Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Praying Through

Reflections on the Readings

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 25, 2010 - Year C

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

By Dennis Hankins


Readings For This Sunday

Praying Through

I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him whatever he needs. - Jesus

It is a mystery of prayer I learned in the Pentecostal Church; the Church of my youth.  Today's readings emphasize this mystery as well, namely, you are not through praying until you have prayed through.  

Importunity. Persistence.  Abraham persisted, interceding for the people in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah; cities facing certain judgment for the gravity of sin approved there.  Abraham starts his prayer with the hope that there are at least fifty righteous.  Abraham presses the Lord to spare the twin cities of great evil for the sake of that sanctified fifty.  The Lord agrees to spare the cities for the sake of fifty righteous.

It is one of the most dramatic scenes of prayer recorded in Scripture.  The tension mounts as Abraham changes his request just in case there are only forty-five righteous.  Then again if there are only forty, then thirty, then twenty.  Every time I read this passage, I keep hoping the ending will change.  I find myself wanting to whisper in Abraham's ear, "Keep asking!"

Then the final request.  "Lord.  Will you spare the cities if you only find ten righteous living there?"  The Lord replies, "For the sake of those ten, I will not destroy it."

We know the end of the story.  There were not ten righteous.

But how instructive is Abraham's concern, heart felt hope and persistent intercession on behalf of the cities of the plain.  We are a people, buried with Christ in our baptism.  How much more should we who are heirs of the faith of Abraham, learn how to pray through.  Raised with Christ in his resurrection, how much more might we understand this mystery of prayer. Pressing. Persisting.  Not concluding our prayer until having prayed through.

Much like the woman with the issue of blood who presses through the crowd to touch the hem of Jesus' garment.  Or how about the blind man on the side of the road, not allowing the crowd to shut him up, as he cries out Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me?" Then there is the Canaanite woman seeking out Jesus for her demon possessed daughter.  She responds to Jesus' mission to the lost sheep of the house of Israel by saying, "Yet even we dogs will be satisfied with the crumbs that fall from the masters' table."  O such great, persistent, pressing faith.

Jesus underscores the meaning of the mystery of prayer I'm discussing.  Ask. Seek. Knock.  A friend will open the store, not because his friend is knocking but because his friend will not leave without the bread he came for.  Fathers give good gifts to their children. They put bread and fish on the family table. 

And your heavenly Father, well, your heavenly Father gives the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!  If we will but ask for this divine life, it will be given to us.  If we will but seek for the divine life, we will find it.  If we will but knock on heaven's door, we will find a welcome into the life and friendship of the Spirit.

Praying until.  Praying through. Not through praying until praying through.  Always finding more than we could ask for.  Discovering more than we could have expected.  Pressing into another height of spiritual life.

I remember my Mother being ill when I was a young boy.  I'm not sure what it was, but I think she had a miscarriage.  She was not feeling well, but she prayed.  And an act of that prayer was a letter she wrote to a ministry of prayer asking for prayer for herself.  

She handed me the letter with instructions not to do anything other than go straight to the Post Office and drop that letter in the mail box.  I still remember the feeling that I was on an important mission.  By the time I got back from the Post Office, mother was already feeling better.  She asked me about what time I had dropped it into the mail box.  I still remember the fact that the mail schedule for the day was past.  The letter wouldn't even go anywhere until the next day.

Looking back, I understand it was her way of praying through.  

Let us pray: Dear Father of mercies, look upon all of your children who are in prayer.  Hear their prayers, and answer them from heaven according to what is best for them and for those for whom they pray.  We make our prayers through the power of the Spirit in the mighty name of Jesus.  Amen. 

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