Why pray when God knows what we want?

Homily for the Thirtieth Sunday of Year B

by Fr. Tommy Lane

“Why should we pray when God already knows what we want?” is a question I am asked. It is true that God already knows what we need but why then did Bartimaeus have to ask Jesus for help in today’s Gospel? (Mark 10:46-52) Anyone watching would no doubt have thought that it must be obvious that the man wants Jesus to restore his sight but yet Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you.” (Mark 10:51) And when he said, “Master, let me see again,” Jesus cured him. Jesus knew everything about people; he knew Judas was going to betray him, he knew about Nathanael under the fig tree (John 1:48), he knew the woman in Samaria had five husbands before her present partner (John 4:18). Jesus knew about this blind man, he didn’t need to be told he needed his sight restored but yet he asked him what he wanted. Bartimaeus didn’t need to tell Jesus but telling Jesus was preparing Bartimaeus’ heart for the gift of having his sight restored. Once again the question I am asked is, “Why should we pray when God already knows what we want?” My response is that prayer is not about informing God what our needs are. God already knows our needs and doesn’t need our prayer to keep him up to date on what is happening in our lives. Instead prayer is for our benefit, not God’s benefit. Prayer is to prepare our heart for what God wishes to give us.

What did Bartimaeus do after his sight was restored? He followed Jesus along the road. In the Gospels when we read that someone followed Jesus it means he became a disciple of Jesus. Jesus had twelve apostles but he had many disciples. All these followers and disciples of Jesus listened to his teaching and allowed it to change their lives. So the healing of Bartimaeus was really only the beginning of his journey following Jesus, being a disciple of Jesus and learning from Jesus. Bartimaeus did not just pray to have his sight restored and then disappear. Afterwards Bartimaeus’ whole way of life was such that it revolved around Jesus. So when someone asks “Why should we pray when God already knows what we want?” I say that praying for what we need is only part of our relationship with God. Our whole life is to be a prayer to God because our whole life is about following Jesus, being a disciple of Jesus. If we only pray when we are in a crisis are we really Christian? Prayer is not a magic formula to be recited to bring about the desired results. Prayer is also a way of living, it is following Jesus on the road.

Notice the way in which Bartimaeus made his request or prayed to Jesus. Firstly he said, “have mercy (literally in Greek) on me.” (Mark 10:47) It was only later that he asked, “let me see again.” (Mark 10:51) His first request was “have mercy on me.” Why did Bartimaeus ask Jesus to have mercy on him before restoring his sight? Bartimaeus was sufficiently in tune with himself to know that what he needed most was deeper than restoration of sight. His deepest need was for spiritual healing, a far deeper need than his need for physical healing. He asked for spiritual healing and no doubt he received it since he also received physical healing. Again the question I am asked is, “Why should we pray when God already knows what we want?” Sometimes we pray for what we want and instead God gives us what we need. What we need is not always what we want but God in his provident mercy gives us what we need. Notice that Jesus said to Bartimaeus, “your faith has saved you.” Bartimaeus was a person of faith, not a person who prayed only in a crisis to get what he wanted from God. He had a deep relationship with God and that faith, that deep relationship with God, firstly answered his deepest need, his need for salvation, a far greater need than restoration of sight. He reminds me of the teaching of Jesus in Matt 6:33, “Seek the kingdom of God first and all these other things will be given you as well.” Bartimaeus sought the kingdom of God first - God’s mercy - and the other thing, restoration of sight, was given him as well.

“Why should we pray when God already knows what we want?” God already knows what our needs are and doesn’t need our prayer to keep him up to date on what is happening in our lives. Instead prayer is for our benefit. Prayer is to prepare our heart for what God wishes to give us. What we need is not always what we want but God in his provident mercy gives us what we need. Our whole life is to be a prayer to God because our whole life is about following Jesus, being a disciple of Jesus. Prayer is a way of living, it is following Jesus on the road.

Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2013

This homily was delivered when I was engaged in parish ministry in Ireland before joining the faculty of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.

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