17th Sunday in Ordinary Times
Gen. 18:20-31; Psalm 137: 1-3.6-8; Col. 2:12-14; Gospel of Luke 11:1-13
Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Cathedral of Good Shepherd, Singapore on 28 July 2019
In today’s Gospel, Jesus taught His disciples to pray to His Heavenly Father, through the “Our Father” prayer, so that they would be able to live a meaningful and fulfilling life by being obedient to His Father’s Will. Jesus also assured His disciples that God His Father will always answer their prayers. For this Jesus says, “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 . . .” What does all this mean to us?
There is a story of David, who was pestering God in his prayers for so many things because he was so very unhappy with his life. Like the parable in today’s Gospel, God gave in to David and said, “David, since you are so unhappy with your life, I will grant you three wishes of what you think would make you really happy. However, you only have 5 days to make each wish.” David was very happy and pondered very hard on what he really wanted in life so that he could be truly happy. So for the next five days, David started to write down a full list of what made him happy and what caused him much pain and unhappiness in his life. On the fourth day, in the many pages of things that David had written, he realise that one of the main reasons why he has never been happy is because Jane his wife and him are always quarrelling frequently.
They have been married for some 15 years, and most of the time when they quarrel, David would be tempted to divorce her, as he cannot take the pain anymore. So, he told himself, “Okay, this is my great opportunity. I know what I am going to ask God.” On the fifth day, God appeared to David. But, before God could say anything, David immediately said, “God, my Lord, my first wish is that you spare me the unhappiness and pain that my wife is causing me. Can you take her away from me, let he die, so that I can marry someone who is more suitable and will give me happiness?” God was very reluctant, but in the end was persuaded to keep his promise. That very night, Jane passed away very peacefully in her sleep.
During the wakes and funeral Mass, so many people, including the sick and the poor, strangers, the rich, friends whom he thought had forgotten him, including those who have hurt him turned up, and everyone spoke so very well and highly of Jane. Dave was shocked at all that he heard. At first, he just smiled and brushed them aside, but after some time, he then began to realise that a lot of what is said of Jane begins to ring true. After the funeral, David spent the remaining five days, pondering on how they have been living during their marriage, and why there were so frequent quarrels.
Eventually, David found the answer on how he could live a happy life. So, when God finally asked Dave what his second wish was, Dave immediately replied. “God, my Lord, can I have my dear wife back to life? I now realise that actually much of my unhappiness is not so much because my wife was bad or intolerable in her ways, but it is me who am too proud and arrogant, and most of the time, insisting on my ways. I now realise and with much regret that Jane has truly been a very good, loving and compassionate wife and person. God, my Lord, please forgive me and bring her back into my life.
God was very happy to hear what David has asked for in his second wish. David too was so happy to have his dear wife back. He hugged her, and promised her that he will now cherish their marriage and would love her more deeply and dearly, and not take her love for granted.
As for the third wish, David, started pondering on what really can make him and his wife happy. He pondered on his health, his wealth, his work, his friends and his future . . . David realised how difficult it is to know what to ask God for what can really make him and his wife happy.
This is because when David pondered on his life he realised, “Even if God made me very healthy, and even if I were to live to a hundred years old, one day I will still have to die. And so, clinging to life, eventually is not going to make me happy. Moreover, even if God made me very wealthy, wealth can only give me a comfortable life, but they do not necessary give me the deep peace and happiness that I long. And, even if God were to make me very popular and powerful, that too will only give a lot of attention and adulation, but not necessary peace and happiness, for these values can only come naturally, and from God and they are within me, and cannot be created artificially.
Finally, time was up to ask God for his third wish. When God appeared to David, and asked him what his wish was, David said, “God, my Lord, I have been searching my heart and thinking very hard on what will give me true happiness, and very honestly, I don’t know what to ask, because the truth is that I don’t know what is best for me, and nothing seems to be able to satisfy my deep desire for true and lasting happiness. I don’t even know myself well; remember how I thought I was right and in my pride I blamed my wife for my unhappiness, when in fact it was me who was the cause of my own unhappiness? And so, God, my Lord, I think it is better that I let You decide what You think is best for me, and will make us truly happy. I am asking You to decide for me because I know You truly love me, and my wife and family so much.”
