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Lord, Teach Us To Pray

Ordinary 17 Year C

A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
www.hebrewcatholic.org.nz

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St. Luke 11: 1 — 13

 

Introduction

This passage is, as we know, one of the great records of our Lord’s teaching about prayer. It is a supreme example of teaching which remains a mystery unless actually prayed! If we do not meditate on it, we can never hope to share in its vast richness. Our brief notes are a mere introduction to the treasures the text contains.

Many readers, despite their Christian upbringing, may not be greatly familiar with the Lord’s Prayer, the “Our Father”. In fact, they may be surprised to find Jesus commanding his disciples to recite, by heart, a formal prayer.

Others, again despite Christian upbringing, may be surprised to find two different forms of the same prayer in the New Testament. The explanation of this is not that Jesus taught it twice, with different wording, as He could have done so several times. We need to recall that we recite this wonderful prayer not because it is in the New Testament, but rather, that Jesus commanded it and that His command was handed down by oral tradition. The books of the New Testament were written some considerable time after this tradition was firmly in place. The writers of the two Gospel accounts of Matthew and Luke recorded the oral tradition as it was then being taught in their different locations, for different cultures. That is a wonderful story about the growth of the infant Church, but we must leave that for another time.

We will offer a few thoughts for your reflection on the three divisions of the text:

•    Verse 1 — 4      A. The Lord’s Prayer
•    Verse 5 — 8      B. Parable of the Friend at Midnight
•    Verse 9 — 13    C. Ask, Seek, Knock.

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Some Reflections on the Text

A. The Lord’s Prayer

Verse 1

He was praying in a certain place, and when he had
finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us
to pray just as John taught his disciples.”

St. Luke begins this very important text on our Lord’s teaching about prayer with Jesus himself at prayer. He was found in “a certain place”, meaning one of the known quiet places to which He often retreated for solitude and contemplation. These were well known by His close disciples who in fact themselves, learnt to resort to favourite places where they found intimacy with God.

A disciple has approached the place where Jesus is at prayer and respectfully stands back waiting for the Master to finish. When it is obviously appropriate to do so the disciple moves forward, addresses Our Lord with His usual title: Rabbi Yeshua (Jesus), and then makes his request.

“Would you teach us to pray just as John (the Baptist)
 taught his disciples.”

He who is here at prayer, our very own example of prayer, gives us the perfect model of prayer.

We need to remember that the disciples already knew how to pray, both informally and according to Jewish liturgical practice. They were very much people of prayer and were well used to reciting the Psalms and other Scriptures in their devotions at home, in the Synagogue, and in the Temple.

The disciples were asking Jesus for a prayer from their own Rabbi, which would identify them as His faithful students and followers. All great rabbis provided one for their disciples.

Verse 2 — 4

He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be
your name, your kingdom come.

Give us each day our daily bread

and forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone
in debt to us, and do not subject us to the final test.”

To their delight, the disciples present discover that Jesus has just such a prayer already prepared for them. He was just waiting to be asked.

Our Lord does not introduce his prayer with some general comment such as — “Well if you want you could, when you feel like it, recite the following”. Rather he responds instantly with a strong directive, in fact, with a command — a mitzvah:

When you pray, say: .…!”
 The words ‘When (or whenever — hotan) you pray’ (verse 2)
imply frequent repetition of the actual prayer. (Liefeld).

This observation by Walter Liefield is of the greatest importance as so many Christians have substituted our Lord’s command with their own reasons for not doing so.

Thus before we go any further we need to let it “sink in” that for the disciples of Jesus, prayer originates in both the example and command of the Master Himself. Our Lord’s words above are a clear Jewish reference indicating that when the disciples offer the traditional morning, afternoon and night prayers, as His disciples, they should add the short prayer He gave them. For two millennia Christian practice has been to include the Lord’s Prayer at least in morning and evening private and public prayer, as well as any celebration of the Eucharist, in faithful obedience to His command. (See Appendix: Readings 1 and 2).

