WEEKDAY HOMILY FOR TUESDAY OF THE 1ST WEEK OF LENT
THEME: DO NOT PRAY LIKE THEM!
BY: Fr. Benedict Agbo
HOMILY: * Is 55 : 10 – 11, Mk 6 : 7 – 15.
‘A poor self image or poor God image! These are the two major blocks which prevent most people from relating to God’. So says the theologian, Vima Dasan. Our subconscious fear of God (especially as learnt from our African traditional religion), makes us keep God at arm’s length. And even when we must contact him, we need to do that through a diviner (dibia afa), priest (dibia aja) or healer (dibia ogwu).
Jesus warns us in today’s gospel pericope (and in the entire sermon on the mountain), against bad prayer, bad fasting and bad offering ; 3 costly mistakes that Christians have continued to make. Today, let’s talk about bad prayer. What prayer is not, according to Christ , is babbling – heaping up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, thinking that they will be heard for their many words. Vima Dasan puts it succinctly : ‘It is not the arithmetic of our prayer (how many they are) ; It is not the rhetoric (how eloquent) ; It is not the geometry (how long) ; It is not the music (how sweet they sound), which God cares for. Faith is what counts in prayer ‘.
Good prayer is predicated upon the theology of sonship ; Seeking in prayer the following 5 elements of sonship ; (i) The father’s glory, (ii) The father’s will, (iii) The children’s daily bread, (iv) The children’s right to receive forgiveness when they err, and (v) The children’s right of protection /deliverance from evil.
According to Ward Beecher : ‘One knows not how much to admire the prayer – Our Father – its loftiness of spirit, its comprehensiveness, its brevity, its simplicity, or its union of human and Divine elements. The Church has worn it for hundreds of years upon her boss
The OUR FATHER is a prayer full of spirituality, comprehensiveness, brevity, simplicity with both divine and human elements. Our prayers do not need to be self centered ( St James made that point in James 4 : 1 – 4) and they do not need to be extrinsic ( Jesus made that point at his sermon on the mountain, Matt 6 : 5 – 7).This prayer sample that Jesus gave us can at best be simply divided into 2 sections of interest ;
1. DIVINE ELEMENT ; The attention we should pay to our father in prayer should focus on hallowing HIS NAME, enthroning HIS KINGDOM and surrendering to HIS WILL.
2. HUMAN ELEMENT ; Our prayer should also address our human needs as follows ; our basic material needs and our basic spiritual needs ( forgiveness of our sins) and grace to overcome all temptations ( both from the devil, ourselves and our society).
But quite unfortunately, most Christians have got the entire project of praying all wrong ; they are too selfish about prayer, too hypocritical about it, too regimental, too passionate and even lacking the requisite faith in God as our father and to make matters worse, they pray without forgiving those who trespass against them. Some Church authorities also try to over rubricate prayers forgetting that what Jesus gave us is a sample for us to creatively replicate in form of praises, prayer of surrender, petition, forgiveness and deliverance.
The real Christian is the doer of the Word. Today’s 1st reading affirms the fact that all that God has said in his Word must be fulfilled. None shall return to him void. His will is that true believers excel in the quality of their prayer life, fasting and offering. We must trust God truly as our father. We must bear in mind that every temptation is a challenge on our sonship and prayer isp the best way of maintaining the quality of this sonship.
Let’s learn from today’s 1st reading that as God’s Word does not return to him unfulfilled, when we say the ‘Our Father’ or imitate its format, we are wielding God’s mighty power, we are assured that God will grant us our basic needs, forgive our sins and not test us beyond our ability to bear. In Our Lord’s prayer we relate with God as our providing God (Jehova jireh), our forgiving God and our delivering God.
And let me say finally that when you look round and see so many Christians praying like the Gentiles do ; like our forefathers did ; like our diviners & fortune tellers do ; or as many modern churches do today, do not join them. Do not be like them! Do not pray like them!
May God bless you today!
FR BEN AGBO