Praying into Divine Friendship
Seventeenth Sunday of the Year. Fr Timothy Calvert preaches on the meaning and purpose of our prayer.
‘Dear God, you don’t usually hear from me, but there’s something I’d like you to take care of.’
If a character on a soap opera is shown praying, we are usually supposed to infer that they are either a religious maniac who should be avoided at all costs, or in the middle of an overwhelming crisis in their lives, so overwhelming that they need to make a call to a distant God. God, it seems, is far away, and by praying we can persuade him to help us out of our tricky situation.
But the readings for Mass this week reveal a very different picture of what we do when pray. Prayer is not about somehow getting hold of God, to put him to work for us, but being drawn beyond ourselves, into friendship with the thrice-holy God.
In the readings we see two friends of God, whom we see praying. First we see Abraham, who Scripture tells us became the friend of God through his many trials and tribulations. This friend of God, although only dust and ashes, is allowed to interrogate God about his plans for Sodom and Gomorrah, and to badger him concerning the fate of any just men who may live in the cities. The Lord reassures his friend Abraham that even if ten just men are left, he will hold back his hand.
What this prayer of Abraham, the friend of God, reveals is the justice of God, the God who will not punish the innocent along with the wicked. This God listens to the concerns of his friend that justice be done, and reassures him.
In our second friend of God, we see an even greater mystery. Here in the prayer of Jesus, we see not just the justice of God saving unjust men from fire from the sky, but the mercy of God bringing health and salvation to those who are lost in their sins, a mercy which saves sinners from the fires of hell, and brings them to the everlasting kingdom of life and joy.
Here we see an even greater intimacy than with Abraham. Jesus prays as the eternal Son of God who has been made flesh, he prays with the intimacy of that friendship which is at the heart of God the Trinity. He calls God Abba, Father, a name, which reveals his wonderful intimacy with the Father.
And, as we follow Jesus through Luke’s Gospel, we see him praying before important events in his life: before choosing the 12 apostles, on the mountain as transfigured in glory, in the garden of Gethsemane, and on the cross he prays to Father:
Into your hands I commend my spirit.
The prayer of Jesus is the gateway of mercy, the priestly intercession which brings mercy and friendship with God.
The disciples, seeing the prayer of Jesus, ask to be included, to be able to pray as Jesus prays. And this is granted to us who follow Jesus. This prayer life of Jesus is what we become part of from our baptism onwards, when we made adopted children of the Father, brothers and sisters of Jesus.
So there is no absent God, but only the God who loves us. We can’t control or manipulate this God, but that isn’t why real people (as opposed to characters on soap operas) pray. Praying for Christians is not about making God human, but about our becoming divine, becoming part of the friendship of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit.
Jesus tells us:
Ask, and it will be given to you. Search and you will find. Knock and the door shall be opened unto you.
So this week we are encouraged to keep on asking, to persevere in bringing our wants and needs before the Father.
We do this not so that we can twist God’s arm, but so that we may rest the whole of our lives, our tragedies, our petty desires and our hopes for ourselves and others, upon the mercy of the Father of Jesus and our Father. And so we come more and more to grow within his friendship, and know the wonder and the intimacy of the friendship of the Holy Trinity, who is always at work to draw us from our sin and our sadness, so that we may burn forever, in the leaping flames of the love of God.