The Subversive Prayer

Jijo Kandamkulathy, CMF

Claretian Publications, Macau


Lk 11:1-13

The Gospel introduces Jesus teaching the disciples how to pray. Jesus in the process also explains to them the inherent nature of God, features of a good prayer, the dispositions required of the one who prays and the mind of God who listens. Luke pictures Jesus as a prayerful person, who connected regularly with his Father. I am particularly attracted to the transformation that happens to Jesus during his prayer. Let us parse that observation later. First we shall see what he teaches about prayer.

On the request of the disciples to teach them how to pray, Jesus begins a prayer with “Our Father….” The prayer is addressed to a “father,” a “father” of the whole human race. In one stroke, Jesus was changing the concept of God as the Jews understood it. The ferocious gods, vengeful gods, warrior gods, gods as judges and jealous gods ruled the day; the imaginary images of a force they had only felt but never seen. Here was God’s own Son, coming down and teaching us, removing the misconceptions about that force we were calling by different names. There is only one nature that can be attributed to this God. He is the Father.

Addressing God as Father is one of the most subversive acts that Jesus committed. Until then, the structure of religion was built on the sense of sin and guilt, and their restitution through intermediaries. The priestly class functioned as the only authorized interlocutors with the fierce God as judge. They had to offer different sacrifices on behalf of the people to ask for mercy from God. The Son comes down with a personal experience of this Father-God — the scenario changes. He teaches that all people are God’s children and requires no interlocutors for children to connect with their Father. In one prayer, Jesus demolished the Jewish structure of religion. Remember how Jesus cleansed the Temple. He declared it was the house of his Father and there was no room for sacrificial animal trade there. It was a house of prayer, a place to connect with one’s Father without sacrifices. The removal of the intermediaries surely infuriated the priestly class!

One of the accusations levelled against Jesus was blasphemy, that he called himself the Son of God. Well, he was! All of us are. However, the vestiges of the fierce, unapproachable God as judge stay  with us, hindering our proximity with our Father.

Three most poignant occasions of prayer that the Gospels depict are the Transfiguration prayer, the prayer at Gethsemane, and the prayer at Calvary — three prayers on mountains. Mount of Tabor (debated to be Hermon as well), the Mount of Olives and the Mount of Calvary. Jesus prayed everywhere: on the plains, in the desert, in houses, on the outskirts of villages and by the seaside. He had made the whole world a place of prayer. I do not remember where I read this little story of prayer. A boy was going to the jungle to pray. Someone questioned him, “God is everywhere. Why do you have to go to the jungle for prayers?” The boy responds, “Yes, God is the same everywhere, but I am not the same everywhere.” In fact, places do not matter, if we can develop a sense of the presence of the Divine wherever we are. But experience tells us that we need special places and special tuning of ourselves to pray. Some people can make that connection anywhere, while some others cannot. Let people use their own comfort zones to pray. But pray we must.

Prayer is not just a verbal exercise. It is what should be a constant attitude in life as well.

Let us consider what happens to Jesus in those three special moments of prayer on the mountains. On Mount Tabor, Jesus was transfigured. Prayer changed the one who was praying, physically! He had a transformation. This is what happens in deep prayer; the one who prays is transformed. Very often, we request God to change his mind and give us benefits instead of changing ourselves.

On the Mount of Olives, he started praying for a benefit, to be freed from the chalice of pain. He was afraid and he had the temptation to run away from it all. But, ultimately, Jesus is transformed internally, convinced that the cross was the way to human salvation. The prayer written in a single sentence may not have been delivered in a single breath. He prayed, “Father, if it is possible let this chalice pass by me, but not my will, let your will be done.” It might have taken a time of personal transformation for him to say the second part of that prayer, “It is not my will, let your will be done.” Look at the phrase that he uses. It is the same phrase that he taught us through the prayer, “Our Father.” Prayer is not just a verbal exercise. It is what should be a constant attitude in life as well.

The prayer at Mount Calvary is heartrending to read, even for us who are far apart in time and space. He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Then he undergoes one more transformation on the cross. “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” The one who felt abandoned at one moment understands that the Father was there, even if he could not see him. Then he entrusts his spirit to the Father, who was not visible at the time. What a transformation of a man who felt abandoned at one moment, to feel complete trust after some time of prayer!

Every prayer is a self-transforming moment. If it does not change me, I need to begin changing my approach to prayer and my fundamental perspectives of life. Any prayer one makes without a willingness to change oneself is worthless.

(Image: CCXpistiavos at