We give some emphasis to the cultural setting of this Mitzvah — this command of Jesus Messiah. He did not specify the number of times daily for His prayer to be recited. Rather He allowed that to be highlighted within the various cultures in which it would be used, then and in the future. But it is to be recited daily, consistent with the culture of each Christian. Those who protest that “too often” would reduce its value and effect must listen more carefully with the heart to His command, and His teaching. In our perilous age we have got to “get our act together” and use every piece of spiritual armour we can lay our hands upon.

The prayer opens with a very privileged form of address, in our Lord’s own language — “Abba” or Dear Father. It is a family name, and we are expected to use it!

In typical Jewish fashion, the mere mention of God’s Holy name or title must be followed immediately by an attribution of reverence and due honour to God. Thus we have:

•    “Hallowed be your name.” This is not just devout hope.
      It is an act of worship in itself.                          (Liefield)

•    “Your kingdom come.” We are to keep our focus
      forward-looking towards the perfect fulfilment of God’s
      Kingdom on earth.

Then, in St. Luke’s form of the prayer, three petitions follow:

•    “Give us each day our daily bread ……” This has distinct
      Eucharistic links.

•    ” … and forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive
       everyone in debt to us
, …” St. Benedict ensured the
       Lord’s Prayer was said, in addition to recitation in the
       Eucharist, at the close of morning and evening prayer
       to remind the monks they will be forgiven as they forgive!

•    “….. and do not subject us to the final test.” A prayer
       for Divine help not to err from the path of a holy life so
       that we reach our final destiny.

Any differences between the recorded wording by St. Matthew and St. Luke do not indicate any variation in the teaching of Jesus.

Some Christians who recite this prayer add the words, “For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, now and forever.” These words were not taught by Jesus as part of His prayer. In the very early Church, following Jewish custom, a prayer of special beauty and importance was concluded with a similar acknowledgement of God’s holiness and glory as that with which it began. This was a very beautiful custom, in keeping with so much of the rich and wonderful Jewish heritage that it carried over into Christianity especially, in this case, by the Byzantine Church.

Actually, it was added to some of the early manuscripts as an act of respect and over time became recited with the Lord’s Prayer. Provided we intend the addition to be an act of honour and respect to God, it is reasonable to continue to add the acclamation, at that point, or later according to one’s own cultural heritage.

A Note On The Two Versions of the Lord’s Prayer

The Lord’s Prayer here given by St. Luke contains only five
petitions, whereas in St. Matthew (6: 9 ― 13) it has seven.

Moreover, according to St. Matthew this prayer was uttered
during the Sermon On The Mount and before a multitude.

To explain these differences many commentators believe we
have two versions of the same prayer spoken on different
occasions; and the five petitions of St. Luke, they maintain,
substantially contain the seven petitions of St. Matthew, just
as the four beatitudes given by St. Luke contain the eight
given by St. Matthew.                             (Charles Callan, O. P.)

B. Parable of the Friend at Midnight

Verses 5 — 8

And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend to
whom he goes at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me
three loaves of bread,

for a friend of mine has arrived at my house from a
journey and I have nothing to offer him,’

and he says in reply from within, ‘Do not bother me; the
door has already been locked and my children and I are
already in bed. I cannot get up to give you anything.’

I tell you, if he does not get up to give him the loaves
because of their friendship, he will get up to give him
whatever he needs because of his persistence.

We need to recall that a parable subordinates all details to one truth, usually located in the final punch line. In this parable, the punch line is that the man’s unhesitating persistence to go to his friend will bring him what he needs. That is what is being held up to us.

The situation in our text was very common in our Lord’s time when travellers would arrive at their lodging during the night. This was because travel during the midday heat was to be avoided.

So a traveller calls on an old acquaintance in the middle of
the night expecting (as was the custom) to be welcomed and
looked after. The householder obliges but has no food for his
visitor so he has to go off and wake someone up to try and
obtain some. He goes and knocks on the door of a friend and
seeks his presence so that he can explain his dilemma. When
his friend wakes up and responds (even if a little grumpily)
he asks for help. At the risk of wearing out his friend, he
keeps asking (quite persistently) because he has nowhere
else to go. Finally his friend opens the door and supplies all
that is needed.

