Year C: Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Lord’s Prayer

Luke 11: 1-13

He was praying in a certain place, and when he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us, and do not subject us to the final test.”

And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend to whom he goes at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, for a friend of mine has arrived at my house from a journey and I have nothing to offer him, and he says in reply from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked and my children and I are already in bed. I cannot get up to give you anything. I tell you, if he does not get up to give him the loaves because of their friendship, he will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence.

“And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the holy Spirit to those who ask him?”

Discussion Questions: 

  1. In the Lord’s Prayer, which lines are you most attracted to, and which parts do you find most challenging? Explain
  2. Do you forgive others as freely as you desire God’s forgiveness?
  3. What do the words in the Our Father tell you about the consciousness of Jesus? (Where he is coming from in prayer)
  4. What does the way you pray tell you about your relationship with God?
  5. How has your prayer life evolved over the years?

Biblical Context

Luke 11:1-13
Sr. Mary M. McGlone CSJ

 Luke’s version of how Jesus taught the disciples to pray differs considerably from Matthew’s. Instead of including this teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, Luke holds it for the dramatic second half of the Gospel when Jesus and the disciples are headed for Jerusalem. That alone adds to the intensity of the prayer.

Luke says that Jesus taught this prayer in response to his disciples’ request. Typically, teachers would give their followers distinctive prayers and practices to signify their discipleship. In the case of teaching them this prayer, Jesus was letting them in on his spirituality, his intimate relationship to God. For that reason, this prayer has always held a unique place of honor for Christians, so much so that the early converts were not allowed to know it until after they had been tested and received baptism. Only with the grace of baptism could they hope to enter so deeply into Jesus’ own relationship with the Father.

When we are invited to pray in his way, we are invited to participate in the relationship between the Father and the Son. We begin with awe at God’s greatness: “hallowed by your name.” Then we step toward submission: “Your kingdom come.” Having begun with adoration and obedience, we go on to plead for mercy on our frailty. Thus, we ask for the bread “of the morrow,” the bread that sustains us as creatures made of body and soul who long for God’s reign. Being mere humans and knowing that we cannot measure up to a standard of perfection, we ask for forgiveness. Then we admit that we can only dare to ask pardon if we are willing to bestow it on others. When this part of the prayer is actualized in our lives, we begin to live a rhythm of giving and receiving forgiveness and in those blessed moments of being led in the dance of grace, we experience the kind of life the Kingdom promises. Finally, all too aware of our frailty, we ask, as did Jesus, to let the cup of trial pass us by. If this petition is not granted, at least, like Christ, we will be able to count on God’s grace as more powerful than the wiles of any foe. Altogether what we call The Lord’s Prayer is an invitation to share Christ’s intimacy with the Father; it is a plea for union with God and with one another.

After giving the disciples this prayer, Jesus went on to teach them to live a prayerful life. Except for hallowing God’s name, Jesus teaches nothing about the need for worship or church membership, rather he speaks about seeking and finding, asking, and receiving.

What can be missed in Jesus’ example of the man who wakes up the neighborhood, is that the one asking for help stands between someone who has and someone in need. Jesus’ first teaching about the prayer of petition presents it as advocacy. That is exemplified in Jesus’ prayer, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.” This is the prayer of someone whose primary motivation is compassion for others.

The salvific twist in this example is that the praying person makes good on the prayer for the coming of God’s kingdom in two interdependent ways. When the praying person disturbs the peace of someone who can resolve the situation, both the person in need and the one who could have perished in selfishness receive what they most need. First, he is procuring bread for the needy. Secondly, he is saving the sleeper by waking him from spirit-slaying complacency with his privileged abundance. Like Abraham, who questioned the vengeful image of God, this poor but persistent person is willing to stand in the middle until the needy receive their due.

When Jesus tells his disciples to ask and seek and knock, he’s not saying that they have to wake God up, but rather that there’s something transformative about continually turning to God. In this example Jesus doesn’t specify for what the person might be praying, only that the prayer must be persistent. Then, calling on the experience of parents, he assures them that God would never test them with snakes or scorpions; God gives only good. The longer and harder they ask and knock, the better the chance that they will come to recognize what God is offering them.

Let Us Dare to Pray

Fr. Michael K. Marsh

It would sure be a lot easier to hear and preach today’s gospel (Luke 11: 1-13) if it weren’t for all the unanswered prayers in our lives. I’m not suggesting that our prayers never get answered the way we want. I know that happens. I’ve experienced it and I suspect you have as well. But I’ve not had anyone come to my office asking why they prayed and got exactly what they wanted. I have, however, had people want to know why they asked but were not given, why they searched but did not find, why they knocked, and the door never opened. I’ve struggled with those questions, and I’ll bet you have too.

