17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Abraham’s boldness reveals that, such is God’s mercy, two great sinful cities will be spared, even for the sake of just ten good men. Jesus says ‘even sinful men will help if forced too, or will at least care for their own children - so how much more will God who is good help if asked?’ This goodness is fully revealed on the cross. The people don’t even ask for anything, they are busy killing and taunting him, yet Jesus gives then what they need, he gives them his life, he wins them forgiveness and life.
In this setting the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray. Notice first of all that Jesus doesn’t say “make up your own prayers” or “just be calm and think nice thoughts”. No. Prayer is first of all something given to us, something we receive. The Mass is a good example – we don’t make up the Mass or create it. It is given to us. So Jesus says “when you pray say this”. A set form of prayer but which the more we say them the more we come to understand the depth of the words.
“Father, may your name be held Holy” shows how all prayer begins. In union with Jesus. It is through Jesus that the Father is revealed to us because Jesus is God. So to say “Father” is already a profession of faith in Jesus, God made man, who reveals God the Father to us. And we pray that God’s name be held holy, be given honour in other words – knowledge of God leads to worship and obedience because that is what is due to God. Of course we are made in the image of God and made to know, love and serve God in this world. So if God’s name is “held holy” then the very purpose and nature of man is respected and realised. So prayer starts by recognising God revealed in Jesus, God made man, and thus recognising fully the dignity and purpose of man revealed in Christ.
The Kingdom of God is where the will of God is done, where God is at the centre, where divine love rules. The Kingdom of God is fully present in Jesus, it is present but not fully realised in the Church on earth and it is something that grows in each of us and influences our Christian life. “Thy Kingdom come” asks for the return of Our Lord in glory, it asks that the Church may grow in perfection and be faithful to Jesus its head and it asks that each of us grow in faith hope and love.
Our daily bread refers to all we need but above all to the blessed Eucharist – to Holy Communion and to the Sacraments without which we will starve.
We acknowledge our sinfulness but also that we share in the forgiveness of God because we are united with Christ in his death and resurrection. That unity comes through baptism and the sacraments especially Confession and Holy Communion. If we are sacramentally united to Christ on the cross, sharing in his victory over the power of the devil, then we are also united to the one who says “Father forgive them”. So we pray “forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive each one who is in debt to us”.
Finally we ask “do not put us to the test”. For some that might mean don’t let me find a £10 note in the street, I couldn’t resist just keeping it. For others ‘Lord don’t let me face prison and torture I fear I would deny you in the end’ for others it may mean ‘I can face anything Lord, even death, but do not take from me the joy and love I feel when I pray” Tests however can be medicinal. It would be a strange parent who never took their child for an injection at the doctors, and it would be a strange child who never asked not to go.
There we have a crash course in prayer. It is something given to us, it begins with faith in Jesus who is God, it asks for a growth in faith and hope and love, it is rooted in the sacraments and desires above all Jesus in Holy Communion. Springing from unity with Jesus it is honest, recognising our sinfulness and our need for forgiveness but also our vocation to be like Our Lord. Finally it accepts that we need guidance, that we need remedies and that that can be difficult, and like a child who utterly trusts its parents we can ask to be excused them – even if they are necessary. Pray like this and our spiritual life is on the right tracks.