"You have committed a grave sin. I will go up to the LORD, then; perhaps I may be able to make atonement for your sin."
Someone once said about the Christian life that we should work as if everything depends on us and pray as if everything depends on God. I think most of us understand the first part. I'm not as certain we are truly grasping the second.
In today's first reading we hear the story of how Moses received the Law from God. As he came down from the mountain, he found the Israelites were engaged in an idolatrous party with the golden calf. It is this incident which leads to the verse above. Moses realizes that the people will die if he does not plead for God's mercy. So he goes to pray.
A portion of this conversation is preserved for us. Moses asks to bear the punishment of the people. God tells Moses that each person must answer for himself (v. 33).
Still, let us look back at what Moses says to God: "Ah, this people has indeed committed a grave sin in making a god of gold for themselves! If you would only forgive their sin! If you will not, then strike me out of the book that you have written," (vv. 31,32). I don't honestly think I would have prayed a prayer like that. But it's actually in keeping with what we find elsewhere.
Our Lord prayed that his persecutors and executioners would be forgiven. Stephen, the first martyr of the Church, did the same. St. Paul echoed the same sentiment when he wrote, "I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brethren," (Ro. 9:3). The heart of the true intercessor is the heart of God. It is the willingness to give up one's own life in order to save the guilty party. Such prayer requires one to live close to God, share His heart, and have a deep and lasting compassion for sinners.
We have all sinned. We are all in the same boat. This alone should keep us on our knees pleading for those we know and love who yet remain in danger of the judgment. Yet, as I mentioned, we often find ourselves doing just about everything else. We think that through conversation or work they will be saved. There is some truth to that. As I mentioned, we also need to work. But the greater work is on God's part. We cannot do this. We must have His grace and it is imparted through such intercessory prayer.
Who's on your prayer list? How often are you mentioning them before the Lord? How fervently do you pray for them? Do you believe God will indeed answer? Let us heed the Scripture which says, "The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects," (Jms. 5:16). Then let us turn to continuous, fervent, faith-filled prayer. God has promised to listen and He will do the work.