In just about every Eucharist, worshippers are invited to pray the timeless words of “The Lord’s Prayer” with this phrase:
And now as our Savior Christ has taught us, we are bold to say: Our Father…
And the thing is, when we consider the rather astonishing notion that we should and can communicate – – directly, intimately, instantly — with the Omnipotent Creator of the universe, we ARE being bold.
Yet, as we read in the Gospel from a few Sundays ago (Luke 11:1-13), that is precisely the posture that Jesus advises his followers to take, when one of them asks how to pray. After acknowledging the holiness of his father’s name, Jesus is all about imperatives. The words he uses to instruct those around him boldly include a list of directives: Come. Give. Forgive. Lead. Deliver. Jesus apparently doesn’t see the need to say the word “please” to “Our Father in Heaven” even once, given a relationship that is so pure and so thorough, and in which (and in Whom) he feels so purely and thoroughly known.
Just to make the point inescapable, Jesus goes on to tell a ridiculous story that suggests that prayer may include being somewhat of a pest. When we pray, says Jesus, it is like a friend who bangs on a neighbor’s door at night, asking to borrow some food to give an unexpected guest. “Who cares if it’s late at night?” Jesus seems to say. Regardless of the chronological time of day, Jesus more than anyone knows the proverbial “dark night of the soul” can take place 24/7, and that just happens to be the Lord’s office hours.
The sleepy neighbor from behind closed doors tries to rebuff the pestering nuisance from next door, yelling at him that he’s already in bed and his children are asleep, and the dog and cat are in, and he’s taken his Tylenol PM, and the alarm system has been set, yadda yadda, yadda. And yet, the pest keeps boldly banging the door, and because of his “importunity” (what a great word), the pesky fellow gets his way and the bleary-eyed and exasperated neighbor eventually lets him in, to serve him in his hour of need.
Again, Jesus seems to be saying “It doesn’t matter that you might be feeling rejected by the voice you think you are hearing on high, or you think God is asleep and you are hearing no heavenly voices at all, or you are hearing God’s voice loud and clear and all It is saying to you is ‘Go away and leave me alone!’,” Jesus assures them. He explains that “…every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” (Luke 11:13.)
Maybe Jesus was influenced by that sublime story of Jewish bargaining that was the Old Testament lesson (Genesis 18:20-33) for that same Sunday when the Lord’s Prayer in Luke was the Gospel. With no shortage of truly comical buttering up, Abraham talks Yahweh back from the ledge, striking a deal to spare Sodom from fire and brimstone if he could find some “righteous” folk there. At first, The Lord’s bottom line is 50. Then 45. Then 40. Then 30. Then 20. We can’t be sure of whether it was Abraham or the Lord who grew more tired of the bargaining, but both went their separate ways after the bargain basement price got to 10.
Jesus’ point to his disciples (and I am both comforted and poked when I get the fact that this group includes me) seems to be to keep asking. Even if I am not sure what I should be asking for…keep at it! Keep seeking, even if the right words (or the right requests) elude me. Keep searching my heart, and for God’s Heart, even if I sometimes I question the relevance — if not the existence — of either or both.
In short, Jesus is telling me — KEEP KNOCKING…BOLDLY!
God can take it.