? Do we want to know with what words we should come before the Lord? Well, at some point in our lives perhaps that was what we were seeking.
But it seems to me our plea goes deeper than that, much deeper. Recall the context in which the disciples are pictured asking this question in Luke’s Gospel. Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him: “Lord, teach us to pray.” As our Troparion from last night shows: the disciples saw Jesus in intense concentration, silently pouring out his heart to God. They wanted a piece of that. They wanted to be able to speak with God like that. Jesus was their master. Jesus was their teacher. And Jesus was obviously someone who had a profound relationship with the Mystery beyond all human life, the Mystery we call God. Behind their question, behind our request to be taught how to pray, is the desire to relate to the Transcendent, to the Being, the Power, the Source from which human life takes its origin and meaning. O Lord, you’ve made us for yourself, and our poor hearts are without rest, restless till they rest in you.
Lord, teach us to pray flows from this innate intuition that we are made for something more than we can see. We want a relationship with Mystery. We glimpse that Jesus had it. We want him to share it with us, to allow us access to the bond which gave meaning to his life.
And how does Jesus answer his disciples? How does he answer us in the secret of our hearts? What is the face of Mystery? Who and what is God?
We are at the heart of the Gospel in Jesus’ answer. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, more profound or greater than the revelation Jesus gives us here. Because No one has ever seen God. It is Jesus who has made God known.
The face of God, Jesus teaches, the face of Mystery, the face of the Ultimate, the face of the One beyond whom no greater can be or be thought, the face we seek and long for in the depths of our hearts, the face with whom Jesus himself related in his prayer is the face of a Father. Indeed, the face of the Father, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth receives its name.
When you pray, Jesus teaches, say: Abba, Daddy, Father. When you want to touch the Mystery of life, the Mysterium tremendum et fascinandum, the Awesome and Fascinating Mystery, say: Father. When you struggle before the Darkness and the Absence, when the Abyss is about to swallow you up, cry out: Abba, Father. When all seems lost and you do not know where to turn, call out: Father. When the pain blinds you to any hope, yell: Father. And again, when you are overwhelmed at the goodness of life and creation, whether in a glorious sunrise, or a gentle breeze, or a sparkling river, lift up your voice and shout out: Father. When love touches you in surprising ways and you feel swept away with pure joy, sing out: Abba, Father.
I realize for some of us “Father” can be a four-letter word. It brings forth images of abuse, of harshness, of pain. If it does, then cry out: “Mother,” for as Isaiah says about God – Can a woman forget the child of her womb? Even if she should forget, I will not forget you, says the Lord. Cry out: “Friend.” For No longer do I call you servants, but friends. As we say on Thursday we are Friends of Jesus, servants no more,. Cry out: “Lover.” For I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine. Cry out: “Jesus.” For St Benedict has that great phrase: For the abbot is believed to hold the place of Christ in the monastery, since he is addressed by a title of Christ: abba.
The core of the revelation of Jesus is that the face of Reality is Love. The face of Mystery is Mercy. The face of God is Compassionate Kindness.
That is why Jesus adds those most powerful words: Ask and you will receive. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened. There is no qualification. There is no nuance. There is no subtle distinction or doubt. It will happen, because at the core of the Darkness is the embrace of goodness pouring itself out. How much more will the Holy Spirit be given to those who ask.
Saint Irenaeus, the disciple of Polycarp, the disciple of John, the disciple of Jesus poignantly expressed it in this way: We are created in our very being to be the Receiver of the Gifts of God. To receive the gift of God’s Holy Spirit. That is who we are. Nothing more and certainly nothing less: You and I, at our core, are The Receivers of the Gifts of God. Ask and you will receive. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened.
Open wide your arms, my sisters and brothers. Open wide your hearts to receive the fullness God desires to give us. In this Eucharist. On this day. In our life. Now and forever.
And let the Church accept that gift with a resounding: Amen.