17th Sunday of Ordinary Time: Gospel – Lk 11:1-13

" Prayer - How Should we Pray? "

Preached by Fr Philip Heng, SJ at Church of St Ignatius – Singapore
on 25th July 2010

Jesus in today’s Gospel that we just heard proclaimed said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. For the one who asks always receives; the one who searches always finds; the one who knocks will always have the door opened to him.”

For this promise of Jesus, different people will react differently. For some of us, this promise of Jesus sounds too good to be true and we tell ourselves, “This Truth cannot be literal because many of my prayers were never answered.” For many others we are somewhat puzzled at what Jesus said and we may respond by saying, “I have prayed so hard to God when my son was so sick, but God did not answer my prayers because he eventually died.”

All of us have different needs, and we wish that Jesus would take His promise more literally so that every time we go to Him, He would answer our prayers and petition in the way we wish of Him. If this happens, would all likely say, “Yes, that would make me very happy because then my mother would be healed of her cancer, my son would not have died and the like.

All these sound good, great and ideal if we had our way with God. But, my brothers and sisters in Christ, if Jesus answered all our prayers in the ways we want of Him and healed all our illnesses each time we prayed to Him for healing, then we can be sure of three things.First, we will find hundreds of millions of conversions to Christianity in the world as everyone would want to be healed by this miraculous Jesus. Wouldn’t this be great? Yes, it would, but the only problem is that we would be swamped with hundreds of millions of Christians who only want to be healed, but not really believe in Jesus as our Saviour and Lord. Second, if Jesus healed all our illnesses, there would no longer be any need of doctors and all hospitals would have to close down. Third, we will all live to more than a thousand years because each time we fall ill as we age and pray, Jesus will heal us and give us the strength to live on. I am sure we would not want to live so long in this world.

Are we beginning to see that it is actually quite absurd for Jesus to answer all our prayers in the way we want Him to answer them?

Let me explain further with a story. Once upon a time, three men, Tom, Dick and Harry were stranded on a small island. One day, their prayers were answered and God made a rare exception and sent them an angel who told them. “Ask and it shall be given unto you.” They were all so happy, but then Tom being a Parishioner immediately asked, “Is this message meant to be literal? Fr Heng told us that this promise of Jesus cannot be literal!” The angel replied, “Yes, I agree with Fr Heng, but then this time it’s for real; Jesus is making a real exception for you.” They couldn’t believe their ears.

So, Tom being a family man pondered for a few moments and feeling so much love for his family said, “I wish that I return to my wife, children and grand children as I miss me so much.” “Amen” the angel said, and Tom found himself in his home surrounded by his family, and he was so happy.

Dick who was a young budding professional said, “I wish to live in a 10,000 sq feet house, drive a Ferrari, and have 20 million in my bank account.” The angel couldn’t believe his ears, paused for a moment and said, “Oh, I didn’t expect this type of wish, but let me check with Jesus again.” To his surprise, Jesus said, “Okay, give him what he asked.” Amen, the angel said. Dick was so thrilled; and immediately himself surrounded in the riches and comforts of his new environment.

Finally, it came to Harry. Harry told the angel, “This is such an important decision, and I need more time to think about it more carefully, can you come back in one week time? The angel sighed, but agreed. One week later, the angel appeared and Harry said, “I don’t have family to go to, I have always lived a simple life and I am feeling lonely. So, I wish Tom and Dick are here with me. “Amen” said the angel. Instantly, Tom, Dick and Harry found themselves on the island again. Harry was delighted to see Tom and Dick again, but we know for sure, that Tom and Dick would have strangled Harry to death, if not for their faith.

We can all laugh at this story, but if we reflect on it for a moment it shows us what human life can be about.First, we are so different from one another; our needs and desires are so different. Tom longed to be with his family, Dick wanted to enjoy the riches and comforts of life, and as for Harry, he valued simple friendship more than any thing else. Second, even if God were to answer all our prayers and petition in the way we wish, because of our human limitations and narrow views of life we would tend to be like Dick and seek the superficial and self-centered desires in life. Third, because we are all sinners, we also don’t really know what is really good for us in life. We would like to think we know, but the truth is that many of us do not really know ourselves well enough to really ask God what we should have in life. Our desires, even if they are wholesome, like Tom who longed to be with his family, and in some ways, Harry who valued friendship, we would still fail to see the bigger picture of reality unless part of our desires includes eternal life.

This is why, even as Jesus promised us that He would answer our prayers when He said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you,” He also taught us to pray that God’s Kingdom come and God Will be done in our lives, when we pray the “Our Father” prayer.

Jesus also explains further what He said in today’s Gospel, by saying that if your earthly father who loves you knows how to give to his children what is good, then how much more will the heavenly Father, who loves us infinitely and unconditionally give us what is best for us?!

My sisters and brothers in Christ, in today’s Gospel Jesus is trying to tell us how much God really loves each of us, and how He wants to give us the “best.”If God had pampered me and given me what I asked for in life, I have no doubts that I would not be standing here as a Jesuit priest presiding at this Mass today. As a child should trust his parents to give him the very best in life because they love him, it is only wise for us to trust that God will all the more give us the “best” in life because of His infinite Wisdom and unconditional Love for each of us.

The difference between God giving us what we want and God giving us what He thinks is “best” for our salvation, is infinite. Let us pray that for the graces we need to have the wisdom to trust God more fully with our lives and know how to pray “Thy Will be done” of the “Our Father” prayer that Jesus taught us more wholeheartedly. 1 Jn 3:20 says, “God is greater than our hearts.” In St Paul’s letter to the Ephesians 3:20 he says, “God is able to do so much more than we can ever ask for or even think of.” Too often our prayers are superficial and narrow whereas God wants to give us blessings that are infinitely greater. We can behave like an orphan child who is contented with playing his toys, but does not see that he misses the deep love of his parents and family.

Finally, as I conclude, let us ask ourselves, “How much do we really desire to live in God’s Ways and obey His Will in our daily living?” First, could it be that we don’t dare to ask God for what He wants of us, just in case what He wants to give us is not what we want? If so, let us remember that it is wiser to entrust our lives in God’s hands as He knows what is best for us. Second, “Could it be that we don’t really wish to seek to deepen our love for the Lord, as we are too deeply attached to our present lifestyle? Third, “Could it be that we don’t really want to knock on the door of Christ, because He may open the door to challenges that we are not ready to take up?

We may each have our own attachments in life and fears about the unknown, if we surrender and entrust our lives to God, but we can be sure of one thing about God. He will give us only the “best.” Our Heavenly Father, as in the “Our Father” prayer that Jesus taught us, assures us that if, with God’s graces, we are able to surrender our lives to God, we will surely find, God’s Kingdom of peace, unity and love in this world, and most of all happiness for all eternity in heaven .

Fr Philip Heng, S.J.

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