Lessons in Prayer

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Fr. Jim homily

4 minute read


Gn. 18:20-32; Ps. 138; Col. 2:12-14; Lk. 11:1-13

(Audio recorded live, 24 July 2022)

“And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you.” How often have we heard this teaching of Jesus? We might even say it ourselves, whenever we give something to a friend or loved one, saying, “Ask and you will receive.” Or perhaps someone has said it to us after giving us something we need. It really is quite amazing how frequently the Christian repeats the sayings of Jesus. But, how often are we praying with this in mind? And how often is our prayer for the sake of others? Today’s readings teach us about prayer, both for ourselves and for one another.

The passage from the Book of Genesis is a dialogue between Abraham and the Lord. The Lord hears the outcry of the victims of the injustice and violence rampant in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, and wants to investigate what is going on. He sends his visitors to the cities, who will soon be denied hospitality and threatened with rape, which is the opposite of what we heard in last week’s reading, as Abraham waited on the three visitors. While the visitors are headed towards the cities, Abraham begins to ask the Lord if he would spare the cities for the sake of the innocent people within. He begins with the number fifty, then works his way down to ten. In each instance, the Lord assures Abraham that he will not destroy the cities even if ten innocent people may be found within. There is a powerful message for us to consider in this dialogue. It takes a small minority of God-fearing people for an entire city to remain in God’s good graces. In the Hebrew tradition, a minyan is a prayer quorum of ten men. In other words, should the Lord find ten innocents—enough to form a valid prayer quorum—the city will be spared.

Perhaps the point of Abraham’s prayerful dialogue with the Lord is to reveal a fundamental truth about our relationship with God and the world. In order for us to avoid annihilation, we need to remain connected to God. In this sense, prayer is our lifeline: “Ask and you will receive.” Are we asking for this life or are we more focused on worldly things, like the people of Sodom and Gomorrah? When we focus too much on the world, it consumes us, and we are handed over to sin; when we focus on God through prayer, however, the Spirit comes to dwell in us and gives us His peace.

St. Paul reminds us that we were buried with Christ in baptism. What else does this mean besides being dead to the world? But, we were also raised with Christ through faith in the power of God. And the state of Original Sin was forgiven us through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. He removed the bond that was held over our heads and satisfied the debt in full. “Seek and you will find…”

Indeed, the one who seeks finds, and to those who knock, the door will be opened. But, are we seeking the things of God and knocking on the door of His heart? One way to discern this is to ask: “Is my prayer leading me closer to God?” or “Am I seeking that which will help me become a more holy Citizen of the Kingdom?” or “Am I knocking on the door of Christ’s Most Sacred Heart?” There are many competing gods in the world, and it is easy to knock on the wrong doors, whether they be doors of riches, fame, pride, success, and the like.

But, today’s readings are not only about praying for oneself, which we ought to do, rather, our take-away is to pray for the sake of others. Abraham, for example, wants God to spare the entire city should there be just ten innocents. And the man in Jesus’ parable wants to provide hospitality for a guest who arrived from a journey. Both are examples of people going out of their way for the sake of others. We call this intercessory prayer, which is a prayer we pray for the good of others. How wonderful would the world be if everyone was praying for the sake of one another? It might even be like heaven.

But, we are not in heaven, yet. So, let us continue praying as Jesus taught, focusing on God first, then on those around us. Let us forgive as we seek to be forgiven. And may this celebration of the Eucharist, our daily bread, deliver us from evil.

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