For a more detailed commentary on these four verses see Appendix: Reading 3.

We sometimes hear it said that the man’s perseverance finally got him what he was seeking. ‘Perseverance’ places the focus on the unrelenting determination of the one doing the disturbing. Our text uses ‘persistence’ which says something about the relationship between the two men and the householder’s permitting the disturbance to continue. Thus the focus is more on what was therefore, obviously, a robust friendship.

Our Lord is hinting that our relationship with the Father (Abba) is, indeed, a robust one since we are more than friends: we are family!

C. Ask, Seek, Knock

Verses 9 — 13

“And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will
find; knock and the door will be opened to you.

For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks,
finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

What father among you would hand his son a snake when
he asks for a fish?

Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg?

If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts
to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven
give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”

This section opens with our Lord being very specific to his disciples. We are to:

Be Asking

Be Seeking

Be Knocking

Asking with confidence and humility because we have needs or we know of someone else’s needs.

Seeking with care and application because we are aware of a great absence and emptiness in our lives if we do not seek constantly our spiritual wellbeing centred in God.

Knocking with earnestness and persistence because we are willing to be helped to cross the threshold of unbelief, and find our true rest — our true home, where we belong.

Finally, our Lord uses his technique of contrast again. “You fathers, when you know your children need something, are not going to give them something dangerous to harm them! If you then are “wicked” (meaning in Aramaic, imperfect) know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in Heaven (who is perfect) give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”

Is this not the most amazing high point of his lesson on prayer! The Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who, in a true spirit of prayer, ask Him.

To some, this is outrageous! The greatest gift of God — the gift of the Renewer, Comforter, Revealer of God, and Giver of Eternal Life — is to be got for the asking! (Sadler).

The truth Our Lord is conveying via parable, is that while our Father knows what we or others need, He has chosen to honour us with direct access to Him as a family member. He invites us to reflect on what we and others need, and awaits our approach. It pleases Him that we ask for others, as well as for ourselves. Remember St. Austin’s famous line:

“He is more ready to give than we are to receive.”
(Note: St. Austin is the English name for the more
widely used title, St. Augustine of Canterbury.)

The ministry of intercession for all humanity is a very high priority with Our Lord and He places it in the broad stream of prayer including praise, intercession, thanksgiving and contemplation all of which all of us can do with a very special helper.

And what is His ultimate gift? Nothing less than the Holy Spirit who enables us to pray as our Rabbi did then, AND STILL DOES — “Abba, Father”!

 

Conclusion

Unfortunately, in this age of taking short cuts, there are some who teach that all you have to do to obtain the Holy Spirit is to “ask”. After all, Jesus said so. This is yet another part of Sacred Scripture which is so often crudely plundered and misused. This passage from Luke has a beautiful unity in its three parts. Those who select only a small segment of our Lord’s lesson and emphasise it out of context have missed the point — and missed it because they have not taken Our Lord’s instruction as a whole.

His teaching on “prayer” is set in the context of His frequent retirement to be present before the Father in silence and stillness: the most fundamental thing we should note and imitate.

First instruction:

He commands frequent recitation of a formal prayer; one which is NOT just the description of a model but a prayer carefully crafted for us, by Him.

Second instruction:

Our Lord calls on us, His family, to be not just persevering but very persistent and unhesitating as we approach God in humility and having complete confidence on His lovingkindness and mercy.

Third instruction:

He also commands: Be asking; be seeking; be knocking! Thus our “asking” is to be in a broader context of seeking God’s Will. For nothing pleases our Father more than for us to be consciously present before Him and to speak with Him that we might know and do His Holy Will.

THEN: ask for the help of the Holy Spirit — stand back and behold the power of God as He deepens and strengthens our sense of presence before Him and His presence within us!

