Asking for a Gift to Give — 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time—Year C

Remember last Sunday, when Abraham hosted three mysterious visitors from Heaven. Once they had agreed to Abraham’s offer to serve them a meal can you recall the first thing Abraham did? “Abraham hastened into the tent and told Sarah, ‘Quick, three measures of fine flour! Knead it and make rolls.'” How much were “three measures of flour” back then? Through a scripture commentary, I learned that this was about half a bushel, or like twenty pounds of flour. That’s enough to make about twelve of the loaves of bread we buy at the grocery store these days. So, Abraham served about a dozen loaves of bread to three guests. Now I’m as much a fan of unlimited breadstick deals as anybody, but when was the last time you ate four loaves-worth of bread in one sitting? Abraham knew these were extraordinary guests, so he set an extraordinary meal before them. And perhaps he intended to give them all the leftover loaves as a further gift to God.

I wondered about those “three measures of flour” because of Jesus’ parable today: Suppose you have a friend to whom you go at midnight and say, “Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, for a friend of mine has arrived at my house…” So we have a meal with three measures and a parable with three loaves. Three measures of flour for the Lord, and three loaves of bread for a friend. I perceive that these things are connected, but more on that later.

Immediately preceding this parable, Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray. You surely noticed that the Our Father prayer in Luke differs from Matthew’s more familiar version. This is providential. If the two texts were exactly the same, some Christians might mistake Jesus’ example as being our only permissible prayer. But Jesus does not give the Our Father as a magic formula or incantation, but as a model for our approach and attitude to prayer. In Matthew’s version, the prayer begins with “Our Father.” He is not mine, but ours, because he calls us to salvation together. Luke’s version simply begins with “Father”; not “Master,” as though we were merely his slaves; not “Ruler,” as though we were merely his subjects; but “Father,” because we are his children. The prayer’s petitions are direct requests, simple requests, profound requests. For example, consider: “Give us each day our daily bread.” It’s straight-forward, basic, yet deep when you contemplate “our daily bread” as a symbol for all of our constant bodily and spiritual needs. And notice something else that these petitions have in common: “hallowed be your name,” “your kingdom come,” “forgive us our sins.” Each is asking God for something that God already desires for us. They are each a part of his plan already.

Who are we supposed to be like in Jesus’ parable? Surely it’s the persistently asking and seeking door-knocker. Because Jesus says, immediately after this parable, “And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

And who is God represented by in this parable? Naturally, the man in the house whose gifts can be gained through asking. Indeed, God is on the other side of Heaven’s door. And even at midnight, in the darkest hour, we can call on him for help. His children inside, the saints and angels who rest peacefully in his house, join their voices to ours when we persistently ask for good things on earth. But God is surely not like this annoyed neighbor in saying, “Do not bother me… I cannot get up to give you anything.” Jesus’ mode of teaching here is from the lesser to the greater. If this annoyed neighbor can be persuaded to give, how much more can God who already desires to give. Likewise, Jesus says, “If you, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?

The request for three loaves and Abraham’s request for three measures suggests another character like the Lord in this parable: “Lend me three loaves of bread, for a friend of mine has arrived at my house from a journey and I have nothing to offer him.” Mystically speaking, this visiting friend is the Lord. For Jesus says, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” Jesus says, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.” And Jesus says to the early Church’s persecutor, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Jesus is mystically present in every Christian and within in his Church. Thinking of God as represented in this parable by both the homeowner and the visiting friend reveals a dynamic that could change how you relate to prayer.

When you pray for some good thing, when you ask some worthy blessing for yourself, someone else, or even billions of people at once, are you not praying for the greater glory of God among us? What prayer would he, could he, possibly grant you that would not also glory him? Furthermore, what can we offer him that is entirely of ourselves? The man in the parable asks his neighbor for loaves for his friend because “I have nothing to offer him.” As St. Paul asked the Corinthians, “What do you possess that you have not received?” It’s been said that to truly make an apple pie from scratch, you have to recreate the universe. Like Abraham asking Sarah for loaves for his holy guests, like the man in the parable asking for a loan of bread, every good prayer—whatever it may be—is asking for a gift to be gifted to the Lord. It’s like asking your dad for money to buy him a gift for Father’s Day. It’s for his own glory, so you don’t have to persuade or coerce him, he loves you and already wants to give. Which raises a question: if God already wants to give, then why doesn’t God always give immediately in answer to our prayers?

Sometimes God waits for the right time to grant our requests. If you bought your mom the perfect Christmas gift, you might desperately want to give it to her right now, but you would realize that the very best time for her to open it comes later. Would you rather have you prayer answered right now or at the best and perfect moment?

Sometimes God is storing up the accumulated reservoir of your prayers so that once the floodgates are opened a torrent will be unleashed. St. Monica prayed for her sinful, wayward son for years, and when he finally converted he was not merely saved but went on to become the priest, bishop, and great doctor and father of the Church we know as St. Augustine of Hippo. Would you rather have your prayer answered in a small way now or in an overwhelmingly incredible way later?

Sometimes it we must pray persistently, rather than just asking once and setting the request aside, for the powerful influence of that continued offering. On one occasion in the gospels, there was a demon afflicting a boy that the disciples could not exorcise. After Jesus cast out the demon his disciples asked why they were unable. Jesus is written to have answered them, “This kind can only come out through prayer and fasting.” Last week we heard St. Paul tell the Colossians, “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the Church”. It’s not that Jesus’ Passion is insufficient, but that God allows our offered sufferings and sacrifices to have a vital role in Christ’s work of saving souls. Patient, persistent prayer is a sacrifice we offer with him.

In conclusion, the Father, our Father, already wants to give, for the praise and glory of his name, for our good and the good of all his holy Church. So let us not hesitate, but let us persist, in asking good things from Him who loves us.

One Response to “Asking for a Gift to Give — 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time—Year C”

  1. pussywillowpress Says:

    Well said, Father :)!

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