17th Sunday

17th Sunday 2019

Genesis 18:20-32; Colossians 2:12-24; Luke 11:1-13

Have I told you about Terry? Even if I have, I am going to tell you now. Terry was a sad character who used to do the rounds of the Preston presbyteries, though I have seen him as far afield as Carlisle. I suspect that he had fallen through the net of care in the community.

When he rang the doorbell, Terry always had the same request: “Some tea—in a cup.”

One night, I was awakened by the doorbell. I switched on the light, and looked at my watch: it was half past eleven. Slipping on my dressing gown, I went downstairs, and opened the front door. There stood Terry.

“Some tea—in a cup.”

“Terry, I am not making tea at this time of night.”

“Some tea—in a cup.”

“Terry, it’s half past eleven. You have woken me up. I am not making tea now.”

“Some tea—in a cup.”


“Some tea—in a cup.”

Terry got his tea, in a cup. When I went into the sacristy next morning to prepare for Mass, I give you one guess as to the Gospel of the day. Admittedly, Terry was half an hour short of midnight, and he wasn’t asking for bread, but as far as I am concerned, the parable was spot on.

But does it work in terms of our prayer? Does the one who asks always receive? Does the one who searches always find? Does the one who knocks always have the door opened? I wouldn’t mind betting that you have prayed for things and haven’t received them.

Sometimes, of course, you would probably admit with hindsight that it was better that you didn’t receive what you asked for. That relationship which you were anxious should work would have proved toxic, and was replaced by something better. That item which you were sure you needed was superfluous if not harmful. You may have thought that you were asking for an egg, but it would have turned into a scorpion, and given you a painful sting. Parents know full well that it is not always good to give their children what they ask, and God is the wisest and most loving parent of all.

And yet...and yet...There must have been times also when you prayed for something which seemed unarguably good. It may have been the recovery of a sick person who died despite your prayers. It may have been prayer for a young person who took a self-destructive path. I suspect that all of you could think of examples when your prayer struck a brazen heaven, to quote the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins.

What response do we make to that? Firstly, I think we have to be careful not to be glib, not to come up with specious reasons why God should not have answered that particular prayer. That is insulting to the person who has prayed, who may be deeply wounded, and does no favours to God, who doesn’t need us to defend Him.

Sometimes we have to admit that we do not know. God has His reasons, which we cannot always fathom. On occasions, it may help if we remember that God sees the whole picture of our lives and our eternity, whereas our own vision is limited. Sometimes, as the Book of Job points out, we have to remember that God is God, and that we are not.

 It may also be worth drawing attention to the closing words of today’s Gospel: “How much more will the Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him.” Perhaps rather than an egg or a fish, or even some tea in a cup, God is giving us the Holy Spirit, a deeper understanding of His ways, a less self-seeking attitude, a greater surrender to His will.

The answers are not always straightforward. Keep asking, searching, knocking. And don’t forget that we belong to the communion of saints. We are one body in Christ not only with those around us, but also with those who have gone before us—the Holy Souls, the Saints, and especially Our Lady, who will also pester God on our behalf. I often find that the Memorare encourages the Blessed Virgin to give God a nudge.

Posted on July 28, 2019 .