God's Word on Sunday: Prayer our most powerful spiritual tool

  • July 18, 2019

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 28 (Year C) Genesis 18:20-32; Psalm 138; Colossians 2:12-14; Luke 11:1-13

Does leading an upright and prayerful life make any difference in the world? Can we influence the world around us by our lives? 

Many would say no, pointing to the terrible mess that faces us each day. Still others would claim that religion is itself part of the problem. The story of Abraham’s pleading with God for the fate of Sodom gives us a clear answer. 

Abraham was informed that Sodom was slated for destruction because of its great wickedness. Old Testament and rabbinic tradition tells us this wickedness consisted of murder and violence, especially against travellers, and abuse of the poor and vulnerable. 

In a story that would be humorous if it weren’t for the gravity of the situation, Abraham began to bargain with God as if he were haggling over a goat or sheep in the marketplace. He began with a question that many have asked for millennia: why should the innocent suffer with the guilty? 

He asked if God would spare Sodom if he could find 50 just and righteous people, and God said He would relent if 50 could be found. What if only 40 can be found, would you destroy it then? God said He would not, but Abraham was on a roll. 

Apologetically but persistently, he went from 40, to 30, 20 and finally 10. For 10 good people, God would spare Sodom. Just 10 righteous and prayerful people could have prevented disaster. Tragically, not even 10 holy souls could be mustered and Sodom met its end. 

Some mystical traditions believe that the world is held together by a handful of just and holy individuals, sometimes not more than 40 or 50. Often, they do not even know they have that status. 

Our lives mean something, not just for ourselves and those close to us, but for the entire world. In a time of great darkness and uncertainty it is imperative we do not lose hope or give up our commitment to God. The times call for great love and great commitment.

Colossians celebrates the newness and promise of being in Christ. Dying and rising with Him in baptism gives us a new beginning, a clean slate, and it is all through the power and mercy of God. This probably means more to the first generations of Christians, since most were baptized as adults. Their conversion was a life-altering, conscious decision. Since that is not the norm now, we look for other ways to illuminate our life in Christ. 

Making the break with the past and the new life in Christ part of our daily prayer and meditation is one effective method, as is frequent renewal of baptismal promises, both individually and as a faith community. Baptism was not given to us so that everything can go on as before.

Luke has often been called the Gospel of prayer and we can see why. Jesus always seems to be at prayer and the disciples beg Him to teach them to do likewise. He answered with a short version of the Our Father. 

It names the holiness and transcendence of God, the necessity to trust God in all things, the desire for God’s reign to come and a willingness to forgive so that we may be forgiven. It is more than a prayer — it is an outline for how one should always live. 

In a series of humorous and homey parables, Jesus underscored the necessity of persistence in prayer. Batter on Heaven’s door, the parables seem to say; make an absolute pest of yourself. This was followed by reassuring words: Those who seek and knock will not be disappointed. The door will be opened. 

After all, if ordinary people know how to give their children what is good, how much more will God do likewise! Our persistence, sincerity and humility open a channel through which God can bless us. Prayer is the most powerful and effective spiritual tool at our disposal. 

We need to use it well and wisely and often, just as Jesus did.

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