A Reflection for the 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C based on the readings of the day in the Roman Catholic Lectionary
It seems to be natural for human beings to try to negotiate with each other to get what they want. The human inclination is to change the mind of the person they are negotiating with in order to get the transaction to work in their personal benefit. The buyer says to the seller at the dealership, “I’ll buy this truck if you knock off $1,500.” The child says to her mother “Mom, if I clean my room will you give me a cookie?”
So here’s a question. Can you negotiate with God? Can a human being get God to change his mind to the benefit of the human. It would seem so if you interpret the scriptures of today in a literal way. God looks to be negotiated down by Abraham (What if there’s only 45, 40, 30, 20, 10 good people in the city of Sodom? Will you still destroy the city?) It’s like a reverse auction. In the Gospel pericope from Luke people have tended to see God as the head of the house badgered or worn down by neighbor into giving bread in the middle of the night. “I’ll give you what you want if you just stop asking!” Many people approach prayer as negotiation and badgering.
Or, there is another way of looking at these readings and prayer…a more biblically correct way.
The stories speak of a God who is consistent. The God of the Sacred Scriptures we proclaim as Christians persists in showing mercy to those who seek, to those who are righteous, that is in “right order” with God and neighbor. It is God’s nature to be merciful, to always preserve life. In a proper biblical relationship with God people are persistent in their conversation (prayer) with the Father. Only when we are disciplined in a prayer life, continually turning to the Father in union with Jesus are we able to discern the unchanging, enduring nature of God to be merciful and discover again and again a God who is just, who knows what we need and will make sure all things turn out right in his big picture of eternity.
In teaching his disciples to pray Jesus does not give them a “magical incantation” that, if said properly, like Harry Potter making a light come out of his wand when he says luminos or causing an attacker to freeze in position when he says stupify! Jesus is not giving the disciples a never fail cake recipe where you follow the instructions, you get what you ask for. Beware the nine day, never-fail novena trap!
The Our Father is more of a guide to the proper stance or attitude of prayer. The prayer Jesus teaches is a prayer where the ones desiring to pray are instructed that prayer is opening the self up to the generous mercy of God what ever God sees in the long run as best. Such prayer trusts God is consistent. God is always willing to show mercy, never causing destruction or bad things. (The bad stuff happens because people are out of sync with the Kingdom of God’s way of life where God, not the creature, is in control. Where Christ’s way of living triumphs over selfishness. The bad stuff happens because we live in a world that is still under the influence of evil with people who still choose to embrace the false promise of a better life through selfishness.)
Sure there is a sort of set “formula” for prayer that can be discerned in the words given us in the Our Father. Just do approach the text as if it’s meant to produce something like a chemical reaction that produces the results I expect. Think of the Our Father as more of a template, where disciples have been “formed by Divine teaching” experience a reaction in their heart, mind and soul, that gives them reassurance of God’s faithful love that will triumph over evil, that God is in control. Jesus could have said,
God the compassionate,
you’re in control.
We need your help
to see all things set right.
We trust in you to know what to do and will do it.
If we find ourselves negotiating with God (I’ll go to church if you do what I want, God) then we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment and instead we are treating God like a vending machine.
Yes, we are to be persistent in prayer, just as persistent as God is in desiring the good of humanity. Through our persistent prayer bartering with God, in the supplication we pour out of our heart day after day hopefully we discover that God is looking out for us even while we live in the midst of trails and brokenness of the this world. If we have this style of prayer well practiced where we open ourselves up to discovering God will never let evil triumph and get the better of Him or us, then we who seek relief will find confidence God will take care of our problems. We who ask for favors will realize how good God has been to us already. The persistent pray-er will discover they’ve already entered through the gates of the Kingdom of God we’ve been knocking on, the Kingdom we say we want to come Every time we pray Our Father…