Following last week’s narrative of one praised for quietly sitting in the Lord’s presence, this Sunday’s readings focus on the need to voice one’s concerns to God in prayer and on how we should pray. The specific instructions are prefaced by Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer. Luke’s version is both shorter and more ordered to everyday life than Matthew’s strongly eschatological version (6:9-13). The prayer echoes the Jewish prayer, the Kaddish, Exalted and hallowed be his great name.... May he establish his kingdom in your lifetime and in your days. In Luke the disciples are to pray not simply for daily bread but that it come each day, and that God’s forgiveness of sin be measured by their willingness to forgive debts. They ask God’s protection from testing, which is both the final judgment and the trials that will accompany their mission of evangelization.
The following somewhat humorous parable stresses the need for a brash and tenacious attitude in prayer. A man is bedded down with his family in their one-room dwelling when a friend comes pounding on the door. There is a crisis. A friend of his has arrived in the middle of the night, and customs of hospitality demand that he fix him a meal, but the larder is empty. The sleeping man envisions rousting the whole family and lifting the unwieldy latch from the door. The point of the parable is not that God is sleeping when we pray, but that when a crisis is present we should be willing to cause a divine ruckus. Abraham is a model of bothering God with a tenacious persistence, and I think of the candid prayers of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, or of St. Teresa of Avila’s advice to pray with a holy daring.
The sayings that follow address what for most Christians is the utter mystery of prayer: Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find. Yet we have all prayed constantly for some favor to be granted or for a sick or dying friend, only to be disappointed. I think some members of Luke’s community felt the same way, for Jesus then speaks of how a loving father listens to the needs of his children. If he knows how to give good gifts, no matter what the request, then how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit. For Luke the Spirit is the ultimate and greatest gift, which overshadows Mary and empowers the church. Prayers that appear to go unanswered are answered in surprising ways and in God’s own good time. Often we become what we pray for: prayers for peace create people of peace; prayers for healing form hearts of compassion; the emptiness of seemingly unanswered prayers is filled by the gift of God’s Spirit.