“What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:11-13)
Last Sunday, we read the story of Abraham playing Good Samaritan to the Holy Trinity without knowing it. In the course of this visit, God made the promise of a child to Abraham. God also revealed to Abraham the purpose of His visit – to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham had just passed the first test; he didn’t ignore the strangers, he gave them food and water. Treat others as you wish to be treated.
This was now the second test: “How would Abraham react when he hears that the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah would be destroyed?” Recall that Abraham had a cousin named Lot, who became rich as a result of working with him. When disputes arose between Lot’s servants and Abraham’s servant, Abraham asked Lot to pick a portion of the land to settle, and behold Lot chose what seemed like the best part knowing full well that the people who lived there had no fear of God.
Abraham could have simply smiled and said: “Oh, that serves him right.” Abraham had a large heart – he sought to negotiate, that is, intercede for the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah. Like Moses would, later on, do on behalf of the Israelites when they sinned in the desert, Abraham attempted to save Sodom and Gomorrah from destruction. Abraham passed the second test. Never wish evil for anyone or take joy in their downfall. Let us now outline other lessons in today’s readings.
1. The Wages of Sin is Death. What warranted God’s destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah? The Lord said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave,” (Genesis 18:20). God is merciful, but His mercy should never be taken for granted. The only reward we get for sin is death (Romans 6:23); death to ourselves, death to others, death to our environment, and ultimately eternal condemnation in hell. There comes a time when repentance becomes too late, so if today you hear God’s word, harden not your heart.
It is often said: “If you cannot beat them, you join them.” The city was destroyed because there were not up to ten persons who stood their ground against evil. Do not say: “everybody is doing it.” Even if everybody is doing it, let your light shine. Don’t wait till you get caught to blame the devil. Accept responsibility now and change, there is nothing to gain from sin. The temptation may be so enticing now but try to think of the consequences, and remind yourself that a time for reckoning must surely come.
2. Prayer is Powerful. The fact that God was willing to negotiate with Abraham regarding His planned destruction of the city of Sodom and Gomorrah is one big lesson. More than three times, we hear God saying to Abraham, “I will not destroy the city…” Prayer is truly powerful. If God was willing to change his plan based on Abraham’s intercession, I am sure God would have spared the city if Abraham continued further down to one person. Abraham, felt asking for more was asking for “too much” so he stopped the bargain.
There comes a time when we stop praying. We stop asking because having asked for a period of time, we feel God will no longer listen to us anymore; we just give up on prayer. The story that Jesus gave in today’s Gospel passage teaches us never to give up, never to stop asking, and never stop praying. Jesus says “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.” (Luke 11:8)
A child of God is never afraid to ask, to seek, and knock because God is a Father, a responsible and loving Father, a Father who is ever ready to forgive his children when they call on Him; a Father who takes no delight in the destruction of his children. “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)
3. Keep Praying, Do not be Discouraged by Results. According to Jesus, “Everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” (Luke 10:10) Now, you may wonder, ‘what about the times I asked and didn’t get it? Many often wonder, “Does God always answer prayer?” The answer to this question lies in the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel passage. Even if we do not get exactly what we ask for, God would never give us stone or snake when we are asking for bread or fish. Whatever the outcome of your prayer, trust that it is for your good. As St. Paul would say: “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28).
Secondly, bear in mind that Jesus did not add a time frame. Prayer works. It is not magic but it works. You may not see the results immediately but know that you didn’t pray in vain. At times, God blesses us by taking away our afflictions, but sometimes, God uses our very afflictions to bless us. Don’t stop praying.
4. There is a Format for Prayer. By teaching us how to pray, Jesus was saying “There is a way not to pray”. For instance, Jesus taught us that prayer should never be used to attract attention to ourselves like the hypocrites who loved to pray in the market place or on street corners. (Matthew 6:5-6). Jesus also warned us against using empty phrases thinking we would be heard for our many words (Matthew 6:7). In the parable of the two men who went to pray, Jesus warned us to avoid condemning others in our prayer lest we end up praying to ourselves (Luke 18:10-14).
Jesus’ teaching on prayer finds culmination in the Lord’s Prayer. “When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread; and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us; and lead us not into temptation.” (Luke 11:2-4). Compared to Matthew’s Gospel, Luke’s version of this prayer is quite brief yet it contains the essential components any prayer should have which are: Adoration, Contrition, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.
Finally, the Lord’s Prayer teaches us that every prayer involves an agreement with God to take from Him only that which we are willing to give to others. “Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.” In fact, in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus goes further to add: “if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:15)
Conclusion: Prayer can Change God but Prayer also Changes Us. Prayer is not one-way traffic. We ask from God because we are his children and by asking from Him, we also declare to live according to His instructions. Sin destroys our relationship with God. When we pray, we should have full confidence in God. At the same time, our prayer must affect the kind of life we live. If we beg from God, we must not forget there are others begging from us; others who need our charity; others who need our forgiveness; others who need us to intercede for them like Abraham did for Sodom and Gomorrah.
Let us pray: Almighty ever-living God, teach me to pray, and may my prayers rise up to you like incense. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Bible Study: Gen. 18:20-32, Ps. 138:1-3,6-8, Colossians 2:12-14, Luke 11:1-13).
© Rev. Fr. Evaristus Abu