Wednesday of week 27 of Ordinary Time – Gospel


Commentary on Luke 11:1-4

It is surely no coincidence that Jesus’ commendation of Mary for spending time listening to Jesus should be followed by a section on prayer. Luke’s gospel has been called the Gospel of Prayer. It is in his gospel, more than any of the others, that we are told about Jesus praying, especially before the more important moments of his public life, such as at his baptism, the choosing of the Twelve, before Peter’s confession of his Messiahship and in the garden before his Passion. Today we see Jesus just praying somewhere and we get the impression that it was something he did quite often. We mentioned earlier that it was perfectly natural for Jesus to pray to his Father, if we understand by prayer being in close contact with God.

Sometimes it will be to ask him for help in our lives or in making the right decision, sometimes it will be to thank and praise him, sometimes it will be to pray on behalf of someone else and sometimes it will just to be in his company. We saw this yesterday with Mary of Bethany sitting quietly at the feet of Jesus listening to him. In fact, a lot of our prayer should be in silent listening. Some people talk so much in their prayer that God cannot get a word in! And then they complain he does not answer their prayers!

After seeing him pray on this occasion, Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them how to pray. In reply, he gives them what we know as the Lord’s Prayer. It is not quite the form we are familiar with, which comes from Matthew’s gospel. It is simpler but the basic structure is still the same. Matthew’s text has seven petitions (we know how he likes the number ‘seven’) but Luke only five. It is believed that Matthew follows an earlier form which may be closer to Luke’s.

When Jesus taught this to his disciples did he mean that praying meant reciting this formula at regular intervals? In fact, it is (in Matthew’s version) a formula we all know by heart and which we recite regularly during the Eucharist, when we say the Rosary and on many other occasions. But it seems more likely that Jesus intended to do more than just teach them a formula to be recited. It is probably much better to see his words as an answer to their request: “Lord, teach us how to pray.” This is not the same as “Teach us some prayers to say/recite.”

We will get much more out of the Lord’s Prayer if we take each petition separately and see each one as a theme about which we can pray. We can take each petition separately and spend time praying around each one. When we do that seriously and conscientiously we will see that it is a very challenging prayer.

Let us briefly look at the petitions as they are in Luke:

Father:

To begin with, let us not get into arguments about God’s gender. We can address God as either Father or Mother; the basic meaning is that God is the source of life, that God is the Creator of every living thing. In addressing God as Father (or Mother) we are acknowledging that we are children, sons and daughters, of God. But if we are children of the one God, then we are brothers and sisters to each other. And there can be no exceptions to this, not even one.

Is this what I mean when I utter the word “Father”? Am I prepared to see every single person on the face of this earth, irrespective of race, nationality, skin colour, class, occupation, age, religion, behaviour… as my brother and sister? If not, I have to stop praying at this first word. We can begin to see now what teaching his disciples to pray meant to Jesus as well as to them and us.

May your name be held holy:

God’s name is already holy and nothing we can do can make it any more so. In this petition we are rather asking that the whole world recognise the holiness of God, that the whole world sing with the angels, “Holy, holy, holy…” God does not need this but we do. And when we sing like this in all sincerity then we are saying that we belong to him and recognise him as Lord. And it is, in fact, another way of expressing the following petition…

Your kingdom come:

We refer frequently in these reflections to the Kingdom. It is that world where God’s reign prevails in people’s hearts and minds and relationships. A world where people have submitted gladly to that reign and experience the truth and love and beauty of God in their lives and in the way they react with the people around them. It produces a world of freedom, peace and justice for all.

In praying this petition, though, we are not just asking God to bring it about while we sit back and wait. We are also committing ourselves to be partners with God in bringing it about. Our co-operation in this work is of vital importance. To be a Christian, to be a disciple of Jesus is essentially to be involved in this task of making the Kingdom a reality. And it has to begin right now; it is not just to be left to a future existence. (In Matthew’s version we pray: ‘Your kingdom come on earth…’)Like many of these petitions, it is a prayer that God’s will be carried through our involvement. Again it is a really challenging prayer.

Give us each day our daily bread:

A prayer that we will be always provided with what we need for our daily living. There is a highly dangerous word buried in the petition. That word is “us”. To whom does “us” refer? My family? my friends? my work companions? my village, town, city, country, nationality, race?  Surely it refers to all God’s children without exception.

If that is the case, then we are praying that every single person be supplied with their daily needs. But that cannot happen unless we all get involved. The petition is not simply passing the buck to God. The feeding of our brothers and sisters is the responsibility of all. Yet millions are hungry, other millions suffer from malnutrition as well as being deprived of many of the other essentials of dignified living. Clearly, we are not doing all we could to see that all of “us” have “our” daily bread. So again this is a very dangerous prayer.

It is even more dangerous when we say it in the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the sacrament or sign of a community that takes care of all its members and of others in need. It is the sacrament of breaking bread with brothers and sisters. If we leave the Eucharistic table and do nothing about this then our sign has been a sham.

Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who is in debt to us:

How easily we say this again and again! Yet it is a very frightening thing to do: to put God’s forgiving us conditional on our forgiving others. Forgiveness and reconciliation must be part and parcel of Christian living and we all know that at times it can be very difficult. Yet, as we see in the book of Jonah (read during Cycle I at this time), our God is so ready to forgive.  To be like him, to be “perfect” is to have that same readiness to forgive. Our deepest urge should be not to condemn and punish but to rehabilitate and restore to life.

Do not put us to the test:

We are surrounded by forces which can draw us away from God and all that is true, good and beautiful. We pray that we will not succumb permanently to anything of the sort. We need constantly God’s liberating hand to lift us up as he lifted the drowning Peter. This is the one petition where we depend totally on God’s help.

The Lord’s Prayer is beautiful. It is challenging. It needs to be taken slowly and meditatively so that we have time to enter deeply into each petition. Perhaps as we pray we can stop at just one petition which at this time is particularly meaningful to us and leave the others for another time. It is primarily not a formula to be recited but themes for prayer. Any one petition is enough to last a long time.

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