(Begin by reading the Gospel. Sometimes it is good to have someone read it to you. It is good to hear the Word of God.)
In order to have a relationship with someone, we know that we have to spend time together. We have to communicate. Only in deeply listening to each other and sharing something of ourselves, can we grow closer together, can our relationship deepen. This is true about our relationships with others; it is true about our relationship with God. In the Gospel for this Sunday, Jesus tells us how to enter into this relationship with God.
Jesus was praying in a certain place and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray
The disciples are curious about Jesus' relationship with God. It is clear to them by the way he acts, by the way he speaks, that it is a close relationship. They know that prayer is important. Jesus must have been just waiting for them to ask, for he responds in four ways.
First, Jesus gives us words to say:
“When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name.
He invites us to call God "Father." He invites us into his relationship with God.
Your kingdom come.
He invites us to want what God wants—God's kingdom to come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
He encourages us to ask for what we need.
And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
He tells us to ask forgiveness for the ways in which we have damaged relationships. Similarly, as a step towards healing, we need to forgive those who have damaged their relationships with us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.”
He knows we can be weak and scared, and he encourages us to acknowledge our weakness to God.
This is how to pray, he says.
But he is not finished speaking about prayer and relationship.
Second, Jesus tells us a parable.
“Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’
And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’
I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.
Well, it's about time! We wonder how long the fellow has to knock before he gets what he needs. The parable does not say. What would happen if he gives up after knocking once? Nothing. He knows who can help and he persists in asking. He keeps his focus on the One person who can help.
"Do you get it?", Jesus seems to ask, looking around at the disciples, looking right at us. "Do you know what I mean?" In case we are not sure, he moves to his third response. He tells us a maxim, a truth to follow. He says,
Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.
Everyone? Everyone who asks? Everyone who searches? Everyone who knocks?
Everyone, Jesus says. This is God's great gift.
This is God's great desire for relationship. God wants relationship with us so badly, but God does not want to force us to love, to force us to spend time in prayer, to force us into relationship. God wants the real thing. True Love. God waits for us to want it, too.
When a friend is in need, when they cannot pray on their own, when we do not have what we need to help, we turn to the One who has help. We ask. We search. We knock.
And we keep on knocking. We do not take our focus away from the only One who can help. We do not break the relationship. We know the door will be opened.
The parable does not tell us why it seems to take God a long time to answer sometimes. In fact it kind of sounds like God just helps us because we annoy God with our persistence? Does God just help us to make us be quiet for awhile?
No, Jesus says, you are taking the parable too literally. Is this guy really like God?
Look, he seems to say, here is my fourth response to you about prayer:
Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
(Is Jesus getting exasperated with us?)
Just ask! Ask for the Holy Spirit!
Okay then, what are we waiting for?