July 28, 2019
XVII Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
The Our Father, the Persistent Friend parable, the Goodness of the Father who gives the Holy Spirit: in each of these three passages, in which Jesus speaks of prayer, we find at a certain point something that concerns hunger and, therefore, something to eat.
“Give us today our daily bread” (Lk 11:3), we say in our Father.
“Lend me three loaves” (Lk 11:5); he tells his friend who has a night guest to feed.
“If the child asks him for a fish … or if he asks for an egg” (Lk 11:11-12). Jesus says in talking about how good the Father is, how He always knows how to give good things. We talk about food and someone who gives it.
Therefore, prayer is not something to do first, but something by which to let ourselves be nourished. Indeed, it is the discovery of someone who nurtures. It is the discovery of what really nourishes, of a relationship capable of feeding our need for life.
It’s the disciples who ask Jesus to teach them to pray. They see Him praying, and they instinctively know He is nourished by a relationship; they understand that His life has a hidden spring, which makes it real and fruitful.
The experience of discipleship necessarily passes through this request made to Jesus: teach us to pray. It is a fundamental question: at a certain point, one must feel within oneself the desire for a relationship with God Who nourishes life.
The disciples know that the prayer of Jesus is new, different from that of the Baptist, from that of every other one, that is His alone, and that only He can grant it. They feel that they are missing something; it’s the very thing they are lacking; hungering for it, they ask. It’s already prayer.
To let ourselves be fed, therefore, we must first be hungry.
Whoever knows everything, has everything, can do everything, totally sufficient, is satisfied and doesn’t know hunger; and doesn’t need to ask anyone for anything. This man doesn’t pray.
And even those who don’t have to ask for anything, even if they have nothing, neither does this one pray.
Nor does he pray who does not know that there is someone prepared to give, to nourish his hunger.
The prayer that Jesus teaches His disciples is the experience that is born in the life of one who knows the truth of himself and the truth of God.
The truth about us is that of our being hungry, needy, lacking, limited: the neediness that, far from being an obstacle to prayer, is its strength.
But if we only knew the depth of our need, and not see the goodness of God, if we did not realize that our hunger interests someone, our life would be desperate.
And Jesus responds to the disciples by revealing and sharing with them what nourishes His life: the Father.
God “Father” is the foundation of prayer and life.
And in that way of life, of which the Father is the beginning and end, Jesus shows how the Father feeds us.
These are the five requests in the Our Father: at the center, precisely, the request for daily bread. The other four reveal the flavor of the bread of God, that bread which the Father feeds us, what we need to live.
We need God’s Name to be hallowed (Lk 11:2). In God’s Name is God himself: but who would dare pronounce a holy Name with unclean lips? The reference to the Old Testament is in Ezekiel 36:23, where God Himself is concerned about sanctifying His Name, dishonored among men, with the utmost love, so that this Name does not remain inaccessible, pronounced only by the pure. And He does it by giving us a new heart, a heart capable of bearing His Name within itself. His Name sanctifies because it is a source of holiness for all.
We need that His kingdom comes (Lk 11:2): because our domains are the ones we have in front of us every day, generating death and violence. The Father’s kingdom is where one gives life for another.
We need forgiveness, received, and shared (Lk 11:4), that is, we need God to address for us one of the fundamental questions of life, which is the presence of evil. We need a new way to deal with it, one that nurtures life. And this way is forgiveness.
And finally, we need God to take care of our lives so that we don’t fall into temptation. It is interesting that in the episode of Jesus’ temptations (Lk 4:1-13) the theme of bread returns: when there is hunger if bread is lacking, one can give in to the temptation to look for it outside of the relationship with the Father, to do it by oneself. Only those who know that God is a Father knows how to wait for Him.
For this reason, then Jesus tells the parable of the persistent friend, and he continues asking by persevering in asking.
It is as if He wanted to invite us not to content ourselves with any old bread, but to insist on looking for a good one. Persistence accepts to remain hungry except when it’s God’s bread that feeds us. It is the act of faith of those who do not give up in the face of the Father’s silence because they know that the Father will certainly give life, how and when He knows best for us.
There, in the expectation, relationship grows, it becomes genuinely nourishing. If not, it’s magic.
That’s when Jesus educates our desire, our palate, so that it recognizes the taste of real bread, knows how to ask and wait for it. Not any bread feeds us, but only that which has the taste of the holiness of the Father’s Name, which has the flavor of His kingdom, which has the characteristic of forgiveness, which awaits salvation from Him.