Gospel: Luke 11:1-13
In teaching his disciples this prayer, Jesus also reminds them to focus on God’s coming reign, God’s mercy, and the strengthening of the community. Jesus encourages his disciples to childlike trust and persistence in prayer.
1[Jesus] was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”2He said to them, “When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
3Give us each day our daily bread.
4And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.”
5And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ 7And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ 8I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.
9“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13If 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!”
I listen to a parenting podcast, and one of the episodes is about how being a parent feels like you’re just one big vending machine to your kids. Everyday you have to make a thousand decisions about giving them what they are asking for. No you can’t have another cup of juice, you’ve had too much today already. No you can’t do paints right now, we don’t have time to make a mess. Yes, you can watch an episode of daniel tiger because mommy has to go get a shower. No you can’t have the remote control yourself because you will break it. Yes, fine, you can wear your flip flops today, even though I know you will trip walking in them. No you cannot have any more chocolate.
Its a million decisions about your kids future, their cavities, health, socialization, brain development, and protection – that you just don’t really have time to weight out in the moment so you try to do what’s best for them. Relying on your judgement, the amount of sleep and coffee you’ve had, and your patience level with their requests.
There is this tendency to treat God like a vending machine. Like, if we put in the right amount of prayer, and press a button, we’ll get what we want. Even Jesus says ask and it shall be given to you. But what about when its not? What about when God must play the divine parent and say, no you’re not getting that today. Do we throw a fit? Sometimes? But do children EVER stop asking?
It’s important to remember that in each of the bazillion questions, toddlers are asking for one thing. Your love. Yes they are testing, and tantrums abound, but subconsciously I believe they are asking for your love and your attention. Shamelessly, grabbing you pleading with you, pushing buttons, testing limits, and seeing how far and how deep they can go in your love, protection and parenting.
The word many Bibles translate as “persistent” in Jesus’ parable on prayer (anaideia, 11:8) would actually be better translated as “shameless.” Our petitions to God, Jesus says, should be bold, audacious, shameless. We can me before God knowing without a doubt that God is listening and God loves us and wants good things for us. There is nothing more important to God than being in relationship with us, and so when we speak we can count on God’s attention.
Prayer is more than asking for things, of course. Prayer is praise; prayer is thanksgiving; prayer is conversation; prayer is questioning; prayer is arguing; prayer is lamenting. Prayer is all these things and more. But prayer is also — and perhaps fundamentally — asking God for what we most need and desire…shamelessly.
What makes prayer hard is that we want so very much — and so very understandably — to know how it works. We want to understand prayer as a mechanism, as a formula, as something we can practice and perhaps master. Some of Jesus’ words in today’s gospel complicate these kinds of questions as well as any answers we might offer. But I think that beneath the mechanical question of “how” pulses the relational question of “who.” And here Jesus’ words do help. To whom are we praying? We are praying to the God who shamelessly loves us like a parent, but even more than we can ever imagine loving our own children.
How do I pray so that I get what I want?
How do I ask so that the answer is what I want?
Like the child who leads with a report card, we want God to remember that we have been good little boys and girls, so that he will let us have that pony. Or whatever we are asking for this time. But that’s not the question Jesus is answering. His disciples command him, they don’t ask. These say – teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples. Jesus gives them a short prayer, which should sound familiar, and then tells some short stories.
It is typical of Jesus to argue theology by using the paradigms (parables) of everyday life. It is a kind of theology of reasonableness. The argument works like this: ‘everyone knows’ that a friend will help another out in a situation like that, even if reluctantly. Why can’t you think of God being like that? The same logic is implicit in talking about giving your children things.
’Everyone knows’ that this is what a parent would do, who loves their children and wants them to have good things. Everyone knows something about compassion: why can’t you think about God like that? Jesus theology – the way he talks about himself and God the Father is always informed by the great tradition, but it is also grounded in perceptions about human life and human relationships.
The way we relate to God can be a reflection of that and our prayers can be the same. Grounded in the a great tradition of thousands of years of people talking to God and God talking to people – and yet informed by our own experiences in life and our relationships. Jesus is grounded here in our experiences, so that we can be grounded in the divine mystery of the word made flesh. Who came to live among us, and negotiate the demands of his disciples who often treated him like a vending machine.
Despite that – Jesus knows that what they and we crave is intimacy. Attention. Closeness. Like toddlers with more vocabulary, we seek what will give us security and peace, sometimes without even knowing we are doing it.
The purpose is not to get what you want, the purpose is to deepen the relationship. Like that friend you see everyday, and talk to everyday… lose touch for a little while, and there’s some lost ground to catch up on. But the friend you talk to every day – they’re the ones you call in an emergency. They are the ones you call too late and ask for things. They are the ones you text with dumb questions and silly requests. God’s like that Jesus says – she’s the friend who will crawl silently out of bed and leave her toddler sleeping on her pillow to make sure that you have coffee for the morning since you forgot to go to the store.