God, our Father then smiled at David, embraced him tenderly and said, “My dear son, this is the best wish that you have made. Yes, I will only give you what is best for you because I love you so deeply all the time. And that is why My Son Jesus taught you and all His followers the “Our Father” prayer that asks for My Will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Yes, the greatest wisdom that you will have is to open your mind and your heart daily to Me, to let me reveal My Will to you. And, when you are able to sense and live My Will, I can assure you that you will find the true happiness that you so long for in your life.”
David then thanked God and his heart was filled with the True Happiness that he longed to have. David now not only have his loving wife back with him, but more importantly he now knows how to love her and not take her love for granted. He is also more aware of his tendency to fall into the temptations of the sin of pride and arrogance, in times of his weaknesses. But, what is good is that he now no longer so easily blames his wife and others.
In the years that went by, David began to realise how very true it is that whatever and whenever he asks God for anything in his prayers, they were answered. He also began to realise that his prayers have changed; they are no longer solely for his own needs, but for the good of other peoples. And so, David realises that what Jesus assured and promised in the Gospel is very true 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. 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 . . .”
However, I can imagine that some, if not many of you here would be saying to yourself, “My prayer experiences are very different. They are often dry, distracted and dull and God does not seem to be answering my prayers. As such, I am not able to make much sense of what is said in today’s Gospel.” If this is so, my sisters and brothers in Christ, let me assure you that, if God had given me exactly what I have asked Him in my prayers, especially when I was much younger, I have no doubts, I would not be a priest and a Jesuit religious today.
Why is this so, you may ask? To make a long story short, upon reflecting on what I have been asking God, in my early twenties, my understanding, desires and dreams about the meaning of life were still very immature, narrow and self-centred. However, as God loves me, and the people He wants me to serve, He answered my prayers by re-directing what I had thought to be the married vocation, into what developed into a vocation to the priesthood and religious life.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus says in today’s Gospel that as loving parents would naturally give their children the very best of everything, God will all the more always answer our prayers, and will give us what is only best for us. However, many of us do not really know ourselves well and authentically enough to ask God, for what is best for us. This is because we are each very limited in our perceptions about life, and often flawed and frivolous about what we consider as true happiness in our lives.
And so, if what we ask for are not really good for us, then in answering our prayers, God would give us other alternatives which includes what we have not asked for. And this is because, as in my vocation story, God’s desires and dreams for us are much more fulfilling and fruitful than ours. What these alternative choices are that God has made for us, for some of our prayers, we may only come to know in hindsight many years later, as in my vocation story. In other words, let us not be surprised if our prayers are answered by God with a seeming “silences” and passivity.
This is like the scene where the raging storm is threatening to drown every apostle in the boat, but Jesus’ “silent response” was to continue to be asleep amidst such dangers. None of us are comfortable with such “silent responses” from Jesus, and so the apostles woke Jesus up and said to Him, “Master do you not care, we are all drowning”? Jesus wakes up, calms the storm and reminds His apostles, “Why are you so afraid? You men of little faith?”
From this dramatic episode, the apostles learnt that when we dare to trust Jesus fully, no harm can crush and destroy us. And so, when Jesus does not seem to be calming the storms of our lives, we are called to continue to trust in Jesus’ Protective Presence. We are also called to believe that God will always give us something better than what we have asked for, because He loves us totally and unconditionally.
In other words, if we are to find ourselves in very difficult and painful situations, like we may be constantly quarrelling with and hurting the very people we are meant to love, or if we are battling with certain addictions or are burdened with some serious illness, and when we ask God to change these situations, that things may improve, God may change us instead of the situations.
This is so because, as in the case of David in our story, God may want us to face the truth of the situation and experience a conversion of heart, and become a humbler person or God may want to deepen our experiences of our trust in His Compassionate Love even though storms of our lives are raging.
And so, as I conclude, let us remind ourselves that God is not someone who grants us our wishes, but He is someone who fulfils our hopes. God is not someone who wants to treat us like an immature child and in the end allow us to lose the gift of eternal life. But, we can be sure that God will always only give us what is best for us, because He wants you and I to grow in the holiness of living His Father’s Will with greater fidelity, as Jesus His Son has taught us through the “Our Father” prayer and shown us through His Life, that ended in His Suffering, Death on the Cross and Resurrection.
Adapted from: Sunday & Holy Day Liturgies, Year C; Flor McCarthy, S.D.B.;Pub.: Dominican Publications; 1994; p.176.
Msgr Philip Heng, S.J.