17th Sunday Year C

See Commentary on Luke 11:1-13

Homily 1 - 2016

Our expectations of our parents change as we grow older. As young children we saw our parents as the ones who ensured our security, met our needs and sometimes, not always, even gave us what we asked. In trying to get what we wanted, we sometimes became experts in manipulation or persuasion or downright persistence. As time went on, we grew up, even though we remained their children. Our expectations changed. They were there for advice; they could provide a listening ear; they could even be useful for a spot of baby-sitting. But we no longer relied on them to meet our every need. Far from it. With time, some roles even reversed. As they grew older, they may have relied more on us for security, and expected us to meet some of their needs. 

Have your expectations of God changed as you have grown older? Is much of your conversation with God an exercise in sweetening up, persuasion or simple persistence as you put pressure on God to meet your needs or the needs of family, friends or the world you live in? 

Certainly, God wants us to grow up. Maturing as persons means making decisions and taking responsibility for our behaviour. But it also means accepting and becoming comfortable with limitations. There are so many areas of our lives where we are not in control, and often these are the most important areas. Though God becomes more friend than parent, we remain children of God and always dependent on God’s energising and forgiving love. 

I find it most encouraging to know that God loves me easily, personally, consistently, and unreservedly. God is constantly giving us all our very existence. God wants us to have the courage to trust; and in today’s Gospel, Jesus does his best to encourage us to accept that God is eminently trustworthy. 

[A mistranslation in Jesus’ story today, unfortunately, muddies the waters, giving the impression that childish persistence can change the mind of an otherwise reluctant God to care for us. Jesus said nothing about persistence. He was referring to the unthinkability that anyone in a Middle Eastern world would do something so shameful and lose face publicly by refusing hospitality to a stranger. His point was that it was even more unthinkable that God not respond to genuine human need.]

The tricky thing always is to find the balance between creaturely trust and adult responsibility.

I know that in order to experience life more richly, to become “better news” to myself and to others, I need to grow in my capacity and readiness to love. Yet I have come to realise that, left to my own resources, I shall grow no further. My spontaneous reaction to people is judgmental. I instinctively sum them up in terms of their impact on me – potential threat or friend, competitor or supporter, thinking the same way or not, insider or outsider. The list goes on. I would love to regard people habitually from a stance of love, or at least respect and acceptance. But I don’t. That is where I find the final sentence in today’s Gospel passage so encouraging. “The heavenly Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” As I understand it, the Holy Spirit is the joyful, creative energy of the loving God. The Spirit is the energy of God “on tap” in the world. 

The only effective agent of change in me is that creative energy of the loving God. Fortunately, God is standing by, waiting for me to ask. Why ask? I think the reason is because God needs my personal cooperation. I can no longer succeed in loving as a solo performance. Yet it is I who wants to love. My loving needs to be a duet – or nothing. Love, after all, originates in the heart of God. 

Even the Lord’s Prayer seems to me, on reflection, to be a series of multi-faceted requests translating into practice my growing love as I walk through life hand-in-hand with God.


Homily 2 - 2019

To hear Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer that we had tonight can be quite a shock. We are more familiar with the longer version found in Matthew’s Gospel. I want to focus right now on sharing a few of my own reactions to the prayer based on Luke’s shorter version. It won’t take us so long!

It starts simply, “Father”. Jesus’ Jewish contemporaries were used to talking about God as “Father”; but Jesus seems to have been unique in personally addressing God as “Father”. On his lips, the greeting expresses wonderful intimacy and warmth. To some, it may have sounded awkwardly intimate, even scandalously so. Today, some people wonder if the word “Mother” might convey an even more breathtaking intimacy. Whatever about that, Jesus leaned spontaneously to the masculine title because, according to the limited biological knowledge of the time, fathers were assumed to be the sole life-givers with mothers providing no more than the necessary but secondary nourishing seed-bed of their wombs. Jesus rejoiced not only in the depth of his warm, intimate relationship with his God, but also in its powerful energizing, life-giving effect on him.

What is God’s effect on you, now; and what word sums it up best for you?

The prayer continued, “May your name be held holy”. What sense do you make of that? And why is it apparently so important? To me it has the meaning, ‘I want to take you seriously; and I wish the whole world would take you seriously, too’. Yet this respect, this reverence before God, is neither more important nor less important than my appreciation of God’s warmth and tender, supremely personal, affection. We need to go no further in our prayer until we can spontaneously hold both convictions equally strongly in our hearts. We don’t, after all, need to get to the end of the prayer straight way.

When we feel right, Jesus suggests then that we move further on with our prayer: “Your kingdom come”. This thought focuses us firmly on our mission to this world. We can forget about heaven for the moment; God already looks after that. It cannot be other than it is. But in the meantime, we have a task to perform. Remember the commission of the risen Jesus, “As the Father sent me, I now send you…”.

When we celebrate the feast of the Kingship of Christ, the Church uses words like ‘justice, truth, freedom, peace’. When we hear the word justice in the context of God’s justice or of God’s wishes for the world, I think that most people instinctively think first of retributive justice, of punishment or reward, of law and order. Some may think of distributive justice, but usually in the sense of people getting what they deserve. Few think spontaneously of God’s justice which is overwhelmingly restorative justice – a bit like the judgments made by doctors when we go to visit them. They check out our symptoms and then ask themselves what might be causing them. Once they ascertain that, they set about determining how best they can restore us to health. That is what God does. God’s justice is also distributive justice, but not as most of us see it. God’s distributive justice does not ask what people deserve, but what they need; and God distributes his bountiful grace and mercy accordingly.

In an encyclical letter he wrote not long before he retired, Pope Benedict XVI instructed us to approach ‘justice, truth, freedom and peace’ as concrete expressions of a prior and over-arching attitude of love. We need to look at our world always through the lens of God’s unconditional love and mercy. That way of seeing takes time and maturity. I think, it also takes support from other like-minded disciples.

There is more to look at, even if we stick to Luke’s shorter version of the Prayer. If we really take it seriously, perhaps we may never get to the end of it. To get there calmly, totally honestly, may take a lifetime.

 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.