28 Jul 2013
“… when [Jesus] had finished [praying], one of His disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray …’” (Luke 11:1)
In the name …
You know in Matthew’s Gospel the names The Lord’s Prayer and The Our Father are interchangeable. In today’s selection from Luke, that’s not the case. Jesus’ prayer in Luke can only be referred to as The Lord’s Prayer because there is no beginning phrase containing the well known words Our Father. Right there we have a clue that there is a memory, a distinct memory, of Jesus’ prayer to the Father in heaven, but we have to realize that after a half a century, the time between the life of Jesus and the writing of Matthew and Luke, that the original words were not remembered verbatim.
We also should be able to see, if we put Matthew and Luke’s account next to each other, that there are theological differences too. Just before Matthew shares the prayer with us he records Jesus’ message that “‘[God the] Father knows what you need before you [even] ask Him.’” (6:8) On the other hand, today Luke follows the Lord’s Prayer with the parable of the nuisance-neighbour who comes knocking at the door in the middle of the night, which Jesus uses to teach us the message that persistence in asking pays off. (11:5-8) These are two completely different attitudes about prayer.
Now I find those kinds of differences interesting. And even though I doubt too many of you do, I even find them exciting. They speak to me of a living faith. Matthew and Luke are not only passing along a solid, heavy, carved in stone message about prayer that was taken from the past and lugged unaltered into their present. Prayer, even the Lord’s Prayer, was seen as alive. The tradition was obviously not ignored, and this becomes clear to any one of us when we hear the two prayers recited one after the other. There is much more in common with them than there are differences, but there are still differences. And those differences tell us that prayer has to come not only from the inherited tradition of the past, but from the heart, from the needs and aspirations of each person reciting those prayers in the present. Prayer is not only about somebody else’s prayer from some other time. Prayer is about us trying to reach out to God and converse with God about our lives today.
Friday I was in Boston with the family and I visited the Museum of Science’s exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls. These scrolls were discovered in 1946 but they reach back to the times just before and after Jesus, and the subtitle of the exhibit was Life in Ancient Times. When you take a text and lock it into place, with each passing day it belongs more and more to the past. Lock it into place long enough and it becomes part of “ancient times.” This is what we do not want to happen with the Lord’s Prayer, and Matthew and Luke point us in this direction. Their inspired writings don’t only give us the words of prayer, but the living example of praying.
Most every Christian in the world can recite from memory Matthew’s version of the Lord’s Prayer. We’re going to sing it a bit later in the Mass and none of us should have to look down at the pew book to remember the words, but it is said that those who can do the same with Luke’s can all fit into a phone booth. But for as popular as Matthew’s version is, I have to admit that I prefer Luke’s setting. Jesus is at prayer. I have a painting hanging in my office that I bought when I was a first year seminarian and stationed at our cathedral in Manchester, NH. Jesus has His face buried in His folded hands. Even Jesus sought out and needed those special moments alone in His thoughts and prayers with God in heaven. And maybe the disciples were transfixed by this picture of peacefulness as Jesus prayed, so when He was done, the disciples said to Him, “‘Lord, teach us to pray …’” (Luke 11:1) And then follows the Lord’s Prayer. I love that connection between our prayer and Jesus’ praying. Jesus gives us the words, but He also gives us the example. Jesus was a man often at prayer. He needed that time given to Himself and God to make it through the day. It wasn’t about “ancient times;” it was about that very moment in time.
I’ve heard the story of a ship that was sinking in the middle of a storm, and the captain called out to the crew and said, "Does anyone here know how to pray?" One man stepped forward and said, "Yes sir, I know how to pray." The captain said, "Wonderful, you pray while the rest of us put on the life jackets--we're one short." Prayer should not be limited to times of desperation. Prayer should be the ordinary chance to do the extraordinary: to talk with God in the present. If we catch ourselves only praying when we are desperately in need, then we need to work on our conception of just what prayer is. We had a great discussion about this at Bible study this past Tuesday. Is God only a part of our lives to save us from bad things? Or do we cherish the idea that by simply folding our hands, tuning out of the world and into our faith, that God is near? Do we love God or only what God can do for us, in other words.
Let me close with words from Deuteronomy that we shared a couple of weeks ago at Mass: “It is not up in the sky that you should say, ‘Who will go up in the sky and get it for us and tell us of it …’ Nor is it across the sea that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea to get it for us and tell us of it …’ No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts. You have only to carry it out.” (30:12-14) So let us pray today that we may pray every day, and this we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo