The original followers of Jesus of Nazareth were amazed and even stupefied by many things about Jesus:
His extraordinary ability to heal the sick, cast out demons, feed the multitudes, raise people from the dead, and soothe the inner pain of person after person through his astonishing acts of mercy and forgiveness.
That’s why all four gospel writers keep telling us throughout their narratives:
“The people were amazed. They had never seen anything like this.”
So, questions then arose:
How did Jesus do this? Where did all this power come from?
The answers to these questions were originally a mystery to Jesus’ followers. Then the cloud of unknowing started to lift. And in today’s gospel the disciples began to find the answer to these mystifying questions:
What the disciples began noticing was that Jesus’ approach to prayer was unique. Along with praying in the usual Jewish fashion of that time, Jesus took a different approach:
He went off by himself, often at night, and prayed alone.
His disciples wanted to mimic his prayer life so they could experience the same relationship with God and achieve the same results. They too wanted to heal the sick and drive out demons and feed multitudes and forgive 70 times 7.
And so, one of the disciples in today’s gospel from Luke, went to Jesus and boldly stated: “Lord, teach us to pray.”
We should be forever grateful to that disciple because Jesus’ answer has come down to us as the prayer most Christians all over the world pray in common:
The Lord’s Prayer, the “Our Father”.
There are two versions of this prayer: one from the gospel of Luke, and another more expansive version from the gospel of Matthew. My comments address a combination of the two because that is what we pray now as a Christian community.
The first word out of Jesus’ mouth was startling to the Jews at that time. This was the very same word Jewish children used to address their dad – with the same implication of trust and confidence. It had to have been astonishing to those first hearing “Father” used this way. It was so intimate and personal. They were accustomed to addressing God as the “Totally Other,” or “Righteous Judge,” or “Arbiter of Nations.”
From the very beginning, Jesus announces to us the kind of relationship that we can have with God – one that marked an unparalleled breakthrough in the entire history of religion.
We are not slaves. We are not enemies. We are not beggars. We are not even distant relatives.
We are sons and daughters!
Fr. Dean Brackley in his book The Call To Discernment in Troubled Times, describes our relationship to God as revealed by Jesus this way:
“We have passed from being stock clerks in the basement to being the children of the CEO and heirs to the firm. We now go to the top floor of company headquarters without an appointment. We breeze in to see our father whenever we please.”
Matthew’s gospel adds the word “Our” before using the same designation of “Abba.” This addition demonstrates that this prayer is communal, even when prayed “in secret.” “Our” assures us that Jesus’ followers form a family of sisters and brothers – the new family of God.
Speaks to us of God’s transcendence. This does not suggest that God is so distant that our concerns and heartaches and longings are unknown or uncared about. Rather, it emphasizes that God is at the heart of all reality and the Source of all goodness.
“Hallowed be your name:”
This phrase expresses reverence and praise.
Author Etty Hillesum claims that she discovered in her twenties “A desire to kneel down sometimes pulses through my body, or rather it is as if my body had been meant and made for the act of kneeling. Sometimes, in moments of deep gratitude, kneeling down becomes an overwhelming urge, head deeply bowed, hands before my face.”
Now we arrive at that part of this familiar prayer that expresses God’s will – what God desires for us – through a series of petitions.
The first and the most important of these is:
“Thy kingdom come; thy will be done.”
God’s will for us is clear:
It’s what Jesus called the “kingdom” or “reign of God.” This is the central message Jesus delivered – Jesus’ core teaching. As opposed to the “kingdom of Caesar” which only sought prestige, wealth, power and domination, Jesus proclaimed the “kingdom of God” or the “reign of God.”
By that Jesus meant the development of a world in which the hungry will be fed, the homeless housed, the sick cared for, the outcasts embraced, the children protected. Jesus’ meaning is expressed clearly when he makes his famous mission statement in the Temple:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.”
What is certain is that this “kingdom of God” was not merely to be seen as a religious matter, but a commitment with profound political and social consequences. Jesus was proclaiming the reign of God as a reality that requires the restoration of social justice.
In effect, we are praying for what Jesus prayed for:
That the desire to achieve God’s kingdom will become a reality in our lives.
The second half of Jesus’ prayer asks for help in facing three challenges of daily life: material needs, social offenses, and moral temptation. Note that this prayer of Jesus deals with the most basic realities of life.
“Give us each day our daily bread:”
The people who first heard this prayer were literally starving. They were famished and destitute. Jesus responds to those basic needs. Like the occasion of his multiplication of loaves, Jesus’ prayer suggests that if we would concentrate more on sharing than on hoarding, we would all have daily bread.
“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us:”
Here we ask God’s forgiveness, aware that we must forgive others in the same way.
“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil:”
The first part of this petition means that we ask to be set free of any temptation to abandon God or to lose trust in God’s promise of victory. The “evil” referred to is the possibility of losing faith and collapsing into despair.
All of this is the prayer of Jesus.
May it become our own as well – not just the words that we’ve recited repeatedly, but the treasure of their content.
“Lord, teach us to pray.”
And then give us the grace to live it out – daily.
Ted Wolgamot, Psy.D.
NOTE: “If we continue down this path of … dehumanizing people, if we continue to look to the financial cost of helping people rather than the moral cost of not helping them, we will find ourselves living in a society increasingly devoid of the ability to care for, and even care about the least of these.” Rev. Mark Sandlin