Tuesday of Week 1 of Lent – Gospel

Commentary on Matthew 6:7-15

Jesus tells us here not to babble endless prayers as if somehow by so doing we can bring God round to our way of thinking (see also Elijah and the priests of Baal: 1 Kgs 18:25-29). Some religious groups, too, would keep calling their god by all his different names, hoping that by hitting on the right one he would listen. There is no need to do this because God knows our needs before we ask. Why then do we need to pray at all?

The praying is not for God’s sake, but for our own. It is important for us to become deeply aware of our needs, of our basic helplessness, and of our total dependence on God. We also need to discern just what God wants of us so that we can do what he wants.

And that is what the Lord’s Prayer is about. Strictly speaking, it is not a prayer to be recited. It is a way of praying; it is a list of the things we need to pray about. And it is less our telling God what we want him to do than making ourselves aware of the ways by which we can become more united with him. It is a very challenging prayer and, in a way, a very dangerous and daring prayer to make.

Our Father…
God is the source of all our life and all we have and are. We say ‘our’ and that ‘our’ includes every single person. And, if God is the Father/Mother of every single person, then each one of them, without even one exception, is my brother or sister.

May your name be revered as holy…may your kingdom come…may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven…
The three petitions are all really saying the same thing. Obviously, in one sense we cannot make God’s name more holy than it is. But we do need to respect that awesome holiness, and that is more for our sake than God’s. The petition can also be a petition that God make his name holy by showing his glory, in this case by bringing about the Kingdom in its fullness.

We want God to be loved and respected and worshipped by all – not in some future life but here and now on earth. We want the loving and compassionate Reign of God to be fully accepted by people everywhere as part of their lives, individually and corporately. We want God’s will for this world to be also the will of people everywhere.

Clearly, all this has to begin with ourselves. The coming of the Kingdom is not just the work of God alone, it is the result of us cooperating with him in the work. What am I doing in my life now for the realisation of that Kingdom?

Give us today our daily bread…
A prayer that our needs be satisfied for today. A prayer that rules out excessive anxiety about the future. But how are those needs to be satisfied? Do we expect manna to drop from the skies? And what about that little word ‘our’ again? Does it just mean me, my family, our community, our town, our country – or much more? Is this not a prayer that we all work together to ensure that no one goes hungry? Yet we know that millions do go to bed hungry every night and even more suffer from an unhealthy diet. And most of it is the result of human behaviour and neglect. This prayer reminds us that changing that situation is the responsibility of all of us – it is another dangerous prayer.

Forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven those who are in debt to us…
Yet again, a dangerous thing to pray for. I really should not say it unless I am ready to do it. And if I am not ready, I need to pray hard for a forgiving heart. This is the only petition which is spelled out more clearly at the end of this passage:

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you…
(see Matt 18:21-35, about the unforgiving servant)

And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one…
A final plea that we will not fail, but that God’s help will be with us all the way. It is an admission of our basic impotence to set things right in our own lives and in the world. Given the challenges of the rest of the prayer, we need all the help we can get.

If this prayer were to really enter our hearts and minds, we would become deeply transformed people. So let us stop babbling it as we often do and really pray it, phrase by phrase – and let us live it as well.

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