The Gospel reading today could have been entitled, “A Day in the Life of Jesus.” It’s what biblical scholars would call a typical day in the life of our Lord during his public ministry. It’s a pretty busy day, with lots of people demanding his attention and asking for his help. And generously, almost breathlessly, the Lord responds to them, one after the other.
First, he preaches in the synagogue. Then perhaps as a favor to his disciple, he heals Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, who is sick with fever. We are told that she recovers fully and fast enough to wait on them. Then after supper, with “the whole town gathered at he door,” the Lord is off again, curing the sick and driving away demons.
With the great number of people there, we can only imagine how long he works and how late he stays up that night before finally getting some rest. And yet we’re told that despite what might have been an exhausting night, very early the next day, even before dawn, Jesus gets out of bed and goes off to a deserted place…to pray!
For me, this non-negotiable priority that the Lord reserves for prayer is truly remarkable. And I say that because when my life grows crowded with concerns, as it sometimes does, and all sorts of pressing deadlines begin to breathe down my neck, as they sometimes do, almost always, the first thing to go is prayer. And the worst part is, it’s so easy to come up with justications–and brilliant ones too!
Here are my top 3 rationalizations for dumping prayer:
#3: “I’ll just pray later–when I’m less busy!” The problem, of course, is that the more we postpone prayer, the less we end up actually doing it. And the reason is that while prayer is very important, it is not as urgent as the less important things in our “to-do” lists.
#2: “Surely, the Lord will understand!” Of course he will, but precisely because we know God will forgive us, we end up abusing his kindness, and never actually carving out time for prayer.
#1–and this is the worst one, used especially by religious and priests like myself: “Anyway, my work is my prayer!” Yes, our work can be a form of prayer, but when you think about it, no one’s work can beat our Lord’s work, but he makes sure to reserve some quality time–even on his busiest days–for prayer.
If there’s anyone who has the right to use these three favorite justifications of mine, it’s Jesus himself. His public ministry, as shown in today’s gospel, can be ridiculously hectic. Should he decide to skip prayer, his Heavenly Father will completely understand! And finally, nothing can better exemplify prayer-in-action than Jesus’ tireless, loving and compassionate ministry to the poor and marginalized.
And yet our Lord makes sure that he finds time to pray–squeezing it in every moment of his life: at work, before and after work, even on the cross, his last breath itself a sigh of prayer.
Why this unusual attachment to and obsession with prayer? When his disciples find him and interrupt his prayer because everyone is looking for him, he gets up from prayer and says with what sounds like renewed determination and energy: “For this purpose have I come.”
For our Lord, prayer is purposing: Remembering–and reminding himself of–the very purpose of his existence.
We could all use that regularly.