I prayed with everything I had the night they called and said our son had been in accident. And he died. I have prayed for wisdom, discernment, and clarity about my life and been just as confused as before I prayed. I have prayed for people that were ill, relationships that were broken, situations that needed changing, and been left wondering if anyone is listening, if anyone is out there. What about you? Has that ever been your experience of prayer?

I don’t know why some prayers seem to be answered and others seem to go unanswered. I don’t have any good answers or explanations for that, but I have heard some really bad ones. “You didn’t pray hard enough.” “You don’t have enough faith.” “You were asking for the wrong thing.” “It’s all a mystery and someday we’ll understand.” “Everything happens for a reason.” “Something better is coming.” “Sometimes God says no.” “God is testing you.”

If you’ve ever been told those things, then you know how unhelpful and hurtful they are. So at the risk of adding to the list of really bad answers let me tell you where I’ve come to in my own life with this issue. I can’t promise that it will be a good answer, I’m not sure there is one, but maybe it will be a less bad answer.

I wonder if we have misunderstood this text and what prayer is really about. What if we are not to blame for unanswered prayer but neither is God? What if God is neither the dispenser nor the withholder of answers, things, or what we want?

Before you begin responding to my wondering and “what ifs”, let me ask you this. Who taught you to pray and what were you taught? Somewhere along the way I got the idea that if I bowed my head, closed my eyes, clasped my hands, was good and well behaved, believed with all my heart, and told God what I wanted or needed I would get it. Any of that sound familiar? I suspect many of us were taught or have lived with some version of that as our understanding of prayer.

I sometimes think of that as Coke machine theology. Put in your coins of faith and good behavior, make a selection, and get what you want. I like Coke machine theology. I like it a lot. It’s reassuring. It makes sense and it’s predictable. It works great until it doesn’t, until the machine gives you a Dr. Pepper when you want a Coke, or worse yet, steals your money. Then what do we do? Kick the machine? Put in more money and push the button harder? Walk away vowing to never drink another Coke?

God is not and never was a divine Coke machine. And prayer is not a transaction between us and God.

I don’t think Jesus ever intended ask, search, and knock as a blank check on God’s account. His instruction to ask, search, and knock is in relationship to what we have come to call the Lord’s Prayer. We are to be persistent in aligning our lives to the hallowing of God’s name, giving existence to God’s kingdom in our life and relationships, opening ourselves to the gift and sufficiency of this day, freely receiving and giving forgiveness.

What if those words we pray as the Lord’s Prayer are also words the Lord prays to us? What if they are the Lord’s prayer to us, a call and insistence in our lives?

When Jesus teaches about asking, searching, and knocking he is not teaching a technique or magic formula for getting whatever we want. He is describing a certain posture, a way of standing before God, exposed and responsive to a holy and life-giving spirit. Maybe prayer is more about what we do than what God does. Maybe our words and actions offered in response to the insistence and calling of God in our lives are our truest prayer.

I have come to think of prayer not as asking God to do things for me, but as the way I stay open to the future that is coming to me, the coming of the kingdom, the coming of daily bread, the coming of forgiveness. There is always something coming to us, and I don’t want to miss it. I want to stay open to the future because there is a sense in which the future is always better, not because it necessary will be, but because it might be. That “might be” is the faith and hope in our prayer. That’s the thread we hold onto when our life is unraveling. When we haven’t got a prayer, we pray for the coming of our future.

It means we do not give up when the sands of life are shifting under our feet, when our life comes unhinged, when we are overwhelmed, when we come to the limits of our ability, when it looks like this day is as good as it gets and all there will ever be.

Prayer keeps “the present from closing in upon itself and from closing in all around us” (Caputo, Hoping Against Hope 196). Prayer opens the present moment to “the possibility of something new, the chance of something different, something that will transform the present into something else”.

Prayer does not guarantee an outcome, undo the past, or offer an escape from life or the circumstances of our lives. It keeps us open to the future. And where there is a future, whether it is an hour, a day, a month, or twenty years, there is the possibility of life and more life. That’s what Jesus is promising in today’s gospel. And it’s what I want, don’t you? I want the possibility of life and more life.

I don’t know if any of this is a less bad answer, but I know this. The Coke machine never really gave me life or more life. It left me asking, searching, and knocking for something more. And yet I am still tempted to go back to it. Lord, teach me to pray.

So, what would it be like for us to walk away from the Coke machines of our lives? What would it be like to not spend so much energy, time, and prayer trying to control or determine our future? What if we simply lived open to and ready to say yes to the future, to the possibility of life and more life?

Let us dare to pray.

Reflection Excerpt from: Interrupting the Silence, Fr. Michael K. Marsh. Used with permission.