domenica 24 luglio 2016

«Domine, doce nos orare»

Today’s gospel opens with a detail we have already encountered other times in Luke: Jesus is praying. The prayer of the incarnate Son of God will remain always a mystery, but it is an example for us, as it was for the disciples at that time: looking at Jesus praying makes them want to pray themselves. But they do not know how. Hence the request, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Domine, doce nos orare).

Jesus’ answer is in three points. First of all, Jesus tells us what we should ask God for. He does it teaching us the “Our Father.” As you can see, the Lucan version of the Lord’s prayer is shorter than that we find in Matthew and regularly use in worship. We will not linger over this prayer, because we have many opportunities to meditate upon it. 

Instead, we will dwell for a while on the second point of Jesus’ catechesis on prayer—that is, how to pray—even because the first reading also is about this point. To teach us how to pray, Jesus tells us a short parable, the importunate friend. In the New American Bible translation we read, “I tell you, if he does not get up to give him the loaves because of their friendship, he will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence.” Jesus invites us to be persistent in our prayer. But in the original text there is a word much stronger: instead of “persistence,” we find “impudence,” literally, “shamelessness.” Just like Abraham in the first reading: he does not scruple to keep asking God not to destroy Sodom. He realizes that he is “dust and ashes,” but he knows that God is just: he cannot allow that the innocent may die with the guilty. This is why he persists in his prayer that way, shamelessly.

The third point of Jesus’ lesson on prayer is a real command, “I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Jesus does not just invite us to pray; he orders us to do it. Prayer is not only a right; it is a duty. But we should be first convinced of one thing, that every prayer is answered: maybe, not immediately (for this reason we have to be persistent); maybe, not in the way we would expect (but we do not really know what is good for us; while God knows). That is why Jesus adds, “What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg?” Actually, sometimes we have the impression that God gives us a snake, when we ask him for a fish; a scorpion, when we ask him for an egg. It seems as if God were deaf to our requests. Prayer presupposes faith: if we want our prayers to be answered, we have to believe that: 1. God is Father; 2. God is good; 3. God listens to our prayers. Most times the problem is not God; but we are the problem, because we do not know what to ask for and how to ask. Of course, if we ask for something not useful for our good, God will not answer that prayer. If we ask only for material things, it depends if those things are useful or not. We have to learn to ask for what we really need. Please listen to what Jesus tells us at the end of today’s gospel, “If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” You see? We have to ask the Father for the Holy Spirit. He is the gift of gifts, the gift par excellence. Last Sunday, Jesus was saying that “there is need of only one thing.” Here is this only necessary thing: the Holy Spirit. This we have to learn to ask the Father for.