Homily – 17th Sunday Ordinary Time (Fr. Smith)

It is often said that the family that prays together, stays together. This brings back memories of praying the rosary around my parent’s bed during May and October when I was a child. Members of our young family group have told me of their adaptations of family prayer. It is so important that Jesus recognized it and gave us the Lord’s Prayer as our “family prayer”. There is enough here for 5 sermons so we will limit ourselves to: how we are a family, what kind of family are we, and how will we know we are praying it well? 

We are a family because Jesus has made a covenant with us. A covenant is a sharing of life and is open ended. It is not a contract. A contract has definite stipulations that must be met, a covenant is a pledge to walk together. A covenant always requires a sacrifice. We commemorate this at every Mass which creates, as we say at the consecration, a “new and everlasting covenant”.  

Jesus and Luke’s audience knew that they were forming a covenant with the LORD and would have immediately thought that they were entering his household. They recognized themselves as weak and dependent on the LORD for safety. In the Book of Genesis Abram makes a covenant with the LORD, he pledges himself to Him and the LORD promises to protect him. This imbalance of power is true with Jesus and his disciples as well. At the beginning of the prayer, we say: “Hallowed be thy name”.  Hallowed means to “Make holy”. Holiness acknowledges separateness and power. It demands deference and indeed worship. We do not make God holy, we can neither make him greater nor smaller. Therefore, he uses the divine Passive – “hallowed by your name”. When the past tense is used of God it means that he and he alone is acting. The LORD’ is beyond our understanding and his holiness is our experience of this extraordinary difference and power. Our response is best expressed by the Psalmist: “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). We are joining the household of God because we know that he is great and mighty and with him is, again to quote a psalm, “plenteous redemption”. (130:7) 

Yet Jesus’s first word is Father.  The formal word for Father was used by Jews to express the connection of the entire people or the King to the LORD. It would have been extraordinary enough for Jesus to use that for an individual, but it is unprecedented that he uses the most informal and endearing term: “Abba”. It is baby talk like our “dada” or daddy. We understand this only if we are a bit conflicted by it. How comfortable would you be praying: Daddy, creator and sustainer of the universe”? 

The paradox is intentional. We are acknowledging that we have formed a covenant with the all-powerful LORD whose love “moves the sun and the other stars”, with whom there is a gulf so wide that we can never cross it, whose holiness is so great that the Jews quite wisely would not say his name out loud. This God we call “daddy”. By the sacrifice of Jesus, we form a relationship with God so intimate that its best analogy is parent and child, indeed infant.  

Luke recognizes that as with so much else Jesus has made all things new. When Jesus rose from the dead, he gave us new life. This life will be fulfilled in heaven but is truly present now and expressing it will stretch language to its limits.  

The two final passages of today’s reading are an example of what this new life really means here and now. 

The Father loves us so much that he gave his only son for us, and he wants a relationship with us every day and with every part of our being. This is the stuff of mysticism. There are many more people who have had mystical experiences than we might imagine but most of us are not mystics, so Luke uses a down to earth example.  

The average person in the ancient near east would have bolted his door at night with his entire family and perhaps even animals with him in one big room. Even to get 3 loaves of bread, no problem during the day, would have been a major problem at night. Jesus is telling us somewhat humorously not to stand on ceremony with the Father. Come to him at any time for anything. Also, just as asking for things develops a relationship with our parents so it does with the LORD. We are never at the stage when we are too great for the prayer of petition. (see note below) 

He further develops this in the next section. The Father can provide all things and will grant you what will help you but will never give you what will hurt you. Children often have eyes bigger than their stomachs. If we gave them every piece of candy, they wanted we would have universal diabetes. Then toys, then cars, then houses. A mature parent will not keep children immature. So too with the Father. We will get what we need to be mature people. 

We will know what that is by the Kingdom of God. We pray “your kingdom come”. This is once more the divine passive. The LORD will bring his kingdom and we will become the human beings the LORD has called to be by participating in it.  The kingdom is already here but its fullness is yet to come.  That will be when there is perfect harmony between God and humanity, humanity itself and humanity and nature.  

The Lord’s prayer is prayed well when his family assists in making the world more harmonious, more peaceful. Our efforts may seem small but think how different life would be if Christians worked to create a world in which the hungry were fed, the naked were clothed, the sick were given care and those without a roof were sheltered? (Matt 25)  

Note on Prayer of Petition: 

“Everybody needs help: Petitionary Prayer” Chapter 7 “Learning to Pray “ A guide for everyone James Martin (Harper 1: 2021) We read this book at our book-club and this was a very helpful chapter,