“The Goal of Intensified Prayer”
July 24, 2016 - 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Genesis 18:20-33/ Psalm 138/ Colossians 2:8-14/Luke 11:5-13
Bishop Ariel Cornelio P. Santos
In Genesis, Abraham and God were talking and God said, “The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah have come up to Me and their sin is exceedingly great. I am coming down there.” Abraham said, “God, what if there are fifty righteous people in Sodom, will You still destroy it?” The story goes from fifty to ten, and Abraham asked, “If there are ten righteous people in the city, will You still destroy it?” God said, “I will not destroy it.’ Abraham said, “If there are righteous men there, it is not fair for You to destroy them along with the wicked. That is not justice and You are a God of justice. Far be it from You to do such a thing.”
God stopped at ten. What do you think God would have done if Abraham went on and said, “What if there are five or none righteous, Lord.” Would God have answered Abraham positively? What is the magic number? So far, God had bent His justice system for the sin was exceedingly great and He was about to destroy the city. The Bible says that the mercy of the Lord is everlasting. It is infinite and if it's infinite, we cannot fathom it with our human brain. Can our minds understand or reach the concept of infinity? A theologian father said that space is infinite and yet, God is outside of it and is bigger.
Apply infinite to the mercy of the Lord. His mercy is everlasting; it is infinite. His mercy never comes to an end and they are new every morning. We sing, “Amazing love, how can it be that You, my King, would die for me?” This King is a sinless King, and yet He would die for the sins of others. Is this justice? Where is justice? If it comes from God, then, it is justice. Justice would say that if you committed a sin or a crime, you suffer the consequences.
Jesus said, “You heard from of old, ‘An eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth.’ Now I say to you, ‘If somebody slaps you on the right cheek, give him the left.’” We ask, “Where is justice?” It is right there! We cannot fathom it because we compare it to our brand of justice. We cannot understand it because it is infinite.
St. Augustine stumbled upon a little boy on a beach digging a hole and he was getting the water from the ocean, filling the hole with the ocean water. St. Augustine asked him what he was doing and the little boy said, “I am transferring the water from the ocean into my hole.” It was infinite into something finite. St. Augustine said, “That pales in comparison with the infinity of God in our understanding.”
Abraham said, “Far be it from You, God, to treat wicked and righteous alike.” However, God makes it rain on the wicked and on the righteous alike. I am not talking about judgment. God is the Judge and He knows what to do. It doesn’t mean that you can keep on sinning because He will forgive you anyway, but what I am saying is that the mercy of God is everlasting. He doesn’t just make rain fall on the wicked and the righteous alike, but, He subjected all to disobedience so that He can show mercy to all. Actually, the Bible says that there is none righteous. No, not one; all of us deserve to die. Where is justice here?
Jesus said, “If you deny Me before men, I will deny you before My Father.” What did Peter do three times? He denied Jesus, but did Jesus deny Peter before His Father? No, He forgave him. Is this justice? If the God of justice did that, it must be justice and it is also mercy. I am not condoning sin at all because if we understand or get a little bit of understanding of God’s mercy, we will not want to sin. God is a God of justice and mercy.
St. Paul persecuted Christians and had Christians killed. What did God do to him? God used him as a big personality in the New Testament? Is this justice? Yes! Adam sinned and caused all men to die. How many counts of murder was this? What is the sentence for this? It was forgiveness from God. Is this justice? It is in the eyes of God. He is the Judge. He has infinite goodness and mercy.
We don’t understand it, but how could it be? It is justice and it is mercy. Somebody very, very beautifully put it this way, “His justice is merciful and His mercy is just; He is justly merciful and mercifully just.” If we apply our brand of justice according to our understanding, according to the tradition of man, then, we won’t understand and we would probably go against the justice and the mercy of God. St. Paul warns us not to be deceived by the tradition and understanding of men because mercy triumphs over judgment. This is why we avail and we take advantage of it for ourselves and upon knowing it, we spread the good news of God’s goodness. This is why we keep asking; we keep seeking; we keep knocking so that we would understand it and be instruments of it.
Let us not misunderstand the parable today to say that prayer is about bombarding God and pestering Him with our requests so that He would come to a point and could not endure it anymore and He would just answer our prayer. God does not say to us, “Okay, I will answer your prayer so that you will stop asking about it.” This is not the emphasis of the parable. The emphasis is: we are to be consistent in our prayers and not grow weary and give up.
It is not the repetition of our prayer, but our attitude. Jesus said that the Gentiles and some religious leaders think that their many words would affect God and influence Him into answering their prayer. Jesus said, “They don’t affect God.” In Matthew 6, Jesus said that even before we ask, God already knows what we need. Yet, He wants us to pray. There must be something about prayer that He wants accomplished in us.
God is not annoyed by our constant pestering Him. On the contrary, Jesus said in the parable that God, our heavenly Father, is more gracious than we, earthly fathers, being evil. God is better than us who know how to give good gifts to our children. Psalm 138 says that He wants to accomplish what concerns us. It is not about bombarding the heaven’s gates with our prayers per se; it is about us aligning our hearts with that of God so that we become more and more after His own heart.
