Albert Einstein was once at a lecture in New York when, as it finished, a student who wanted to go and study for a doctorate asked him what area of study he could recommend. Einstein replied, “Study prayer; we have got to find out more about prayer.” The student, himself a scientist, was gobsmacked; he thought the Nobel Prize winner and world famous physicist would point him towards nuclear studies or further work on the atom but no, he recommended prayer.
Today we encounter Jesus’ teaching on prayer, which is more radical, challenging and life-changing than we may at first realize because it encourages an approach or attitude to prayer which we might not share or even appreciate. The Lord Jesus positively and unambiguously encourages a bold, confident, even brazen attitude towards approaching God in prayer. The Lord wants us to cultivate a way of praying that is hopeful, expectant and sure of God’s goodness and generosity.
No prayer captures this more beautifully and perfectly than the Our Father, which the Lord himself taught us to pray. The Our Father is the Magna Carta, the blueprint, for all prayer. Despite being so short and compact, it encapsulates the essence of prayer and the very heart of our relationship with God. St Augustine said of the Our Father: “If you run through the petitions of all holy prayers, I believe you will find nothing that is not summed up and contained in the Lord’s Prayer.” Jesus further uses the story about a bold and persistent neighbour, who has the hind of a rhino and simply refuses to take no for an answer, to reveal that God the Father is not like the unwilling neighbour, but is a generous, kind and benevolent provider for his children’s needs.
‘Who is God?’ and ‘What is God like?’ are the most important questions we can ask. Today’s Gospel sheds a dazzling light on these eternal questions. We discover who God is more through prayer than any other spiritual exercise, for it is in prayer that the Spirit works in us to expand not just our minds but our hearts, our imagination and our horizons.
‘The Lord’s Prayer is the best of all prayers. All prayer requires five excellent qualities which we find here – our prayer needs to be confident, ordered, suitable, devout and humble.’ (St Thomas Aquinas)
Extract from Bible Alive for Sunday 28th July 2019 – 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time.