“Parrhesia (Humble Boldness) and the Lord’s Prayer,” (Luke 11) (7/28/2019)
Fr. Ignatius John Schweitzer, OP
What is at the heart of Christian prayer? For an answer, there is no better place to turn than to the Master, Jesus himself. The disciples themselves turn to Jesus with a similar question: “Lord, teach us to pray.” Jesus’ response, in our Gospel today, places the relationship of the Son to the Father at the heart of prayer, filial communion we might say. We pray to God as Father because Jesus, the only begotten Son, has drawn us into his own relationship with God the Father.
At the heart of Christian prayer is Jesus himself, drawing us into his own prayer to the Father—breathing into us His own Spirit, by which we cry out “Abba, Father!” Prayer is communion with the Trinity. It is union with Jesus who draws us up to the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Catechism says, “Prayer is the living relationship of the children of God with their Father who is good beyond measure, with his Son Jesus Christ and with the Holy Spirit” (2565)
In our Gospel, right after Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer, we have a couple of parables that shed light on the Lord’s prayer. The verses which follow the Lord’s Prayer act as a sort of echo chamber: they amplify and set in melody the various chords struck in the Lord’s Prayer. They help us appreciate the full meaning of the prayer.
These parables engender in us a bold faith which opens us to God’s unmerited generosity and his faithful providence. Like music, which pulls us into its ‘mood’, these verses draw us into the disposition of childlike trust. Through their extreme examples and hyperbolic language, they instill in us the confidence to mean it when we call God our Father. These verses are especially focused on engendering a Son-like disposition—a childlike faith in the Father who exceeds all human standards. This alone is able to receive the good God’s unmerited generosity and faithful provision in our lives.
We have the parable of bold man who asks for bread of his friend. It is a bold gesture to awaken his friend who is already asleep and shut up in his home for the night. He could not do the same with a king or his boss. But in the relationship of friendship, he asks his friend for bread. And he receives from his friend.
The second parable is another example of boldness in asking and receiving, seeking and finding, and knocking and the door being opened. A father is more than willing to give gifts to his son.
These two parables, along with the Lord’s prayer, teach us to have a childlike boldness and confidence in approaching God the Father. For, we do so as adopted sons and daughters. We do so, united to the divine Son, Jesus, and in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Catechism says, “This power of the Spirit who introduces us to the Lord’s Prayer is expressed…by the beautiful, characteristically Christian expression: [the Greek word] parrhesia, [or] straightforward simplicity, filial trust, joyous assurance, humble boldness, the certainty of being loved. (#2778).
An easily missed detail of the first parable is interesting within this context. As the man stands outside the house calling for help, the parable notes that the children are with the father inside the house (11:7). That is the main point of prayer, to enjoy that intimacy of children with their father inside the house, to gain entrance into the inner chamber of the Father’s house.
So in knocking, seeking, and asking, the reason for persistence is not so much attaining the object of our prayers as much as continuing an intimate conversation with our Heavenly Father. As the parable continues with speaking of the son who asks for a fish and egg, Jesus does not care to mention him receiving these as much as him receiving the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit who is that communion of love between the Father and Son. It is an intimate, filial relationship with God that is maintained and cultivated in persistently asking, seeking, and knocking.
For us, what is most important tends to be the receiving, the finding, and the door being opened. But for the Lord who hears our prayers it is probably often our asking, seeking, and knocking that’s most important. When we really need something or greatly desire something, doesn’t our prayer become more ardent? Aren’t we united to the Lord a bit more whole-heartedly? The asking, seeking, and knocking, draws us ever deeper into God.
Finally, it is noteworthy that Jesus’ discourse begins with the key word Father and concludes with mention of the Holy Spirit, while he himself, the Son, mediates between the disciples and God throughout the discourse.
We began by asking, What is at the heart of Christian prayer? We have found that the better question is Who is at the heart of Christian prayer? Jesus Christ mediates the dialogue between God and man. Through the Spirit of adoption, we participate in the Son’s own relationship to the Father and so receive every good gift. These gifts are nothing but a share in the superabundant goodness exchanged among Father, Son, and Spirit in the life of the Trinity.