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Homily for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time 2019

The story is told of a BLIND, POOR and CHILDLESS OLD MAN who came to the “Wailing Wall,” in Jerusalem, each day, to talk to God and ask that his fortunes be reversed.  One day, he heard the voice of God say: “I’ll answer your prayers.  I’ll give you ONE THING. What do you WANT MOST?” — Thrown into an emotional turmoil of indecisiveness – the man AGONIZED over his OPTIONS.  If he asked for SIGHT, he’d still be poor and childless.  If he asked for WEALTH, he’d still be blind, and wouldn’t have anyone with whom to share his newfound wealth.  And, if he asked for CHILDREN, how could a poor, blind man, like himself, possibly take care of them? — Finally, after carefully weighing all his options, the man answered: “Dear God, grant me just ONE THING – the JOY of SEEING my CHILDREN eating off GOLD plates!”

     To give credit where credit is due, the poor, blind, childless, old man in this little story certainly knew how to get his way!  And, unfortunately, that’s what a lot of us think that PRAYER is all about: GETTING OUR OWN WAY; persuading God to do what WE WANT! — We’re wrong, of course – and we’re wrong because GOD ALREADY WANTS WHAT’S BEST FOR US; and doesn’t NEED any persuading!

     It’s a well-known FACT OF LIFE that in order, SIMPLY to LIVE, we NEED to breathe, eat, and rest. — Don’t we? — And, in order to LIVE a FULLY HUMAN LIFE, we NEED: friendship, community, leisure and relaxation! — BUT, we also NEED to PRAY! — There is a NEED FOR GOD that is PLANTED so deeply within us, (and that is so much a part of who we are), that reaching out to God, in prayer, is a NECESSITY for being truly human! — (We can “LIVE” on the strictly “animal level” without prayer; but, without prayer, we can’t live as FULLY as God created us to live!) 

      Jesus’ disciples somehow recognized this fact, and so they asked him, “Lord, teach us to pray.”  And, this (evening’s/morning’s) Gospel gives us the account of what the Lord taught them!  

     The way we pray reveals what we think about God.  And, unfortunately, most of us make God FAR TOO SMALL! — For example, how much of our praying is really just a clumsy attempt at BRIBERY: “If you’ll do such and such God, then I promise I’ll be good.  I’ll write a big check to the church…. (By the way, that prayer is OK! —  I’ll always …. I’ll never … whatever.” —-  As if God could be bought! — (As if YOU as a loving mother or father could be “bought”?)

     And, how much of our praying is like shopping on AMAZON? — Put in your order; and then wait for the delivery!  (Preferably by the next day!)

     How much of our praying and coming to church is really just an attempt to BUY a little “INSURANCE” against bad luck?!  And, when bad luck comes anyway – (as it always does in this “imperfect world of ours”) – then —– “Good-bye God!” — (Some of the places in the pews in this, and every other church throughout the world, are EMPTY (tonight/this morning) BECAUSE God didn’t perform “ON CUE”! — After all, “What good is God, if he doesn’t deliver the goods? — IF God doesn’t give me what I want, when I want it; then, prayer and church, as an “insurance policy,” is a waste of precious time!”

     All of this, of course, thoroughly MISSES THE POINT; both as to the NATURE OF GOD, and the PURPOSE OF PRAYING. — God is IMMENSE and GOOD – beyond all imagining; AND, best news of all, GOD IS OUR LOVING FATHER! — (Notice that when Jesus teaches his disciples to pray, he doesn’t teach them to address God as “ALMIGHTY KING OF THE UNIVERSE!” — Rather, Jesus teaches his disciples to address God as “FATHER”; and not, “His Father,” – but – “OUR Father!”) — In other words, when we come before God in prayer, we come NEITHER as an equal, NOR as a slave. — When we come before God in prayer, we come as a beloved SON or DAUGHTER! — God is our “ABBA,” – our “Daddy” or “Papa!” — And we know this not only because God loved us into being; and “FORMED” us in our mother’s wombs; and SUSTAINS us at each and every moment of our existence —- BUT also BECAUSE Jesus told us that it is so!

