By: Fr. Cristiano Barbosa
Abraham became for the people of Israel the model of the one who knows how to pray. Even though to bargain was a typical feature of the culture of the time, what the scene reveals is more than a business negotiation between two parties. The apparent negotiation between Abraham and God over the fate of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, in truth, reveals a beautiful dialogue between two friends. Abraham’s respectful intercession for the sinful people shows that prayer is a relationship built on trust and love, marked by mutual respect and acknowledgment of the difference between him and God. Abraham is the beloved friend of God (cf. Daniel 3:35) who trusts and knows he will be listened to by his beloved Lord. We learn that prayer always requires intimacy, honesty, truthfulness, and love.
The prayerful dialogue between Abraham and God demonstrates that God wants to save his people from the path of destruction chosen by them. The presence of righteous persons among a multitude of unfaithful people would save them all. It foretells what, in fact, happened in and through Jesus, the only righteous one among us. Because of him, the just one, we were all saved from death. This is exactly the point of today’s second reading from the letter of St. Paul to the Colossians. The Apostle teaches us in this passage that we were saved by Jesus’ righteousness. Not because of our own justice, but because of Jesus’ holiness, we were saved. In Jesus, God’s faithful love anticipated our capacity to even ask for forgiveness: “…even when you were dead in transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, Jesus brought you to life along with him, having forgiven us all our transgressions.” (Col. 2:13).
In the entire Gospel of Saint Luke, Jesus is presented as the one who prays to the Father, especially in the most decisive moments of his life. One of these moments is at the beginning of this Sunday’s Gospel: “He was praying in a certain place, and when he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples.’” (Lk 11:1). At that point, Jesus is being followed by his disciples on his long and last journey toward Jerusalem to accomplish God’s will (Lk 9:51—19:27). As the disciples are being formed by the Lord on the journey, they feel the need to learn how to pray as Jesus does. They knew the old practices of prayer were not bringing them any closer to God (not the God revealed by Jesus!), so they wanted to learn Jesus’ new way of relating to God. They wanted the same intimacy Jesus was showing that He has with God. They desired to be part of that new reality that Jesus was presenting! Then, Jesus told them: “When you pray, say: FATHER …” (Lk 11:2). Jesus taught them that God is OUR Father, and this puts all of us – Jesus’ disciples then and today! — into a new reality: in prayer, we are to be children who actually are in a relationship with OUR Father. The understanding that God is our Father changes our way of understanding Him and relating to Him. The newness brought by Jesus is a new way of relating to God. This new relationship with God changes everything: our understanding of Him and of ourselves. If He is our Father, we are His children. And, as a Father, God does not want to exchange anything with us, His children. He is not interested in doing business with us. What is proper for this paternal relationship between God and us is LOVE. The Father loves us. More: the Father loved us first. He always anticipates us with His gratuitous love as it is proper for a true father. By knowing this, the only possible response we can give to God as His children is also gratuitous love.
What Jesus decisively teaches us all is that to be his disciples is the same as to be God’s children. In this our journey toward the heavenly Jerusalem, the more we become true disciples of Jesus, the more we must accept that God is our Father, and even more, we have to live as His children, as brothers and sisters. Through and in prayer, we enter into a unique relationship of love with God. His love for us is always greater than ours. He loves us perfectly, even though we will never be able to love him the same way. In the dialogue of prayer, we enter into the presence of the one who anticipated our capacity for any loving response, but who still believes we can respond with love. Therefore, when we pray to God, our Father, we should always remember that we do not need to exchange anything with Him. Prayer is not a formal business contract between two parties, but a true and life-giving relationship of love where/when we, the children, are just learning how to be and to love more like our Father.