Saturday, February 23, 2013

A Lenten Reflection for February 23, 2013

See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today; and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn from the way that I am commanding you today, to follow other gods that you have not known. (Deuteronomy 11:26-28)

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him . . . (Hebrews 5:7-9)

Everyone knows that, when God hears your prayer, the prayer gets answered, right? As Moses declared, obedience to God results in blessing, and turning away becomes a curse. It makes sense, especially when you remember that God loves us.

Of course, God loved Jesus when he prayed. The writer of Hebrews refers to Jesus as an obedient Son, one whose prayers were heard because of his reverent submission. Jesus offered those prayers “with loud cries and tears.” Why? Because he knew he was facing horrific suffering and death. And “the one who was able to save him from death” heard those prayers.

And Jesus still suffered and died. Not the answer I would have expected.

Most of us would prefer a quid pro quo relationship with God, a kind of trade off of goods and services. In exchange for my obedience and reverence, God offers blessing and answers to prayers. Right answers to prayers, I might add. If I pray for a great job, I don’t want a mediocre job. If I pray that my car will magically start after it breaks down, I don’t want to see it hauled off by a tow truck.

And if I pray to escape suffering and death, I don’t want to suffer and die.

But Jesus accepted his suffering and death as the answer to his prayer, and then went willingly to the cross. While dying he identified his ravaged body with the people of Israel and even asked his Father to forgive the ones who had orchestrated his death. His final words were ones that continued to reflect reverent submission: “In your hands I commit my spirit.”

Jesus apparently recognized that struggling with God in prayer didn’t necessarily result in getting one’s way. My obedience isn’t rule-keeping, but instead is participation with God and his mission in the world. My prayer might be about trading participation for self-interest. In those instances it might be that the answer is an uncomfortable—even painful—realignment with what God is doing.

I think I have a lot to learn about prayer.

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