TEACH US TO PRAY – Seventh Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 12, Year C; Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (RC)

July 24, 2022

Revised Common Lectionary
Hosea 1:2-10 or Genesis 18:20-32
Psalm 85 or Psalm 138
Colossians 2:6-15 (16-19)
Luke 11:1-13

Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Genesis 18:20-32
Psalm 138:1-2, 2-3, 6-7, 7-8 (3a)
Colossians 2:12-14
Luke 11:1-13

When I was a very young child, my grandfather, an immigrant from Poland, would sometimes drop unannounced into our home—a two-hour bus ride away—and ask my mother if he could take me with him to stay over for a few days. She would quickly pack a bag for me and off I’d go on the two-hour trip back to his home. I loved those stayovers and felt so special to receive the undivided attention of my grandparents.

At bedtime I would follow my grandfather around while he went about his nightly tasks. As he moved through the house, locking doors and pulling window shades, I noticed that his lips were moving. Eventually I came to learn that he was praying and I discovered that the practice of prayer was an integral part of his ritual for the close of day.

I never asked my grandfather how he prayed, but I did gain an important lesson—that prayer is more than something that we just do on occasion; it needs to be woven into the fabric of our lives. For my grandfather, prayer was as natural—and essential—as breathing, eating, or sleeping.

The disciples undoubtedly observed the same thing about Jesus in his practice of prayer. While Luke reports that Jesus participated regularly in communal worship in synagogues (Lk 4:16), he also recounts numerous instances of Jesus praying by himself. He prayed at key moments in his ministry—after his baptism (3:21); before choosing the Twelve (6:12-16); on the mount of Transfiguration (9:28-29); and as he hung on the cross (23:34, 46). Luke also tells us that Jesus would regularly break away from the pressure of the crowds and “withdraw to deserted places and pray” (5:16).

Surely the followers of Jesus took note of his practice of prayer. In today’s Gospel reading, it seems that one of them may have been feeling left out and couldn’t wait any longer. As Jesus finished praying, the disciple asked him, “Lord, teach us to pray” (11:1). Jesus responds not only with a text that they could use but also with guidance on the spirit that they should bring to prayer.

While the Lord’s Prayer is a time-honored way for Christians to pray, whether together or alone, it provides us with much more than a formula. If we allow ourselves to be formed by the words we recite, we will develop attitudes that will strengthen us in authentic discipleship.

In the prayer that Jesus taught us, we join ourselves to him and to one another by addressing God in the same familiar way that he himself did—as Abba—and by speaking always as “we” rather than “I.” Our prayer focuses first on God, honoring God’s name and praying for the coming of God’s reign. Only then do we bring our request for everyday necessities as we go about our work on behalf of God’s kindom—our needs for sustenance, forgiveness, and safety.

The entire prayer is oriented to the sovereignty of God, longing for the coming of God’s reign, and seeking what we need to be faithful disciples. Jesus teaches us to ask not so much for what we want, but for what God wants. The Lord’s Prayer teaches us to seek God’s will and to express our utter dependence on God for what we need in carrying it out.

So often today we hear people speaking of prayer in a way that seems disconnected from action—you know, “thoughts and prayers.” Luke’s portrayal of Jesus’ ministry and the teaching we hear today, however, are both grounded in a strong link between prayer and action. Like Jesus himself, we have been sent to be instruments of God’s kingdom—proclaiming good news, serving others, and extending the compassion of God to all, including those closest to us and those who live on the margins. Prayer keeps us united with God at every moment, makes explicit our commitment to God’s reign and God’s will, unites us with our siblings who share the mission, and expresses our trust in God to provide what we need.

There is an urgency to this work on behalf of God’s reign, and so Jesus teaches us to be childlike in our confidence and persistent in our prayer: to ask so that we might receive; to seek so that we may find; and to knock so that the door will be opened (see Lk 11:9-10).

A Hymn for Today: “Seek Ye First”

Musical missionary Karen Lafferty was a nightclub singer in 1970 when she experienced a religious awakening, felt a call to ministry, and became more deeply involved in the life of Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, California. The next year she was inspired during a Bible study to create the tune and first stanza for this hymn, followed later by additional stanzas. This song has enjoyed wide popularity. It has been included in hymnals throughout the English-speaking world and has been translated as well into other languages.

Although the two stanzas included here are direct quotes from the Gospel of Matthew (6:33, 7:7), both verses have parallels in the Gospel of Luke (12:31, 11:9). This simple but engaging song expresses well the teaching of Jesus on prayer that we hear in today’s Gospel reading. It corresponds to the spirit of the Lord’s Prayer, in which we seek the coming of God’s reign, and to Jesus’ instruction that we should ask, search, and knock as we come to God in prayer.

To hear Karen Lafferty sing this song and tell the story of how it was created, click here.

Seek ye first the kingdom of God
and his righteousness,
and all these things shall be added unto you;
Allelu, alleluia.

Ask, and it shall be given unto you,
seek, and ye shall find,
knock, and the door shall be opened unto you;
Allelu, alleluia.

Text: Karen Lafferty, b. 1948, © 1972, CCCM Music/Universal Music-Brentwood Benson Publishing (admin. CapitolCMGPublishing.com). Used by permission under OneLicense #A-729857

Image Credit: Lord’s Prayer in Arabic Calligraphy

“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.

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