“‘Lord, teach us to pray just as John [the Baptist] taught his disciples.’”(Luke 11:1)(+)
Fr. Raymond E. Brown, the greatly respected biblical scholar, once said that all of the people in the world who could recite the Lucan version of the Lord’s Prayer, by heart, could fit into a phone booth.Luke’s version of Jesus’ prayer, the one we read as today’s Gospel, can’t even be called the “Our Father” because those aren’t the first words of his version.They are of Matthew’s, but they’re not Luke’s.What’s sort of strange is that Luke’s Gospel is the one of hymns.It begins with the beautiful and inspiring songs of Zechariah, Mary and Simeon.When I was back in Seminary, we would gather three times a day for group prayer and those hymns of Zechariah, Mary and Simeon would be recited each and every day.We would begin our day with Zechariah’s words:“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,” and we would close our day together by reciting Simeon’s words:“Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace …” What’s so strange is that in this Gospel of hymns, Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer doesn’t flow all that well.It’s choppy and abrupt.It’s not all that lyrical like the one in Matthew, the one that all of us can recite by heart.
But even though Luke’s version doesn’t flow as easily as does Matthew’s “Our Father,” it still gives expression to some of the very same petitions:Your kingdom come; give us each day our daily bread; and forgive us our sins.The thoughts are there, but the words are different.And that tells us that we probably don’t have the exact words of Jesus in either version because if they were remembered exactly, then there would be only one version of the Lord’s Prayer.But while Luke is lacking in the lyrical, he seems to be much more to the point in explaining why we have the Lord’s Prayer in the first place. Luke tells us that one day Jesus was at prayer. When He finishes, the disciples approach and ask that Jesus teach them to pray just as John the Baptist had taught his followers how to pray.And then Jesus right away begins with the words: “Father, hallowed be your name.”
What impresses me greatly about the Lord’s Prayer, in whichever version, is its simplicity and humility.Think about the fact that when we have the ear of God Himself, when we have His attention, think about how basic and selfless are the petitions we address to Him in Jesus’ prayer.The only tangible gift we ask for is our daily bread, our basic sustenance.I’ve half paid attention to a television commercial I’ve seen a couple of times.A genie appears out of nowhere.He mentions to the woman that she’s wishing for some kind of food.He grants her wish, whatever the food in the commercial is.Then because she’s so satisfied with the yogurt or granola bar or whatever it is they’re selling, when the genie asks what she would like for her next two wishes, she just says she’s satisfied, that she doesn’t need the other two, that one wish was enough.That’s a good commercial because many of us will stop and think, “Wow, satisfied with just one wish,” because most of us would want the next two as well.That’s just the way we’re built.And when we think back to Jesus’ prayer, and the only thing He teaches us to ask for is our basic “daily bread,” well, that’s just like the woman turning down her other two wishes from the genie.Prayer isn’t so much about the petitions; it’s about keeping open the lines of communication between us and God.
One of Bp. Hodur’s spiritual heroes was St. Francis of Assisi, the very humble Christian whose example once saved the church from herself, and St. Francis once said, “When we pray to God we must be seeking nothing – nothing.”In other words, St. Francis is telling us that God knows what is good for us and necessary.Prayer isn’t supposed to be mostly about petition.We can turn to God and ask for things.There’s nothing wrong with this.I know that as I stand on the threshold of driving with teenagers down to NJ, and then of spending the week with them at our Youth Convocation, a whole Monday through Friday, I know that I’ve been asking a whole lot of things from God in prayer.But prayers of petition can’t be the main reason we talk with God.“We must be seeking nothing,” said Francis.Prayer is much more importantly about coming into communion with God, sharing our thoughts with God, and trying to be patient enough and silent enough to let God share His thoughts with us too.Martin Luther, another church leader that Bp. Hodur respected and who again helped to save the church from herself, once said, “Pray, and let God worry.”Our petitions are already known by God:what we need, what we fear.God will worry about our problems, that we can count on.Prayer is instead the opportunity for us to come to the awareness of that God and of His concern for us.Prayer is above and beyond petition. To settle for petition is to not reach up high enough to get to God in prayer.
According to the Genesis stories, the first humans walked with God.He was a physical presence in their lives and in their world.But with the passage of generations and the invention of human sin, God could no longer walk among His children.With God now up in the heavens and humans toiling and suffering here on earth, with that first separation between God and us, that is the first time that prayer appears in the Bible story (Gen. 4:26b).The purpose of prayer is to bring us back into communication and communion with God.It is designed to erase the separation between Christ and Christian.The disciples saw that even Jesus needed His time of prayer to be in a closer and fuller communion with His Father in heaven, and because they saw the power of prayer even in Jesus they asked Him to teach them to pray.We may not have the exact words of the Lord’s Prayer that Jesus taught to His followers some 2,000 years ago, but we do have the exact example that the Lord Prayed.Let us also be people of prayer with whatever words we choose, and for this we do pray, here, at home, wherever and whenever, and as always in Jesus’ name.Amen.(+)