Homily for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 22, 2007
St. Martin dePorres, Cincinnati
(Based on Genesis 18:20-32; Psalm 138; Colossians 2:12-14; Luke 11:1-13)
For the last several weeks of Ordinary Time we’ve been accompanying Jesus as he goes about his mission. He’s been gradually revealing himself to his disciples, preparing them for their mission of spreading the Good News. And of course, preparing us for our mission.
The disciples have watched as he reached out to the poor and healed them. But they were also made uncomfortable at seeing him sitting talking with a Samaritan woman, something no law-abiding Jew should do. And they had their ideas o righteousness challenged when he told them in the parable of the Good Samaritan that the priests and levites didn’t necessarily ‘get it’ while the undesirable Samaritan did.
Today’s passage is interesting because it begins with Jesus himself, off in prayer, as Luke tells us, ‘at a certain place.’ Wouldn’t we like to know where that was — but Luke leaves us intrigued at the question. But as the disciples are trying to understand what he’s all about and where his authority and power come from, it’s only natural that they would ask him about his life of prayer.
So he gives them (and us) that central prayer of all Christian spirituality, a very intimate address to a God of compassion whom we can approach directly as “Our Father.”
As I was driving here I was reminded of a contemporary version of that prayer. It is a song written by a woman who composes Gospel songs. It goes likes this:
Thy kingdom come
to every nation;
thy will be done
in every thing we do;
Lord, lead us not
but deliver us —
from those who think they’re you. . .
(Laughter) Been there, huh?
Then he gives them that very down-home parable about the fellow who, in his time of need, just will not go away.
We might be inclined to treat it as a simple moral exhortation to be persistent in our prayer, to keep at it. Much like that humorous dialogue between Abraham and God. How about 10 fewer? That alone is important because it begs the question: how much do we really desire of the Lord? Or, to put it another way, how serious are we in our prayer? Do we really mean it?
But there’s more going on here than simply a call to persistence. In another place Jesus told the story of the poor woman who was determined to compel a judge to give her her due. She badgered him and made a pest out of herself. She was in his face so much that he finally said, “I’ve got to get rid of this woman, she’s driving me crazy. Whatever it will take, let her have it.”
That was about persistence, too, but there’s something much richer going on in today’s passage. Because he’s asking help from his friend. He knows the one he’s asking for help. They have a relationship, there is a bond between them, a familiarity. He knows his friend will not fail him.
And gradually we become aware that, as with so many of Jesus’ parable, it’s not just about us, it’s about who our God is. It’s more revelation. It’s the Lord who is the friend. Remember a couple of weeks ago we heard about Moses going up on the mountain and conversing with God. When he came down he had to work at trying to get the people to change their deep-seated ideas about God. God is not distant, God is not remote, God is not way up in the sky out of our reach, or across the ocean. Our God is near. Moses said God spoke to him as a friend. A difficult friend.
And what is the fellow in the story asking for? He’s asking for bread. For food. For life. And notice that he’s not asking for himself. He has received a guest and he merely wants to fulfill the very serious obligation of hospitality, to do that which is expected of a good Israelite.
So the call to prayer is all about a God who wants us to call him Father. It’s about a God who wants us to realize that he is our friend. It’s about desiring to share life and bread. Jesus is challenging our trust: do we really believe that when we knock, the One on the other side of that door is a God who wants nothing more than to share intimacy with us?
And then, at the last minute in the passage, Jesus pulls a surprise. He reminds us that as weak as we are we still know what to give our children, so if we asked would the Father give us — the Holy Spirit?
It’s all been about bread and snakes and scorpions and stones. Where did that ‘Holy Spirit’ suddenly come from?
It’s really where the whole passage has been heading from the beginning. Jesus is telling us that what we really ought to be asking of the Father is not just bread — as important as that is — but the Holy Spirit. The Spirit who is the continuation of the life of the risen Lord. Remember, Jesus said he had to go away and leave us, because otherwise he couldn’t send us his Spirit. He told us that the Spirit would teach us and bring us to understand all that he had been trying to teach his disciples.
The Spirit is the one gift that we can be sure our Father desires to give us. The spirit is the outpouring of his love, that he has to give us.
We don’t have to waste our time trying to bargain with God the way Abraham did in that humorous story. We simply have to ask, “Lord, I don’t know where this is all going. Just send me your Spirit and that will be enough for me.” Not a lot of words (remember, Jesus criticized the Pharisees for babbling on with paragraph after paragraph in their prayer.
We are being invited to enter into a familiar exchange with One who describes himself as Father and friend, who desires only to pour out his Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, into our hearts, who has promised to feed us with the bread and wine of his own life.
I think sometimes that the formulas we hear at every Mass tend to lose their impact on us. They flow past us without our appreciating what they are saying. Just consider what is said as we prepare for Communion: “Are we not blessed to share this meal?”
Blessed indeed. Beyond our wildest hopes and imaginations.