“Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” From the Gospel according to St. Luke.
Teach us to pray. That is at once a simple request, and profound statement. It seems odd to me that the disciples would ask such a question. Surely they would be familiar with prayer.
The Old Testament is filled with references to prayer, which is really nothing more than conversing with God. The first reference I can find is in the 4th chapter of Genesis. “Then men began to call upon the name of the Lord.”
In the book of Exodus, Moses prays to God when the LORD is more than little put out with the people.
“The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people. “Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation.” Then Moses entreated the Lord his God, and said, “Turn from Your burning anger and change Your mind about doing harm to Your people. So the Lord changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people.” In this instance, Moses was able to persuade God to change his mind! That is pretty powerful if you think about it. Moses’ prayer affected God.
St. Cyprian of Carthage, 3rd century bishop and martyr, wrote in his fourth treatise, this admonition:
“3. Let us therefore, brethren beloved, pray as God our Teacher has taught us. It is a loving and friendly prayer to beseech God with His own word, to come up to His ears in the prayer of Christ. Let the Father acknowledge the words of His Son when we make our prayer, and let Him also who dwells within in our breast Himself dwell in our voice. And since we have Him as an Advocate with the Father for our sins, let us, when as sinners we petition on behalf of our sins, put forward the words of our Advocate. For since He says, that whatsoever we shall ask of the Father in His name, He will give us, John 16:23 how much more effectually do we obtain what we ask in Christ’s name, if we ask for it in His own prayer!”
The Names of God are clear. Adonai, Hebrew word for Lord, is one. God, the Almighty, or El Shaddai in Hebrew is another. And of course there is Yahweh, revealed to Moses at the burning bush.
Jesus told his disciples to say, “Our Father in heaven.” I bet someone in the crowd was thinking, “What did he just say?” He said, Father! He made the Almighty God of Heaven personal. He gave them, and us, permission to call Almighty God, our Father. In our mass, the invitation to say the Lord’s prayer says, “we are bold to say,” Our Father.
St. Paul reminds the Romans in Chapter 8, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Greek version of this is Abba ho pater, which could be translated “Abba, who is Father,” or “Abba which is Father.”
Abba is thought to be an Aramaic word, from the language Jesus spoke. Aramaic was an ancient language that preceded Hebrew, Syriac and Arabic. It is still used as the liturgical language of many churches in the Middle East, including the Syrian Catholic Church, and the Maronite Church, which was founded in the 5th Century in Lebanon.
The Greek word pater is the root of such words as Patron, and patristics, so Paul is making the point that Jesus called God his father in his native language. This makes it more personal for him, and for us, and when Jesus taught the disciples to pray, he invited them to call God, “Father,” too.
He followed that with the statement, “Hallowed be thy name.” Your Name is holy, sacred, precious. This is an example of praise. The next section begins with petitions. “Thy kingdom come.”
Matthew’s version of the Gospel adds this line, “thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” This means make the Father’s kingdom present here and now, where his will is done, just like it is in heaven. This is a petition asking for our Father to be the Lord of our lives, where our will is set aside, and his alone is done.
The next petition is, “Give us each day our daily bread;” We need food to live, of course, but more than that, we need sustenance on a spiritual level. Remember that Jesus said, I am the Bread of Life. Whoever eats this Bread will never die.
St. Cyprian wrote, “And this may be understood both spiritually and literally, because either way of understanding it is rich in divine usefulness to our salvation. For Christ is the bread of life.”
The next petition is, “forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.” In our liturgical version, it is “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” The main thing to remember here is that we are to forgive those who wrong us, because we will receive forgiveness from our Father.
The next petition is; “lead us not into temptation.” In our version, we also have “but deliver us from evil,” which is included in most Greek translations. Pope Francis made headlines when he decided to change the way Roman Catholics pray that line to, “do not let us fall into temptation.”
Of the traditional prayers, the Pope said, “It is not a good translation because it speaks of a God who induces temptation. He went on to say, “I am the one who falls. It’s not him pushing me into temptation to then see how I have fallen. A father doesn’t do that; a father helps you to get up immediately. It’s Satan who leads us into temptation – that’s his department.”
I think the phrase means something like, “lead us away from temptation,” so it doesn’t really bother me to say it the way I learned it. Matthew’s version adds the line, “But deliver us from evil,” which I think makes it a little more clear.
The next section of the Gospel reinforces for us that prayer works. “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” These words are some of the most familiar in the Bible, but are they fully accepted? How many times have we doubted that the LORD would come through for us the way we wanted? Most of the time the LORD comes through for us in ways we don’t expect.
How is your prayer life? I know you pray here at church, but how about afterwards? I know it’s difficult to carve out some prayer time in our busy lives, but it’s very easy to do, even if you have less than a minute. How could it be that easy? Just follow the words Jesus gave the disciples; Start with, “Our Father, who art in heaven.” Amen.