Let us read and reflect on this lesson from Jesus Messiah many times, giving equal status to all its parts. May it prove to be a great blessing to us all.

Shalom!

 

Further Reading

For those who would like a detailed study resource
on the readings for Sunday, please visit:

Agape Bible Study — Ordinary 17 ― Year C

If you require only the section on the Gospel reading,
just scroll down the page.

To view all the material on the Agape website please visit:

www.agapebiblestudy.com

This website is highly recommended:

 

Proclaim the Gospel to Every Creature

(Mark 16: 15)

The real Jesus, is the real answer to the real needs of the world!

Let us remember God’s teaching, contained in His Word and in doing
so, remain close to Him. The following are only examples illustrating
how you can note the gems the Holy Spirit highlights for your on-going
reflection.

“Lord, Teach Us To Pray”

Ordinary 18     Year C           Luke 11: 1 — 13

1.    In accord with the Biblical tradition and practice of the Church across two
       millennia, we recommend the solemn recitation of the Lord’s Prayer three
       times each day, or more if appropriate. It is an inexhaustible treasure which
       opens to the soul when it is prayed as well as meditated upon.

2.    Jesus Messiah invites us to ask our Heavenly Father for what we or others
       need, and to ask in humble confidence. We are to address God as Abba —
       Father, for we are members of His household.

“He is more ready to give than we are to receive.” (St Austin)
(Note: St. Austin is the English name for the more

widely used title, St. Augustine of Canterbury.)

3.    Jesus explains that if our human father, though imperfect, does his best to
       give us all we need — how much more will God, our Heavenly Father, who is
       perfect, be eager to give us more besides — even the Holy Spirit. This is to
       emphasise our need to look to the Holy Spirit Who will bring us ever more
       closely into the family circle of God’s household. He will prepare us for the
       Glorious Return of the Messiah and the complete and perfect establishment
       of God’s Kingdom. That is what Rabbi Yeshua (Jesus) is highlighting for us.

       Let us pray for one another as family members, that we will treasure the
       Father we share in common, as well as the dignity we enjoy as Gods
       daughters and sons.

Shalom!

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 John 11: 1 — 13

Ordinary 16          Year C

 NEW AMERICAN BIBLE

1    1 2 He was praying in a certain place, and when he had finished,
      one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John
      taught his disciples.”

2    3 He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your
      name, your kingdom come.

3    Give us each day our daily bread 4

4    and forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to
      us, and do not subject us to the final test.”

5    And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend to whom he
      goes at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread,

6    for a friend of mine has arrived at my house from a journey and I
      have nothing to offer him,’

7    and he says in reply from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has
      already been locked and my children and I are already in bed. I
      cannot get up to give you anything.’

8    I tell you, if he does not get up to give him the loaves because of 
      their friendship, he will get up to give him whatever he needs
      because of his persistence.

9    “And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; 
      knock and the door will be opened to you.

10   For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds;
       and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

11    What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks
       for a fish?

12    Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg?

13    If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your
        children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the
        holy Spirit to those who ask him?”

1 [1-13] Luke presents three episodes concerned with prayer. The first (⇒ Luke 11:1-4) recounts Jesus teaching his disciples the Christian communal prayer, the “Our Father”; the second (⇒ Luke 11:5-8), the importance of persistence in prayer; the third (⇒ Luke 11:9-13), the effectiveness of prayer.

2 [1-4] The Matthean form of the “Our Father” occurs in the “Sermon on the Mount” (⇒ Matthew 6:9-15); the shorter Lucan version is presented while Jesus is at prayer (see the note on ⇒ Luke 3:21) and his disciples ask him to teach them to pray just as John taught his disciples to pray. In answer to their question, Jesus presents them with an example of a Christian communal prayer that stresses the fatherhood of God and acknowledges him as the one to whom the Christian disciple owes daily sustenance (⇒ Luke 11:3), forgiveness (⇒ Luke 11:4), and deliverance from the final trial (⇒ Luke 11:4). See also the notes on ⇒ Matthew 6:9-13.

