In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our Collect for today is a prayer that says as much about us as it says about God. All prayer does this in some way: our address to God, whether of adoration or confession or petition or any other form, defines the one who prays in a certain way. All of our prayers say something about us. God, on the other hand, remains the same as always, for God is unchanging. No matter how varied our prayers are, those prayers never make God into a different God depending on our circumstances. God is always “the fountain of all wisdom,” the source and standard of the human lives he has created. So, if prayer is our communication with God, to say that prayer defines us in a certain way is to say that prayer defines us according to God -- which is the true definition of who we are.
You can see this clearly in our Collect today; it is a prayer that directs us to step back and get behind ourselves. As many of you will recognize, even if we’re accustomed to praying often, it can be easy to neglect the posture in which we pray. I’m not necessarily speaking of literal body posture, though I’d certainly include that. What I mean by “posture” is something like our self-awareness; what and who we imagine ourselves to be when we pray. Where are our prayers coming from? What are the implicit, unspoken ideas we communicate about ourselves and about God through the way we pray? How do those ideas affect the emotional state from which we pray? Every time we pray, we are listening to ourselves do it -- learning from ourselves -- so it’s important that we are ever honing the manner in which we pray.
Now, fortunately, the great thing about prayer is that it happens to be the most effective way to become more honest about who we imagine ourselves to be. Prayer is the path to true self-awareness. But, as our Collect today makes clear, it helps to literally and accurately describe ourselves as a part of our prayer to get us headed in that direction. We want to pursue that true definition of ourselves before God. So let’s go through it a bit and see what we discover about ourselves within it.
The Collect begins by admitting our weakness before the majesty of God. Our lives are constrained by “necessities” -- there are many things that we can’t choose to go without, even if we wanted to. To be human requires that we simply receive the life that mostly comes to us from outside of us. No matter how much self-sufficiency we think we can muster, none of us can ever be the source of our existence. As the Psalm puts it, the eyes of all wait upon thee; and thou givest them their meat in due season. Our necessities stand in need of an ultimate fulfillment that only the providence of God can give. And thus it is a prayer of honesty, for this is the accurate assessment of our condition not only in comparison to God, but also in normal everyday experience. As it continues, it’s not just that we have our several necessities that we ask God to provide for, we don’t even know what those necessities are sometimes! God knows them, of course, but even the requests that we humbly bring to God are limited by “our ignorance in asking.” We don’t have a crystal clear view of who we are and what we need. As if the world wasn’t confusing enough already, we are even a mystery to ourselves. So it goes on, Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask.
Because of our weakness, we can never demand anything from God as though we earned it, as though God were in our debt. Our unworthiness forever reminds us to approach God in a holy fear, a fear that never forgets the “blindness” which afflicts us in this life. We are blind because of our human limitations and because of our sin and falsehood. Our vision is not only weak, but distorted. All of this should induce our contrition and humility: mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask.
But this reference to blindness also gets at something deep in Jesus’ parable from our Gospel this morning. And if we are going to pray well, it is something that we will need to consider. Our Lord is continuing a series of parables that sketch out the mystery of the kingdom of heaven. In today’s parable, Jesus tells a story about a householder and his slaves who discover that an enemy has sabotaged their fields by sowing weeds among the wheat. To make matters worse, they don’t discover this assault until it’s too late, when both the wheat and the weeds are already growing up together. The slaves ask the householder, Then do you want us to go and gather them? But the householder’s response is interesting. He says:
This is why we are still blind, not only to what we truly need from God, but sometimes even to our identity as the wheat. To succumb to the allure of sin and the world and live according to the flesh is to become like the weeds. And this only increases our blindness and makes our prayer even more difficult than it already is.