The Twenty-third Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

I have to say, when the Scriptures talk about prayer, I get a little uneasy. Not because I don’t like to pray, or think prayer is a bad thing. But more because I think mostly we misunderstand prayer, and usually a brief mention in the readings can do more harm than good. This week’s Gospel is a good example of that. The line almost at the end of the reading is the culprit: “if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.”

Really? Anything? I don’t know about you, but I personally have an example of something that my friends and I had been praying about, and just this week it was denied. You can probably think of examples too. So what are we to make of this? Well, I’d like to make three points.

First, in the line right after this, Jesus says, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Notice how he says, “in my name.” So it’s not like a couple of us can get together and pray for something crazy and hold God accountable for granting it. If we’re gathered in anything less than the name of Jesus, we’re in the wrong place, and you don’t get what you want, or even what you need, when you’re in a place other than where Jesus is.

Second, reflecting on that same line, I would point out the last phrase: “there am I in the midst of them.” Sometimes God doesn’t answer all our prayers in the way we think he should. But he definitely always answers them with his presence. Sometimes that leads to resolution of a problem that is greater than we could have imagined. Sometimes it makes us a stronger, more faith-filled person. And sometimes the answer to a prayer means that we have to change, not the situation. So the abiding presence of our God, most perfectly experienced in community, when two are three are gathered in his name, is the most important answer to every prayer.

Finally – and I can’t say this often enough, nor stress it strongly enough – prayer is not a magic wand. You might read in this brief little passage that all you have to do is pray and you get it. Prayer is always experienced in relationship: relationship with God and relationship with others. That’s why this brief little passage mentions praying together, and praying in Jesus’ name. Those are important points, and it’s best not to overlook them.

Prayer is a relationship, prayer is work – sometimes hard work, prayer is a way of life for the disciple of Jesus. We enter that relationship at our Baptism, and it’s our task as disciples to nurture that relationship our whole lives long.