OCTOBER 9, 2003
HOMILY: Luke 11: 5- 13.
IF YOU 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. Jesus boldly proclaims in today’s Gospel, that no prayer made to God goes unanswered. At first he states no explicit condition, nor does he mention what kind of petition he has in mind. He simply makes the point that when you pray have confidence that God is ready and even eager to grant your request. “Ask,” he says, “ and you shall receive; knock and it shall be opened to you”. It is the Lord’s habit when he is making a point that could otherwise be misunderstood or simply passed over to present his thought in absolute terms. Surely one of the most striking instances of this style is his statement found a little further on in Luke’s Gospel: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14: 26) The point here obviously is that our Lord makes it clear that nothing can be preferred to obeying his call, even the closest and dearest relations. He illustrates his meaning, as St. Paul well understood, elsewhere by example and by word.
All preachers, and those who teach the young and unsophisticated, do something of the same: only by simplifying can one get a point across with the uninitiated. But we know from the whole tenor of his life and teaching that there are indeed several conditions for having our prayer heard that Jesus himself is the first to declare. The most obvious one is a strong personal faith. Even Jesus could not work many miracles in Nazareth, Mark tells us, “because of their unbelief” (6:5) A second condition our Lord himself makes clear in a parable that Luke includes in today’s text when Jesus speaks of the neighbor who keeps on knocking till he gets the bread he needs for his guest: prayer, then, must be made in faith and must be persevering.
There is a final condition implied in the concluding words of this saying, words which I cited at the beginning of this homily: HOW MUCH MORE WILL THE HEAVENLY FATHER GIVE THE HOLY SPIRIT TO THOSE WHO ASK HIM. It seems to me these words hint at the most significant condition for receiving a favorable response to our prayer. When Jesus speaks of prayer, without excluding other requests such as petition for daily bread, for health and similar benefits, his primary concern is to impart to his hearers the desire to please God and even to be united with him. This is expressed in the prayer to receive the Holy Spirit. Our Lord assures each of us with these words that we can be confident of the Father’s benevolent disposition toward us that inclines him to hear those requests we make of him that are conducive to our true well-being, that is our life in the Spirit..
In recent days we have had a number of occasions when the Gospel spoke of the need for us to become as little children in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. It strikes me that in order to receive the words of today’s Gospel text with its assurance that God the Father will hear our prayer without fail we must exercise the faith and trust of little children. That is to say, each of us must believe that God is truly a loving Father in his way of treating each of his children. We must, at times when he does not answer our prayer in the way we intend and hope for, believe that he has a loving reason for his withholding the favor in the form we ask. In His infinite wisdom He knows us better than we know our self and in His caring Providence he foresees the outcome of granting prayers we make. We need to know how to trust that His reasons for withholding at times the specific gifts we ask for. The Lord teaches us here that we can be confident that his reasons are based on His loving and wise disposition in our regard and will serve our eternal best interests. Our part is to put our faith in the Father’s love and the merits of our Savior, and always, with the trust of children firmly believe that in his time and in his manner THE HEAVENLY FATHER WILL GIVE THE HOLY SPIRIT TO THOSE WHO ASK HIM.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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