3 [2] Your kingdom come: in place of this petition, some early church Fathers record: “May your holy Spirit come upon us and cleanse us,” a petition that may reflect the use of the “Our Father” in a baptismal liturgy.

4 [3-4] Daily bread: see the note on ⇒ Matthew 6:11. The final test: see the note on ⇒ Matthew 6:13.

Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible,
revised edition (c) 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian
Doctrine, Washington D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright
owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may
be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the
copyright owner.

 


Appendix

Three Readings: M. F. Sadler

St. Luke 11: 1 — 13

1.    According to the opinion of many bodies of Christians since the time of Calvin,
the Lord should have said, “I cannot teach you any form of prayer. Any words that
even I could give you would only fetter the freedom of your intercourse with your
Father. My Spirit alone can teach you how to pray, and His teaching will raise you
up into an atmosphere far above all forms.” On the principle of those who discard
the use of all forms, such should have been the Lord’s answer; but instead of this 
He at once gave them, a second time apparently, the prayer which He had given 
in the Sermon on the Mount.

Now, in giving them this well-known form, He gave them words which, so far
from fettering or cramping their freedom, they would never be able to rise to the
spirit of.

2.     Under no other prayer can we gather up and express so many aspirations.
No prayer leads us to think so much of God and of His will and designs as this
prayer. In the use of no other prayer can the Christian submit himself so
unreservedly to God. It follows that no prayer should be said — at times, at least
— so slowly, so collectedly, so recollectedly, so humbly, so reverentially. It follows
that no prayer requires more teaching of God’s Spirit to enter somewhat into
its depth and fullness, and sop to say it aright.

Like the Eucharist, it can be offered up with a particular intention. If there be any
work to be done for God or for the Church, what better way of commending it to
God — if there be not time or opportunity for the celebration of the Eucharist
— than by this prayer, that in the work on account of which we pray He would
glorify His Name, He would advance His kingdom, and carry out His holy will.

3.     Supposing that any one of those who heard Him had a friend who came to
him in the dead of night, hungry, and faint with his journey, and he had a
neighbour, also his friend, whom he had seldom found wanting in time of need,
though he had often tried his patience, such an one would not scruple to go
to his friend, notwithstanding that it was midnight, and ask for three loaves, for
he was bound to show his visitor hospitality, and he had nothing whatsoever in
the house. The case was so urgent that he would run the risk of exciting his
friend’s impatience and ill-temper; and when his friend, perhaps in angry times,
told him to take himself off, for if he got up to supply his want he would wake up
his children, and disturb all the house, the man without, urgently feeling
the need, would continue knocking till he within, seeing there was no help — that,
if he would get his night’s rest, he must comply with his friend’s request,
and yield to his shameless importunity, — would rise up, and with ill-humour
and, perhaps some bad words, give him what was needed.

Now see the amazing contrast between the conduct of the angry and churlish
friend and that of God. The friend in his house at midnight, in bed with his
children, is put in contrast with God, Who never slumbers nor sleeps, Whose
ears are always open to prayer, Who is angry and disturbed — to speak after the
manner of men — not when His people pray, but when they do not pray; the
door bolted and barred is put in contrast with the door of heaven, always open;
the trouble that the friend within deprecated is in contrast with the ease with
which Almighty God can grant any and every request, without stirring from
His place. The impatience of the friend at being disturbed is in contrast with the
patience of God, Who, no matter how we have sinned, will hear our prayer. The
granting of the request, not for friendship, but for self’s sake, is in contrast
with the exuberant kindness and mercy of God, Who gives to us, not as a relief
to Himself, but because of His love to us, and His desire for our temporal and
eternal good.

The refusal and delay of the man within, in order that the man without might go
away, and cease to disturb him, is in contrast with the mind and conduct of our
heavenly Father, Who, when He seems to delay His answer, delays not for His
ease, but for our sakes, in order that our faith may be strengthened, our
habit of prayer increased, and our appreciation of the value of His gifts deepened
because of the trouble and perseverance we have to exercise.

 

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