17th Sunday Year C - Homily 3

 Homily 3 - 2022

At the start of today’s Gospel passage, in responding to a disciple’s request to Jesus to teach his disciples to pray, we have Luke’s version of what we have come to call, “The Lord’s Prayer”. Luke’s version, which we have heard today, is shorter than Matthew’s version, with which we are mostly familiar. I think we do the prayer a disservice, however, if we take it simply as an isolated formula of words to be remembered and recited. Either of the versions would be a surprisingly brief, twenty-second, answer to an important request.

 Rather than teach a formula, I think that Jesus briefly listed a number of attitudes that should characterise a disciple’s prayer, attitudes which he had already exemplified and about which he would have yet more to say. If we see it in that light, it makes sense. As a listing of possible attitudes more or less appropriate at different occasions of Jesus’ own life, those attitudes could well have suited whole nights of prayer — which apparently happened often enough in Jesus’ public life when he would go off alone to pray.

For example, one attitude listed briefly in his formula, “Thy will be done on earth”, seemed to have been enough to fill his heart all night during his Prayer in Gethsemane.

So let us take a brief look at the attitudes listed by Jesus in his answer to the disciple’s request, and situate them in our own lives.

Our Father … hallowed be thy Name. Our focus whenever we pray should always be God, rather than ourselves — but it takes a long time alone with God for that attitude to become spontaneous. Our prayer need not be made up of words. We can communicate deeply in silence. St Theresa of Avila spoke of prayer as: friendly time together and frequent one-to-one conversation with Him whom we know loves us.

Time together nourishing our friendship with God fairly naturally leads to the next attitude, allowing our friendship to move beyond mere words to shape our lives. As Jesus phrased it: “Thy kingdom come; thy Will be done on earth …”. We express God’s Will in our lives by working for the spread and development of what Jesus referred to as the Kingdom of God. Doing that meaningfully involves our patient listening to and careful discerning of God’s Will.

Jesus continued, noting how we are to recognise, appreciate and even rejoice in our total dependence on God and to deepen our trust in God when assessing our more personal needs: “Give us this day our daily bread”. The God of “abundance” will take care of our “enough”, “our daily bread”. But Jesus wants his disciples to respect and to ensure the equal right of all to live from that same divine abundance. No one needs more than “enough” — “our daily bread”. The freedom that flows from being convinced of that, however, calls for a true maturing of our trusting relationship with God. It does not appear overnight.

“Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” In this still imperfectly-redeemed world, we are to trust and to celebrate God’s unconditional forgiveness. We are to make it our own by “stepping into the flow” [as it were] of that divine forgiveness. Drawing on the liberating power of that forgiveness constantly poured out on us, we are motivated and empowered to endeavour always and unconditionally to forgive ourselves and others. How long does it take us to learn that?

“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”. Jesus concluded his advice by reminding us to remain in touch with our constant fragility — not to be overwhelmed by it, but humbly to trust always in the committed care of the God whom we too, with time and perseverance, will grow to recognise not only as Jesus’ Father but also as our own ever-reliable “Father” and our friend.