July 24, 2016

Prayer is important to Jesus. In Luke’s gospel alone, Jesus is at prayer at his baptism; before choosing his 12 disciples; before the first prediction of his passion, at the Transfiguration. Prayer is important to Jesus.

And prayer was clearly important to Luke – he collected and presented several stories attributed to Jesus and prayer in a rather small section of his gospel.

What we read today begins with, “Jesus was praying.” And when he was finished, one of the disciples asked him to teach them to pray “as John had taught his disciples.”

One thing we discover is that prayer is something we can learn, something that can be taught.  And we also learn that there are forms of prayer that teachers pass on. It was usual in Jesus’ time for teachers to instruct their disciples in how to pray and give them a pattern for prayer. This is essentially what the disciples were asking for. Rabbis and religious teachers taught their followers spiritual practices.

In this case, it was John who taught his disciples how to pray, and the disciples of Jesus asked Jesus to teach them his form of prayer. They asked to be taught. So Jesus taught them, “When you pray, say this.”

What we traditionally call “The Lord’s Prayer” was Jesus response to a disciple’s request to be taught how to pray, to be given some instruction, a method. Every Eucharist we introduce this prayer, saying, “And now, as our savior Christ has taught us, we are bold to say”?

So, this is Jesus Prayer.

But he didn’t teach us his prayer, but a way to pray, and what to pray for. He gave it to his disciples as a way to formulate prayer.

There is another point about this prayer that is sometimes missed: This is a community prayer, not a private prayer. It is a prayer that first praises God, and then makes three petitions for the ones praying. The language of “us,” “we,” assumes that the community shares in the desire for God to give not just to me, but to us what we need to live this day, “our daily bread,” to tie our forgiveness to our willingness to forgive others, and to save us from the time of trial.

Another point: The “daily bread” piece in Luke more accurately reads “day by day give us,” or “continue giving us,” or “each day give us.” It seems that Jesus was reminding his disciples of how God provided for their ancestors in the wilderness with manna, bread from heaven, but only enough for that day. If they tried to store it up, it would always spoil. The idea being to renew our trust in God on a daily basis rather than trusting in our own provisions.

In Jesus prayer in Luke, the one praying asks for God’s forgiveness of sins – while promising to forgive everyone indebted to us. This may be a reflection of Luke’s concern that possessions not get in the way of community relationships. It may also be a reminder that God is the only one able to forgive sins, and that we are always in debt to one another.

Ultimately, the importance of the Lord’s Prayer is not only that Jesus taught it to his disciples, but that it was adopted by early Christians and incorporated into their understanding of how God shall be praised and how we should pray.

So it seems appropriate for Jesus to illustrate this prayer with a story of two friends, one of whom has an unexpected visitor, asking for their friend to share some bread. Remember the community context of the prayer Jesus was teaching, “give us each day our daily bread?” And because of his persistence the friend gives him what he needs.

Jesus offers this story to give us hope. If people will get out of bed in a situation like that, ordinary, tired people whose children may be light sleepers, then don't you think that this Lord God may be at least that approachable by those who pray? Don't you think that those who search out God’s house through the darkness, who knock on God’s door in need––don't you think that they will have the door opened for them and have thrust into their hands something more than a few cold crusts? God is a lot better than we are even at our best.

Jesus realizes how anything this gracious is difficult for our tough hearts to accept. So he makes the point again in different terms. He recognizes that most parents at least try to be good parents, even if they sometimes fail. If our child asks for fish for supper, we don't throw a live snake at them? And if our kid asks for a hard-boiled egg, we don't hand her a scorpion, do we?

When it comes to our kids, we try to give them what they need. Why should we suppose that when it comes to God’s children, God would do any less?

We may be fearful, but Jesus wants to lead us to trust. Isn’t this the reason Jesus broke with the tradition of the day and taught his disciples to address God as Father, an intimate term of endearment? The language of that prayer is not meant to keep God on good behavior; it's there for us to know that God has neither a distracted mind nor a small heart.

Jesus ends today's Gospel with an attack on tunnel vision. Often what we ask of God is too small. We ask for what might be a part of our lives rather than life itself. Jesus promises that the heavenly Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him. In other words, Jesus tells us to ask God for God, for the gift of God's own Spirit!

What bigger gift can we ask for? What better gift can be given? God bestows the Spirit for the asking. In the light of the Holy Spirit with us everything starts to look different.

It is astounding to realize that God gives God’s self away in response to our prayers and expects us to give ourselves to each other with that same generosity!