Gospel: Luke 11:1-13
What's the difference between what we pray for and what we should pray for? Why is there such a difference?
Why don't we pray for the truly great things? In all honesty, most of us Christians focus our prayer life on the mundane needs that arise day to day. That is to be expected. Sometimes, however, we pray for greater things. World peace. The conversion of sinners. The safety of those who are struck with disaster.
Prayer for small and greater things is good, for it is faith in action. Prayer is active trust in God. But, we forget the power of prayer affects us directly. As we pray, we are changed. And the measure of our change can sometimes depend upon scope of what we pray for.
How many of us are willing to risk everything in prayer? How many of us are willing to beg God for his Kingdom? Well, ask God!
In the gospel, the disciples asked Jesus how to pray. They received a lesson on how a Christian should live. As they prayed, so should they live.
1 Once, Jesus was outside praying. When he finished, some of his followers asked him, "Lord, teach us to pray, just like John taught his followers."
2 Jesus answered, "When you pray, say:
Let your name be honored!
Let your Kingdom come!
3 Give us tomorrow's bread everyday!
4 Forgive us, as we forgive all who hurt us!
And don't allow us to be tested by the devil!"
5 "Which one of you will do the following?" Jesus continued.
"Go to a neighbor's house in the middle of the night and ask: 'Hey! Let me borrow three loaves of bread. 6 A friend of mine just came into town on his travels. And I don't have anything to feed him!' 7 From inside his house, won't your neighbor answer , 'Don't bother me! The door is locked and the kids are in bed! I can't get up and get you any bread." 8 I tell you the neighbor won't get up and give the man what he wants just because he was a friend. No! The neighbor will get up and give the man as much as he wants just because he keeps on asking! 9 So, ask God and he will give to you. Seek his will, and you will find it. Knock on the door to his Kingdom, and God will be open it for you. 10 Everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks will have the door opened for them.
11 Which father among you will give his son a snake if he asks for a fish? Or a scorpion if he asks for an egg? 12 As bad as you are, you all know to give you children good things. Then, how much more will God the Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"
In Luke's gospel, Jesus presented a teaching on prayer. In the process, he presented his message and urged his followers to pray that God bring the message to fruition.
1 It happened for HIM to be in a certain place, praying. When HE stopped, some of his followers said to HIM, "Lord teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples." 2 HE said to them, "Whenever you pray, say,
let your name be venerated,
let your Kingdom come.
3 Give us each day our bread for tomorrow.
4 Forgive us our sins, as we forgive everyone owing us.
Do not bring us into Temptation.
11:1 "Lord teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples." The disciples expected Jesus to teach them ways to pray. Either John the Baptist set the stage for such an expectation, or rabbis in so-called "schools" taught prayer to their disciples as a matter of course. The way Luke phrased Jesus' answer, the Lord seemed to anticipate the question.
11:2-4 Luke's form of the Our Father differs from Matthew's in brevity. Luke has only five petitions compared to Matthew's six (Matthew added "your will be done..."). Both Luke and Matthew focused on the Kingdom, hence petitions in both versions must be interpreted in light of the end times.
11:2 "Father" Luke used the short title "Father" that denoted personal intimacy, while Matthew's referred to the address of the community. (Matthew's was more appropriate for collective worship. Was that the reason we use Matthew's version over Luke's?)
11:2 "let your name be venerated" Hallowing God's name was a standard petition found in Jewish prayers, even in the time of Jesus.
11:3 "our bread for tomorrow" The word "daily" found in the phrase "daily bread" was rarely used in New Testament Greek. Because it was obscure even in the early Church, its meaning has been hotly debated over the centuries. The word can reasonably have three meanings: daily (every day's bread), future (bread for tomorrow), or necessary (bread we need to live on). Since the end times define the context of the prayer, I chose the sense of future.
Like John's disciples, the followers of Jesus asked him how to pray. [11:1] In reality, they asked Jesus how to approach God, how to see God. Jesus answered with a standard Jewish prayer form (Address, Petitions for God, Petitions for the Person, Final Praise or Doxology). But, in his prayer, he summarized his message. The Our Father was a prayer for God's Kingdom.
[11:2] Address: Jesus began this quest with one word, "Father." The King of the Universe, the Almighty, was as close as one's loving, doting Father. In Luke, the image of God as Father affected all of Jesus' teaching on prayer. For, Jesus envisioned God in his Kingdom as a close, father figure.
More important, however, Jesus invoked the presence and power of God as Father in the address. Ancient people believed a person's name revealed his personal power. By addressing God as the Father in the Kingdom, Jesus evoked the presence and power of God that would define his Kingdom.
[11:2] Petitions for God: With God present as Father, Luke followed with two petitions. Allow God's name to be made holy ("venerated") and allow his Kingdom to come. Both are one and the same. Allowing his name to be made holy by people was the same as people honoring and spreading his revelation (i.e., "spreading the Good News"). In this sense, Jesus prayed God's name as Father be hallowed through the missionary efforts of traveling preachers. From the time Peter proclaimed the Good News to those gathered in Jerusalem at Pentecost, the name of the God Jesus revealed has been made famous throughout the earth. When people respond in faith, his name is praised. For Luke, the title "Father" evoked and proclaimed the presence of God.
