Getting a glimpse of prayer through the eyes of Jesus

By: By Sister Rachel Bergschneider, OSB

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 25
Genesis 18:20-32; Psalm 138:1-2,2-3,6-7,7-8; Colossians 2:12-14; Luke 11:1-13

You may have heard the story about the man who was chased off a cliff by a tiger. He fell, and just managed to hold on to a branch. Six feet above him stood the tiger, snarling. A hundred feet below, a violent sea lashed at the fierce-looking rocks. To his horror, he noticed that the branch he was clutching was being gnawed at its roots by two rats.

Seeing he was doomed, he cried out, “O Lord, save me!” He heard a voice reply, “Of course, I will save you. But first, let go of the branch!”

Prayer and letting go intercept in the most basic of ways. Who among us has not struggled with the concept of prayer? We have tried to make sense of it in our lives. But the mystery of it is more than we can grasp.

Today’s readings focus on many aspects of prayer. In the first reading, Abraham helps us understand the nature of prayer as conversation. Abraham pleads with God to spare the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. After much persistence by Abraham, and a long conversation between the two of them, God relents in punishing the people.

Surely, Abraham’s prayer demonstrates God’s willingness to converse with us as well as our need for persistence in that conversation.

A MODEL FOR PRAYER
It is in the Gospels, however, that we have a glimpse of prayer through the eyes of Jesus.

Prayer, for Jesus, is a profound and intimate relationship with the Father as we witness in John’s Gospel.

In today’s readings Jesus gives his disciples a clear model of prayer in the Lord’s Prayer. It is simple, yet comprehensive: acknowledgment of the holiness of the Father’s name, the desire of God’s kingdom in our midst, a request for what is needed in one’s life each day, a plea for forgiveness, and hope in the final test.

Jesus goes on to help the disciples understand prayer in the very human examples he gives. When a friend knocks at the door of the neighbor in the middle of the night for bread, the neighbor gives the bread if not because of friendship, then “because of his persistence.”

Again, persistence is important in prayer. Without the persistence of dialogue, prayer, like any relationship, soon dies.

The other example — “What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or a scorpion when he asks for an egg?” — makes clear God’s absolute goodness and concern for us.

Jesus assures us: “Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” But such confidence in prayer is put into the context of the promise of the Holy Spirit. Lest we forget that our desires are our desires, Jesus points to the Holy Spirit, who is always with us, to broaden our vision.

TRUST THE SPIRIT
What Jesus is telling us in this story is that prayer is letting go of our perspective and allowing the Spirit — that gift of God’s life — to show us our true needs. In prayer we are asked to converse with God so that we can listen to and be at peace with the goodness of God on our behalf.

It is a struggle at times to trust the Spirit. We lock ourselves into our vision of what is good for us. Prayer demands our vulnerability toward God so that God can take us out of our limited view and expand our sight to God’s view. It is with absolute Love that love listens to us and calls us to let go of the “branches” that hold us back.

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Sister Rachel Bergschneider, OSB, is a member of the Sisters of St. Benedict of St. Mary Monastery in Rock Island. She serves as pastoral associate at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Peoria Heights.

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