Now that’s a Gospel passage that most investment counselors would prefer we not hear.
Whenever I read this passage I can’t help but think about my ancestors. All my grandparents were immigrants, and three of the four came from families of dirt farmers in Ireland. The same is true of Diane’s family. Her grandparents and their ancestors before them were all poor dirt farmers in Georgia. Yes, I can’t help but think of all they went through, not to become rich, but just to survive. Unlike the wealthy farmer in today’s parable, they knew how dependent they were on God.
But for him, the rich man, and unfortunately for many of us today, it’s easy to fall prey to the temptation of seeing both our survival and our success in strictly human terms. Yes, it’s tempting to believe that we really are the masters of our own fate, that we are personally responsible for all the good, all the earthly success, in our lives.
Pope Benedict recently wrote that “Fear of God is the beginning of true wisdom.”
Now, he didn’t mean the kind of fear we see in a child who is terrified of something that goes bump in the night. No, He meant the fear that manifests itself as a respect for the ultimate authority of our Creator. For that’s where the word “authority” comes from – from the word “author” and God is the author, the author of all.
God alone is the author of life and death, and this is something our ancestors understood. They understood their total dependence on God and they trusted in His mercy.
But there’s no way that someone who has a real relationship with God can think that way. There’s no way that someone who has a true prayer life can think that way. I’m pretty sue the rich man in the parable had no prayer life.
For it’s only through prayer, brothers and sisters, that we can come to know God’s will for us. It’s only through prayer that we can come to want what God wants. And in prayer, as in all things, Jesus is our model. Although He is God, the second Person of the Trinity, He exercises His power only in dependence on the Father.
Recall that striking miracle, the resurrection of the dead Lazarus, and how Jesus prayed: “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I know that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd, that they may believe that you sent me.” It’s this all-powerful intercession we rely on when we pray in Jesus’ name, when we conform our prayer to His.
You see, what Jesus is really telling us is that our prayer must be an act of simple trust, the kind of trust you see in the face of a child who knows his parent will never harm him. And like that child, we often don’t know what’s good or bad for us. But God, the good parent, tells us, “Trust me. You’ll thank me for it later.”
You and I can teach God nothing, but we can ask everything of Him, entrusting to Him the judgment of our real needs. Indeed, it’s our duty to ask, to pray; for we are His children, we should want to receive everything from His hand. Certainly, we can ask God for specific things, but more important is to enter into His presence in silence and solitude of heart. For the Father dwells in the depths of your soul, at the very center of your being, created in His image. We can best reach Him only when we grow silent.
The purpose of Christian prayer is to enter here and now into a deeper and ever more real relationship with God. This is true Christian prayer: a movement of the spirit to a place where I am near Him, into His very presence. And so we shouldn’t think of prayer as some form of mental communication. Rather, it’s a joining of hearts, a sharing of love between Father and child. Interior silence and the ability to love God in a kind of nakedness of spirit are gifts of the Holy Spirit, sent by the Father, and promised to us by the revelation of His Son that “Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.”
And He is Our Father – not just mine, not just yours, but ours. By the very fact that we are put into relationship with God, as sons and daughters of the Father, we find ourselves in relationship with one another.
Alfred Delp, a Jesuit priest imprisoned and executed by the Nazis during World War II, was made poignantly aware of this. Condemned and kept in solitary confinement, he wrote:
“We never see each other – the whispered words of fellow sufferers and friends are denied us…We have come to the end of all things where man is utterly on his own. And the old truism, it is not good for man to be alone, applies especially to this situation and this dark hour,
"I would so love to shout across to another cliff where a friend sits equally isolated. But the words do not carry…But then – we utter OUR Father – and all at once the chasm is spanned. Suddenly we see the truth that in God, through God, we have always possessed the shortest route to reach our neighbor …to be at one with all who pray and believe and love.”
You see, brothers and sisters, true Christian prayer is always concerned with something other than ourselves. By its very nature, it is concerned with the welfare of others. And because we Christians pray to Our Father, we are, by our very words, praying together. In this sense, then, no Christian can pray without all Christians praying.
The Fatherhood of God is perhaps the deepest mystery of our faith, at the very heart of His revelation. And with this revelation, Jesus once again turns our world upside down. He combines awe with intimacy and gives God a name holier than all other names because it reveals the deepest secret of God’s being. It reveals His Fatherhood. It is as Father that God is holy. It is as Father that He begets, loves, and adopts other children in His one Child, His Son whom He sent to be one of us.
This is why Abba – Daddy – is the sweetest word to God’s ear. This is why it especially pleases God, when we approach Him with intimate trust as Our Father -- because in doing so our first movement of the Spirit is to Him and to others, rather than ourselves.
And so our prayer expresses our gratitude for having been adopted in Christ, and a desire that all people share in the grace of that adoption: Do for others, Lord, what You have done for us by revealing your name to them.
Can any other prayer please God more?