     We acknowledge the FACT of our “dependence” on God, when we pray: “Give us this day our daily bread.” — Give us the blessings of food, shelter, love and companionship, that we NEED – today, tomorrow, and every day! — And, give us the blessing of FORGIVENESS! – (If we, sinful and broken though we sometimes are, can forgive the failings of others; how much more, can we RELY on the forgiveness of God who is mercy and compassion, personified!)  

     Praying is not about “changing God’s mind”!  (God already knows what we NEED — not necessarily what we WANT but what we NEED — SO – no persuasion or manipulation is necessary!) —– That’s why the TWO PARABLES that Jesus uses to ILLUSTRATE what PRAYER is all about, should be understood in the context of: “IF this is what “happens” ON EARTH; THEN HOW MUCH MORE SO – IN HEAVEN?”

     In other words, “If on earth, a FRIEND will help his friend, (by getting up out of bed in the middle of the night to give him a loaf of bread – [even if he’s not too happy about being disturbed]) — then, HOW MUCH MORE will God offer assistance to YOU and ME – the children that God loves?!”  (The children that God really WANTS to “hear from!” – [no matter what time of the day or night!])

     And, if ON EARTH, we can rely on a father to give his children (things that will be good for them) – a fish or an egg when he’s asked, (rather than a snake or a scorpion); — then how much MORE can we rely on our loving Father-God to give us good things?!!! —- (Isn’t it SAD that some people blame God for the kinds of EVIL ACTS that would put any parent in jail!) — Jesus would be the FIRST to assure us that IT IS NOT GOD’S WILL that children die from cancer; or that whole communities get wiped out by earthquakes, tornadoes, floods or lava flows! — DISASTERS and ILLNESSES are just part and parcel of living in this imperfect world of ours; a world tainted by human selfishness and sin! — And, sometimes, like any loving parent, I believe that GOD TOO, WEEPS over the tragedies that befall his children in this life! 

     So, does God answer prayer?  OF COURSE! — Does God answer our prayers always in the way that WE would like?  OF COURSE NOT! (That’s WHY Jesus taught us to pray, “THY WILL BE DONE!”) — Like any loving parent; God, too, must sometimes answer, “Not now” or even, “No!”

     God’s “eyesight,” if you will, is a whole lot sharper and broader than ours!  Sometimes “the fish” we are asking for are “unsafe to eat!” And sometimes “the eggs” carry salmonella! — From where we stand both the fish and the eggs may look “perfectly fine,” on the OUTSIDE (which is the only way that we can see them.)  BUT, God sees things on the INSIDE and so sometimes God says, “Sorry… what you’re asking for, wouldn’t be good for you.”

     God doesn’t always GIVE us what we WANT; but God ALWAYS GIVES US what we NEED! — And, our needs and wants are not always the same! — We may WANT a 16-oz bottle of our favorite soda; but, an ounce of medicine, (even if it tastes “nasty”), may be what we REALLY NEED!  

     Today’s Scriptures are a reminder that PRAYER is simply time spent with a dear friend, God.  Prayer is TRUSTING that our Heavenly Father always “comes through” (sometimes in ways that FAR SURPASS our wildest hopes and dreams!). — Praying is NOT about “changing” God, who always wants what is best for us; PRAYER is about CHANGING US!  (It’s about getting us to stop rowing against the current!)  

     In PRAYER, as we open our hearts to the Lord, and listen attentively, and allow ourselves to be touched and moved from within; we will begin to SEE things as GOD SEES them.  As we open our hearts to the Lord, and listen attentively, and allow ourselves to be touched and moved from within; we will begin to WANT what GOD WANTS!

     That’s the real gift that God ALWAYS GIVES when we pray with OPEN HEARTS! — (When we pray, “Thy will be done;” and really MEAN IT!) — WE will get RESHAPED on the INSIDE!

     THAT is the GIFT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT that Jesus promised us IF WE PRAY with open, trusting hearts.  And, the GIFT OF GOD’S OWN HOLY SPIRIT is ever so much more WONDERFUL than the “stuff” we usually ask for; and think that we have to have.

     So, “ASK, and you shall receive … the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ.  SEEK, and you shall find … the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ. KNOCK, and the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ will be opened to you. — And, you will have all that you NEED! ———— WE HAVE JESUS’ WORD ON IT!