July 29, 2007 Year C
17th Sunday in Ordinary Time/9th Sunday After Pentecost
Reflections on the Readings by Dennis Hankins
Theme: Petition Through Repetition
Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you.
The King James translators of Matthew 6:7 rendered the Greek word polylogia as 'vain repetition'. The word is correctly translated in the RSV as 'many words'. We are often criticized for how repetitious our prayers are. But in fact it is a biblical exercise as witnessed in Luke 18. In that chapter a widow repeatedly cries out to the unjust judge for vindication. Likewise the tax collector stands in the temple continually beating his breast saying over and over, 'God be merciful to me a sinner!'
What mother or dad cannot relate to this understanding of persistent repetition? Children usually don't have a large vocabulary. But they masterfully use a few words repeatedly; such words are usually accented by please, please, please. They often get what they want, not because of the eloquence of their words, but because of their plea thru repetition. This works because there is a relationship, marked by the absence of fear, enabling the child to come boldly with his request.
If because of these very special and earthly relationships we will respond with good gifts to our petitioning children, how much more will our heavenly Father respond to us because of our divine relationship with Him. We are invited to come boldly to the Throne of Grace. It is here, where the persistent repetitious prayers of the children of God find a listening ear and a Father's heart.
I have encountered the mercy of the Lord in both the repetitious recitation of the Jesus Prayer, and the Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Both prayers assist the one praying in reaching a place of solitude and assurance and divine rest for the soul. Often, these prayers and similar prayers assist in coming to that moment in prayer when no words are necessary. We hear these words from St. Paul to the Romans: Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. (Romans 8:26-27)
Many are the times a child of God has knelt beside the helpless side of a sick loved one and simply prayed, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. Over and over again they uttered that holy name until the clouds of doubt and disease rolled away.
All over this world are monasteries where the prayers of the church are uttered over and over, day after day and year after year. If you wonder how this world stays as sane as it does, you might want to thank God for those who sleep little, pray often, and repeatedly pray, "Lord have mercy."
In a book entitled Journey Back to Eden, Fr. Gruber describes the scene of Egyptian desert monks praying all 150 divisions of the Psalms daily. Petition thru repetition is a biblical way to pray. Jesus even recommended it. Ask, because everyone who asks receives. Seek, because everyone who seeks finds. Knock, because everyone who knocks, to him will the door be opened.
Abraham demonstrates this same kind of repetitious prayer while standing before the Lord. He pours out his heart to the Lord and asks, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" How about 50 Lord, will you destroy Sodom if there are 50 righteous persons? The Lord promises mercy if there are 50 righteous persons. Abraham persists. How about 45? 40? 30? 20? Or 10? The Judge of all the earth promises he will do what is right in response to every one of Abraham's petitions.
Let us not be reluctant to bring our petitions, as repetitious as they may be, knowing the kindness of the Lord endures forever. Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you.
Let us pray: Dear Jesus, it's me again, standing in the need of prayer. I'm the same face with the same cry. Have mercy on me I pray. Amen.