17 Sunday of the Year C
Gen 18:20-32; Col 2:12-14; Lk 11:1-13
Introduction: This is a homily/Scripture reflection in a book, titled: ‘Every Week God Speaks We Respond’, Cycle C, intended to be published in the future by Reverend John Tran Binh Trong.
It was published in Vietnamese in the US 2009 and republished in Viet Nam 2012. To keep the author’s writing style, this homily has not been edited and may not be by a hired hand. However, if readers would like to point out mistake(s) in spelling and grammar and/or to suggest English phrases and expressions, it would be greatly appreciated by the author, whose English is not his mother tongue and who did not live in the US until his adulthood. Passive sentences are used intentionally in this context as to avoid using the first personal pronoun ‘I’ when applicable. That might be associated with any idea of egotism, in accord with the French saying, known as: ‘Le moi est haissable’ (The ego is detestable).
When on earth, Jesus lived a life of prayer as to be in union with God the Father. When he was twelve years old, he was seen in the temple, praying with Mary and Joseph (Lk 2:46). He also went to the synagogue of Nazareth to pray and do the reading from the passage of Isaiah (Lk 4:16-19). Before he began his public ministry, he went to the desert to fast and pray for forty days (Lk 4:2). Before he took a meal or performed a miracle, he also prayed (Lk 9:16; Lk 22:17, 19; Lk 24:30). He was found in the garden of Gethsemani, asking God the Father to take that cup away from him, meaning not to let him suffer, but to follow God’s will (Lk 22:41-42).
On the cross, Jesus prayed asking the Father to forgive those who crucified him, for they did not know what they were doing (Lk 23:34). Prayer is one of the favorite themes of the gospel according to Saint Luke. The gospel today tells us when Jesus was praying somewhere - probably on the Mount of Olives – one of his disciples asked him to teach them how to pray.
Jesus taught them to pray a short prayer and use the familiar term ‘Abba’ to address God as father. The Jews dared not call God their father in their prayer. Abba in Aramaic language, which Jesus used, better translated as dad or daddy is closer and more intimate than father is. Thus, Jesus wanted us to put our trust and confidence in God, no matter how old or educated we may be.
The Our Father, which Jesus taught according to the Gospel of Luke, is slightly different from the gospel of Matthew. The Our Father in Saint Matthew’s version has seven petitions: asking for the glory of his name; for the coming of his kingdom; for God’s will to be done; for daily bread; for the forgiveness of our sin as we forgive others; asking God to keep us from temptations; and asking God to deliver us from evil. The version in Saint Luke has five petitions without the petition for following God’s will and without the petition for delivering us from the evil one.
So how can we explain those differences? The reasons are Saint Luke did not hear, nor did he witness Jesus’ teaching and miracles directly. Luke only heard what others told him, and then used sources from other evangelists to write the gospel. According to scripture scholars, Luke used many verses from the Markan version, then from the Matthean version.
The rest is Saint Luke’s material, proper to him. Suppose Saint Luke had heard Jesus teach and witnessed his miracles directly, his gospel would still have been different from other gospels. The reason is their memories would be different, their writing styles would be different or each evangelist could emphasize a certain point in the Gospel depending on what different Christian communities needed to hear.
That is the reason why the gospel according to John was different from the synoptic gospels. That is also the meaning of Saint’s John when he wrote: If everything Jesus did was written in detail, there would be not enough room in the world  to hold the books to record them (Jn 21:25). The reason for praying is we acknowledge our insufficiency and imperfection.
When praying, we acknowledge our dependence on God and his power. At the end of his teaching about the Our Father, Jesus gave us an example of a friend who asked another friend a favor. Then he received what he asked for due to his persistence. Through the above example, Jesus wanted to tell us to be persistent in our prayer; our heavenly Father would give us what we ask for. However, from our experiences, many times we did not get what we asked for in our prayers. Thus, what might be the reasons for not getting what we ask for?
First, Jesus promised to grant us what we ask for, but according to his way, not according to our way. That is why sometimes we asked God for a physical healing, and yet we received a spiritual healing instead, without our being aware of it.
Second, God could delay his answer in order to test our patience. Here we need to follow the example of Abraham who bargained with God to save Sodom and Gomorrah if he could find fifty innocent people in the city. Eventually, he bargained with God to reduce the number to ten people (Gen 18:32). God did save the city just for the sake of ten innocent people.
Third, God promised to grant us what we asked for, but we must know how to ask and what we ask. When the apostles James and John asked Jesus to sit one at his right and another at his left in his kingdom (Mk 10:37), Jesus told them they did not know what to ask for. When the Pharisees asked Jesus to perform a miracle, Jesus refused because they just wanted to test him. A certain parishioner of a certain parish asked a priest to pray that she might win a lottery ticket so that she could help build her parish church. We are not sure if God would allow her win a lottery ticket in order to help build the church because building the church must come from labor and generosity of his people, not from lottery money.
Fourth, God promised to grant us what we ask for, but we need to pray for the glory of his name and for the coming of his kingdom also. When we ask God for something, God might want to ask us to do something first to show that we have faith and good will. God might want to ask us to give more time for prayer and worship, more time for apostolic and charitable works.
Fifth, one of the mistakes in our prayer is we ask too much for ourselves and our family, and we do not help and serve others. How can we expect God to be generous in his distribution of favors if we are selfish?
Jesus taught us to be perseverant in prayer, but we do not need to follow the same formula in prayer. In order for our prayer to be alive and sincere, we must come to realize that some prayers can touch our lives at one time, but not at other times. In order for our prayers to be alive and sincere, we need to change the way we pray. Sometimes we need to pray the rosary, or recite a prayer in a prayer book, sometimes we need to pray privately, sometimes we need to pray with our family members, at other times we need to pray with the Christian community in the Church. Sometimes we need to pray in silence, sometimes we need to pray aloud, and sometimes we just need to sit there, contemplating or letting our tears flow out. To cry for repentance is also a form of prayer. The gospel tells us when a cock began to crow and Peter remembered the prediction Jesus had made: Before the cockcrows, you will deny me three times (Lk 22:61), Peter went out and began to weep bitterly.
Scripture today teaches us to ask for the grace to become people of prayer. A person of prayer is a person who is aware of God’s presence in his/her life. When eating, sleeping, working, relaxing, we would be aware of God’s presence around us: in the people we meet, the beauty of nature. To repeat a prayer of praise such as: O Trinitarian God! We praise you; we give you thanks, we glorify your name is also a form of prayer. To cry out like: Jesus, Mary and Joseph, help me with this or that is another form of prayer.
Some people think by mentioning the name of Jesus is take the name of God in vain. That is not the case. In this case, we cry to God with good intention, with the intention of praying. So today let us ask Jesus to teach us how to pray so that our prayer may be pleasing to God and acceptable to him.
Prayer for becoming a person of prayer:
Oh Lord Jesus, the wonderful master!
Teach me how to pray as you taught the apostles.
Make me realize that prayer is the breath of my soul,
a word of praise and thanksgiving to God,
an expression of my dependence on you
and my insufficiency and imperfection.
Grant me what I implore. Amen.
John Tran Binh Trong
. Saint John used an exaggerated figure of speech of the Near Easterners of the time, not necessary to be interpreted in a literary sense.