Constant and persistent prayer is not for our will to be done, but for His to be done. Our gospel today in Luke 11 was preceded by The Lord’s Prayer. The Prayer was given by Jesus, instructed by Jesus to His disciples and the essence of it is, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” It is not our will. We do not pray because we want our will done, but we want His will done. We keep asking and we constantly pray not until we get our way but so we increase in the knowledge and the love of God and increase in the understanding of His ways.
We sing, “When I find the joy of reaching Your heart; when my will becomes enthroned in Your love or my world becomes enthralled in Your love.” This is what constant prayer and communication with God does: we find the joy of reaching His heart understanding His will and His desire so that His desires become our desires. Psalm 37 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” These desires must align with His desires and we keep praying and asking and seeking and knocking so that as St. Paul says to his letter to the Colossians, “We are firmly rooted in Him.” It is not so that God can give a nice home, a nice car or a bigger appliance or a mate that would fit our qualifications. It is His will; not ours. We take deep root by persistent aligning of our heart and our desires to His will. This is accomplished through prayer and meditation. We pray the Word of God.
In the Parable of the Sower, as it is in Psalm 1, we meditate on God’s Word so that we become like a tree firmly planted, deeply rooted by streams of water. Colossians further say that we take deep root and then, we are built up individually and as a Church. We become instruments to spread God’s mercy and love.
In Acts 17, St. Paul says that God is the Lord of all and time is in His hands. He appoints time and boundaries. God is in control. Time, space, matter, world events, small events are in His hands. Our concept of time is linear – beginning and ending; chronos or chronological. Another concept of time is kairos, which simply mean in Biblical language – the fullness of time. It is not dependent on dates, but on the fullness of time. This fullness of time is the convergence of time, space, events, matter converging and intersecting with God’s course of action and His invitation to us to participate. God judges the right time. The harvest is ripe and plentiful; now is the time!
After 37 years, Cathedral of the King, this is the fullness of time. Now is the time for us to march upon the land. In God’s mind, did He say, “I will give these guys 37 years. They do not know what they are doing.” No, it is the fullness of God’s time. Somebody told us that after forty years, we will tread on the Promised Land.
If you are going through a struggle right now, God knows the boundary of that. If you are suffering injustice right now, God knows the boundary to that. We, as a nation, have been crying out for certain evils to be put to an end. God sets the boundaries for those. As He set the boundaries of the sea, “That far you should go,” He knows the boundaries and it is all in His hands. He ordains things until a certain boundary. The word “until” appears 549 times in the Bible and many of those times, the context is that God-appointed the deadline and the boundary. He is the Alpha and the Omega and He sets the key; He ordains it.
What do we until ‘the until’ we occupy? We busy ourselves and we develop a habit of asking, seeking and knocking. What Jesus actually meant when we are to seek and to knock is to keep asking, to keep seeking, and to keep knocking. We do not stop; we are to be constant about it.
I sense in my heart and I am not judging: we need to go back to a habit, to a lifestyle of prayer of seeking, of asking, and of knocking. If we have abandoned this before or we grew cold about it, this is the time for us to continue and to develop it. This is the reason we have Daily Office Prayer, the Lectionary, and also the reason we have Saturday night vigil were fathers are to preside. Didn't we have before what we call the ‘quiet time’? It was a prescribe one hour a day. We prayed and meditated on God’s goodness and His Word and sang. Now, we became liturgical and what did we do? We threw away the habit. We became dead liturgical people. It shouldn’t have been and it is not the fault of liturgy. Liturgy actually gave us more ability to equip us in our prayer.
The Lectionary is to ‘catholicize’ us. It sets a course for all of us to follow so that we are on the same journey and so that we all read the same Scriptures every day. I am not saying that we read outside of these Scriptures, but at least, we have readings from the Old Testament, from the Psalms, from the New Testament and the gospel. We all move on the same journey and we meditate on the same Word. We are supposed to be catholic – believed by all always and everywhere. This is why we have one liturgy. We are not limited to this, but it is an aid for us.
Asking in prayer is only one aspect of prayer. The bigger part is our active participation. It is wrong to just lift it all to God so that we can rest and we do nothing. We do the seeking; we do the knocking; we do the asking until we find the door open for us. We are like children that we would find something for a few seconds and we will say, “I can’t find it.” No, keep asking; keep seeking; keep knocking. Don’t seek for ten seconds.
God, Who promised, is faithful. If we seek, we will find; if we knock at the door, it will be opened to us. If we ask, it shall be given to us; but, we align our desires with God’s will. It is active participation, but we depend on the grace of God. We do so until He comes again, and this is in God’s hands, in the fullness of time.
I know what will happen at that time. The word eschatology means the destiny of all things and my eschatology is very simple: I believe one day all things will be restored because Acts says that Jesus will return until the restoration of all things. I know that God will not rest until that happens. It is very characteristic of Him – He doesn’t give up on us. One day, I know that in the fullness of time, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord. I don’t know how it will happen because it is the Lord’s doing and it will be marvelous in our eyes. We would like to be part of it and He is inviting us to participate. One day, the earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea in the fullness of time and you and I will have the privilege of being part of it.
Until then, we keep asking, we keep seeking, we keep knocking, and we keep pressing on with the goal of being like Jesus, the embodiment of who God is – His compassion, His faithfulness, His mercy, His love and His commitment because this is the way it is in God’s kingdom.