The fullness of God's revelation (i.e., his name) was to be found in the Kingdom. While God's reign has not been totally revealed, it has not been completely hidden. God was present and active in the realization of his Kingdom. The petition for the Kingdom to come acknowledged that fact. When Jesus asked the Father to quicken the Kingdom, he implicitly begged for the success of evangelization as well as salvation. "Spread your name, Lord, and save us!"
[11:3] Petitions for the Person: "Daily Bread" In the context of the prayer, this petition begged for more than just daily concerns. It asked for the bread of the Kingdom. Catholics identify this bread as Eucharist, the presence of the Lord in bread and wine at Mass first celebrated at the Last Supper. Notice the implicit emphasis was not upon the bread itself, but upon the presence of the Lord. When the Lord was present, God's name was hallowed and his Kingdom was realized in some way.
[11:3-4] Petitions for the Person: "Forgiveness and Deliverance in the End Time." Both of these petitions are intertwined, for they were the essence of the Christian message. Christ died to forgive and save sinners. (Wasn't this the early preaching of the apostles?) These sinners would form Church. Hence, there was an explicit community aspect to forgiveness, and an implicit reference to saving the community at the Final judgment. "Lord, in the end, forgive your Church as we, its members, try to forgive each other. And save your Church from the Tribulation!"
Doxology. "For thine is the Kingdom, and the Power, and the Glory, now and forever!" Notice the final doxology or praise of God was not found in Luke (nor in Matthew). (Many speculate an early scribe added the ending to Matthew's version because his community prayed that way; see Didache 8:2) Scholars have puzzled over the missing ending for the past two millennia. One of the more interesting theories held that Jesus expected the praise of the saints in the Kingdom at the end times to be the Final Doxology. In other words, the prayer had no end to leave the disciple yearning for the Kingdom.
5 HE said to them, "Which of you has a friend, travels to him in the middle of the night, and says to him, 'Friend, loan me three loaves (of bread); 6 for a friend of mine visited me along (his) journey and I have nothing which I might set before him;' 7 that (man) having answered from inside (his dwelling) will say, 'Do not cause me problems! The door has already been closed, my small children are with me in bed, and, getting up, I am not able to give you (anything)?' 8 I tell you, even if, having gotten up, he will not give him (anything) because he was a friend. Indeed, because of his persistence, having risen, he will give him as much as he needs. 9 I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you, seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone asking receives; the (one) seeking finds; to the (one) knocking, it will be opened. 11 Which father among you, (if your) son might ask for a fish, will give him a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or, (if ) he might ask for an egg, he will give to him a scorpion? 13 If you, then being evil, know to give your children good gifts, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to (those) asking him."
11:5 Jesus asked a rhetorical question in the form of a parable. This is a long and difficult question to translate.
11:8 "persistence" can also be translated "shameless behavior." Luke indicated the man seeking the bread would do anything, even dishonor himself, to help his traveling friend. (Should we do the same in prayer? Yes!)
11:9 God was the understood object to the imperative "Ask." "Seek" and "Knock" referred to the Kingdom.
11:13 The gift of the Holy Spirit was THE sign of the Kingdom.
How should a disciple ask the Father for his kingdom? Constantly! And with complete confidence! Jesus used a parable (the Tired Friend in 11:5-8) and analogies of food (bread and eggs in 11:11-12) to make his point. The disciple should always ask for the kingdom, and the disciple should trust that God will answer the prayer. But, for Jesus, constant prayer and complete trust in God were more than a prayer style; they defined Christian living. When Jesus answered the request, "Teach us to pray," Jesus taught his followers how to live as Christians. Ask, seek, knock for the kingdom. If God is good to all his sinful creatures, how much more will he bless his children. He will give them his power and his presence; he will give his children the Holy Spirit! [11:13]
Catechism Theme: The "Our Father" and its focus upon Jesus (2774, 2798-99)
Why is the Our Father called the "Lord's Prayer?" The Our Father is not simply called the Lord's Prayer because Jesus taught it to his followers, the Our Father tells us how Jesus prayed and how Jesus lived. Jesus called God "Father." He actively worked for the coming of God's kingdom. He lived a simple life and depended upon God for his daily needs. He preached forgiveness and he forgave people. He fought against evil, even to the point of death. What Jesus prayed, he lived. His prayer sums up the Gospel. (2774)
The words "Our Father" describe our relationship with God. God is our Father and we are his children. But, we did not earn the right to be called children of God on our own; Jesus, God's only Son, came into the world to earn that privilege for us and to show us the way. When we believe in Jesus, we join with him and his relationship with the Father. When we call God our Father, we also recognize our relationship with his Son. (2798, 2799)
How many times have you fully reflected on the Lord's Prayer? What insights did you gain?
"As we pray, so we believe." This old theological insight is as true today as it was when Jesus taught his followers the Our Father. The prayer focuses our sights on things greater than daily concerns. It sets our sights on the Kingdom.
But questions remain. Do we dare allow the Our Father to change us as we repeat the words? Do we allow the prayer to make us citizens of the Kingdom in the making? If we dare, we can. Ask God!
This week ask God for personal needs, but remember to ask for his will, his intentions. Ask for his presence in your life.