I cringe when I hear a bad homily. Recently the celebrant preached on being persistent in prayer. Using a real-life example of someone pleading with God for a cure of a brother’s terminal cancer, the homilist sent the message that if you try really hard to convince God of what you want, God will eventually give in.
This is magical thinking, not Christian faith. In today’s Gospel, if read in snippets, you might conclude that sheer determination will get you what you want. This ignores the deeper quest Jesus wants us to have: to totally trust God.
In the few paragraphs before today’s Gospel Jesus teaches us how to pray. The first request of the “Our Father” is for God’s reign to come, not our reign. We plead to not be led “into testing” which, presumably, would lead us away or against what God wants. Both of these prayers of petition require total surrender our agendas in preference to God’s agenda.
Indeed, the core message of our faith is the cross. At the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus pleaded with his Father to escape the cross, to be spared the tortuous, cruel death on a wooden beam raised between two outcast criminals.
His plea went unanswered. His Father had a different idea. Jesus was slaughtered in a very public display before the people of Jerusalem, the same people who, a few days before, had welcomed him with a rally along the city streets, shouting praises and waving tree branches in joy.
The wisdom of God recognizes that we humans do not always perceive what is best for ourselves. We are “stupid” in Paul’s words from today’s Epistle reading (although I wish he had not used such a shaming word). Accepting what God hands us is sometimes very difficult, as with the man in the bad homily whose brother had terminal cancer. But, alone with God in prayer, a wisdom can be born, only by God’s grace, that draws us into a closer union with God as we accept sufferings, disappointments and even death as ways to resurrection.
Perhaps this is what Jesus means when he says, “Now if you, wicked as you are, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more your father will give the Holy Spirit from heaven to those who ask him.”
Let us pray today for the wisdom of this Spirit and for the grace to totally trust God in every circumstance of our lives.
Jim Wayne is a board member of the Passionist Solidarity Network (PSN), and author of The Unfinished Man. He lives in Louisville, Kentucky.