Thursday of Week 27 of Ordinary Time – Gospel

Commentary on Luke 11:5-13

Jesus continues his instructions to his disciples about prayer. Today the lesson is one of perseverance.

Jesus gives the parable of a man coming to a neighbour in the middle of the night looking for some food to provide hospitality to an unexpected visitor. The neighbour is not willing to get up and disturb his wife and children who are sleeping with him (which would be very common in a one-room house). But, says Jesus, if the man persists, the neighbour, simply to get some peace, will eventually get up and give the man all he needs. If a grumpy neighbour will listen to an inconvenient request, how much more will a loving God pay heed to the needs of his children?

In another example Jesus asks if a father would give his child a snake instead of a fish or a scorpion instead of an egg. If even a very ordinary father would not think of treating his children so callously:

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!

Of course, a very pertinent question comes to mind: if God is such a loving and caring parent who will only give “good” things to us, why do we have to persist in asking? Why do we have to ask at all? The reason is not because God needs persuading (like the sleepy neighbour). Persistence in prayer is for our benefit.

There are a number of ways of praying persistently. One is to keep begging God to give us something we want or that we think we need. Another is to think that somehow we can manipulate God or put him under some kind of obligation by asking him repeatedly. So, if I do a nine-day novena and say certain prayers each day, I may expect that God or some saint somehow is under an obligation to give me what I am asking for. In some kinds of novenas or other devotional exercises, there are people who would tell us that “satisfaction is guaranteed”. This, in fact, is very close to superstition – if not heresy.

The kind of prayer that Jesus is talking about is really something quite different. He seems to presume that what we are asking for is the gift of God’s Spirit:

…how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!

Is that what we normally ask for? To ask for the Spirit is to ask to have the same Spirit that inspired Jesus in his life and work. It is a Spirit which is totally at one with the will of the Father. In the parallel text in Matthew, it is “good” things which the Father will give. What could be more of a “good” thing than the very Spirit of God?

The other types of asking can be a subtle way of asking God to do our will:

Father…not my will but yours be done. (Luke 22:42)

Whatever form our prayer takes, ultimately it must be this: to be like Jesus so that we may grow in the likeness of the Father:

To know him more clearly, love him more dearly, follow him more nearly.

One of way moving in this direction is to make this the constant theme of our prayer. The more we pray for this the more likely it will become a reality in our lives. And it is inconceivable that God should refuse to hear this prayer.

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