Jesus teaches us to pray

11 October 2006: Wednesday of the 27th Week in Ordinary Time
Luke 11, 1-4: The Lord teaches us to pray

There is no doubt where the Our Father comes from. Jesus has taught the prayer to His disciples and to all His listeners. There are two versions of the Our Father: the shortest is in Luke, which is the Gospel today, and the slightly longer version is in Matthew. Luke’s Our Father is followed by Jesus’ parable of the father, the son, and a fish (“Would a father give his son a snake if he asks for a fish?”), and Matthew’s Our Father is in the Sermon on the Mount after the Beatitudes. Matthew’s version has an added feature found in older versions of Protestant and Catholic bibles, “For the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever.” Today, Protestants end the Our Father with this phrase, while Catholics recite this doxology after the Our Father at mass. It is not hard to imagine the versions: people ask Jesus how to pray, several times and at different occasions. Jesus could have taught them the basic prayer with some variations. For example, Matthew’s Your will be done, on earth as in heaven is a parallel: the Kingdom of God comes when God’s will is done both on earth and in heaven.

The structure of the prayer is like a Jewish prayer: First, it begins by honoring God like many Jewish prayers. There is, in fact the Jewish Eighteen Benedictions which a good Jew was to say, three times a day. Second, the person prays that God’s will be done in their lives and in the world. And thus, when we pray, our prayers must be about understanding God’s will and letting it guide us, NOT trying the twist God’s way of thinking into our way of thinking or convince God to approve our decisions. And finally, we ask Him to provide for all our needs, forgive our sins and protect us when we are tempted and tested. In one of the earliest instructions for Christians called the Didache, around the late 1st century to the middle 2nd century, the reader was asked to pray the Our Father, three times a day, like the Jewish Eighteen Benedictions.

With this structure, Jesus teaches us how we should pray. Perhaps, we can look into our prayers. Jesus teaches us an attitude. When we honor God, the title we use tells us about our relationship with Him. When we say, “Lord and Master”, we are slaves. But Jesus taught us to use, “Abba”, like the colloquial, “Daddy” or “Papa”, which means that we have a personal relationship with our dad, just like Him (the Jews will never use Abba! to address God). And thus when we say, “Our Father” we are to talk to God as a child talks to his or her parents; trusting God that whatever His response to us, it will always be for our good, as a father who will not give a snake to his son who asks for a fish.

Thus, if we follow what the earliest Christians did --- or finding it inspiring to connect with our ancestors --- we pray the Our Father three times a day, the way we eat our major meals. As we eat breakfast to nourish us during the day, we say an Our Father. As we take our lunch in the middle of our work, we say an Our Father to sustain us. And as we end the day with dinner, we say an Our Father to thank him and help our bodies repair itself while we sleep.

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