Week of Proper 19: Monday, Year 1   17 comments

Above:  Rosary Beads

Image in the Public Domain

Proper Attitudes in Prayer

SEPTEMBER 18, 2023


Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.


1 Timothy 2:1-8 (The Jerusalem Bible):

My advice is that, first of all, there should be prayers offered for everyone–petitions, intercessions, and thanksgiving–and especially for kings and others in authority, so that we may be able to live religious an reverent lives in peace and quiet.  To do this is right, and will please God our saviour; he wants everyone to be saved and reach full knowledge of the truth.  For there is only one God, and there is only one mediator between God and mankind, himself a man, Christ Jesus, who sacrificed himself as a ransom for them all.  He is the evidence of this, sent at the appointed time, and I have been named a herald and apostle of it and–I am telling the truth and no lie–a teacher of the faith and the truth to the pagans.

In every place, then, I want the men to lift their hands up reverently in prayer, with no anger or argument.

Psalm 28 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 O LORD, I call to you;

my Rock, do not be deaf to my cry;

lest, if you do not hear me,

I become like those who go down to the Pit.

2 Hear the voice of my prayer when I cry to you,

when I lift up my hands to your holy of holies.

3 Do not snatch me away with the wicked or with the evildoers,

who speak peaceably with their neighbors,

while strife is in their hearts.

4 Repay them according to their deeds,

and according to the wickedness of their actions.

5 According to the work of their hands repay them,

and give them their just deserts.

6 They have no understanding of the LORD’s doings

nor of the works of his hands;

therefore he will break them down and not build them up.

7 Blessed is the LORD!

for he has heard the voice of my prayer.

8 The LORD is my strength and my shield;

my heart trusts in him, and I have been helped;

9 Therefore my heart dances for joy;

and in my song I will praise him.

10 The LORD is the strength of his people,

a safe refuge for his anointed.

11 Save your people and bless your inheritance;

shepherd them and carry them for ever.

Luke 7:1-10 (The Jerusalem Bible):

When he [Jesus] had come to the end of all he wanted the people to hear, he went into Capernaum.  A centurion there had a servant, a favourite of his, who was sick and near death.  Having heard  about Jesus he sent some Jewish elders to ask him to come and heal his servant.  When they came to Jesus they pleaded earnestly with him.

He deserves this of you,

they said,

because he is friendly towards our people; in fact, he is the one who built the synagogue.

So Jesus went with them, and was not very far from the house when the centurion sent word to him by some friends:


he said,

do not put yourself to trouble; because I am not worthy to have you under my roof; and for this same reason I did not presume to come to you myself; but give the word and let my servant be cured.  For I am under authority myself, and have soldiers under me; and I say to one man:  Go, and he goes; to another:  Come here, and he comes; to my servant:  Do this, and he does it.

When Jesus heard these words he was astonished at him and, turning around, said to the crowds following him,

I tell you, not even in Israel have I found faith like this.

And when the messengers got to the house they found the servant in perfect health.


The Collect:

O God, because without you we are not able to please you mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


A comparison of the reading from Luke and its counterpart in Matthew is interesting.  The author of Luke-Acts includes details his Matthew counterpart omits.  The Lukan account tells us that the Roman centurion was friendly to the Jews, going so far as to supervise the construction of the synagogue at Capernaum.  Yet in both versions of the story the centurion is a good man who displays care for his servant and humility with regard to Jesus.  There is one difference:  In Matthew the centurion asks Jesus to heal his servant.  But in Luke he sends some Jewish elders to make the request.  This might bother a scriptural literalist, which I am not.  Yet the canonical Gospels are not documentaries; they are documents which speak of the Good News of Jesus.  And they do this well.

The author of 1 Timothy writes that one ought to pray reverently, “with no anger or argument.”  Certainly the Roman centurion was reverent toward Jesus, but the author of Psalm 28 disobeyed the rule regarding “anger or argument.”  I know angry prayer well; I have said many of them over the years.  They constituted an emotional release for me, but I doubt that they were a good use of prayer time.  They were not worthy of the standard of Jesus, who prayed for the forgiveness of those who executed him.  If my choice of the label “Christian” is to mean what it should, I need to become more like the Lord I claim to follow.  This includes backing away from the desire for God to punish my enemies or just people I dislike.

And what about praying for those in authority?  The author of 1 Timothy does not say to pray for only those authority figures one likes.  This makes sense, for we ought to pray for those in authority because they are in authority.  What we think of them is irrelevant to whether we ought to pray for them.  What kind of people they are has no bearing on whether we should pray for them.  We need to be careful to pray for them, not about them.  We ought to pray for them without judging them, for our Lord has commanded us to leave judgment to God, with whom the sole right of vengeance resides.  But this is the same God who extends lavish and scandalous grace, too.

So, what is prayer?  Growing up, the most frequent definition I heard was “talking to God.”  That is part of it, certainly.  But there is far more to it than that.  The Catechism from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer defines prayer as “responding to God, by thought and by deeds, with or without words,” and Christian prayer as “response to God the Father, through Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit.”  (page 856)

When, with or without words, we pray for–not about–another person, we open the door for God to change how we think about that individual.  We open ourselves up to perceive him or her in a more positive, sympathetic way than we do already.  We might even end up identifying with this person and understanding that he or she is not as different from us than we once thought.  If praying honestly and non-judgmentally does nothing else, it makes us better than we were before.   Besides, we need grace as much as anyone else.  Do we understand this–really?

If we do not, may we embark on the prayer journey to that realization.



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