There is an American writer called Scott Hahn, who used to be a Presbyterian and extremely anti-Catholic, but through his own studies ended up converting and becoming a Catholic. He is a brilliant writer and teacher on the faith. His own conversion story called Rome Sweet Home, is well worth reading. He now writes and teaches as a Catholic theologian in Stubenville University. In one of his CDs he mentions that he had arranged to have a public debate with a Muslim about the differences between the two faiths. Before they had the debate he met the Muslim and he mentioned to him that he would be talking about the fact that Christians understand God as a loving Father who looks after his children. Before he was able to go any farther, he said that the other man got upset and said that it is not right to talk about God as a Father. He said God is master and that it was insulting to speak about him as Father. The Muslim ended up refusing to have the debate at all. Scott says that this really brought home to him the difference in the way we understand God.
Jesus taught us to talk about and address God in a way that was strange and almost scandalous, for many people then and now. The Jews in Jesus’ time were scandalised that Jesus would talk about God as Father, especially the way Jesus used the word ‘Abba’. Once when I was in Israel I remember hearing a boy address his dad as ‘Abba’. It was amazing for me to hear this and it really brought home to me what it meant. The idea of addressing God as ‘daddy’ is still strange to us, and yet that’s what Jesus did.
While God is all-powerful and doesn’t need us in any way, yet He chooses to have us involved in what happens in the world. He asks us to take part in his creation, by interceding for each other, by being responsible for our actions. That is very much the action of a good parent with their child. Any parent doesn’t need their children’s help, especially when the children are small, but they love to allow the children to take part in things, for the sheer joy of having them there and helping them to learn. God does the same with us, even though there is the risk of us making a mess of things, which we regularly do.
In the first reading Abraham intercedes for the people of the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah, which God is threatening to destroy and in the classic Middle-Eastern way, he bargains his way down to the best deal. The wonderful thing is that God is happy to let him do this. God showed him what He intended to do, so that Abraham would intercede for those people. He wanted Abraham to be involved. He wants us to be involved in his world. He wants us to pray and intercede for the world around us and you are in exactly the right place to pray for those around you. You may be the only one who is praying for those people. Take it seriously. We have been blessed with the gift of faith and that is part of what God asks us to do; to intercede for those around us.
In the New Testament, Jesus brought this idea to a new level. He taught us that of course God is going to help us and listen when we ask him for help, and he spoke about it in terms of parents looking after their children. ‘Ask and you will receive. The one who asks always receives.’
Now the question comes up with most of us, ‘How come I’m always asking for things and they often aren’t answered?’ God can see a much bigger picture than we can, and what we ask for is not always the wisest thing to ask for. If your eight year old son asked for a chainsaw for his birthday, would you give it to him? of course not. The child may think that you are really mean and never give him what he asks for, but you can see a bigger picture than he can, because you are older and wiser. God is the same with us. God does answer our prayers, otherwise Jesus is a liar, but He doesn’t always answer them in the way that we expect, or understand, or even recognise. That is where we have to believe and trust that God knows what He is doing and God is looking after us.
When the disciples ask Jesus to teach them how to pray, He gives them the Our Father. Note, they didn’t ask him for ‘a prayer’, but a way of praying. So this is teaching us how to pray; a question which people often ask. The first half of the Our Father is acknowledging God, his holiness and that his will may be done. Only in the second half do we ask for our needs. So even if you only take that much away from the Our Father, remember to always start by praising and thanking God for all that we have before you ask for what you need. That’s why at the beginning of the mass each Sunday, we pray the Gloria. We praise and acknowledge God. It is only after listening to the readings that we ask for our own needs in the intercessions. This is how God teaches us to pray.
Perhaps the most unexpected thing of all is the way that Jesus teaches us to pray to the point of being annoying, the way a child will keep asking you for the same thing until you give in. This is how Jesus tells us to pray. Be persistent, until God gives in!
For everyone who asks, receives;
and the one who seeks, finds;
and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.