Daily prayer: The Lord’s prayer

Daily prayer: The Lord’s prayer

In the gospels we read frequently of Jesus going off to a quiet place to pray. It was the way by which he communicated with his father. He taught his disciples to pray. As descendants of those first disciples we too should pray.

In chapter 11 of St. Luke's gospel Jesus teaches as follows:

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”. 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 indebted to us
And do not bring us to the time of trial”.

The Lord's Prayer (Le "Pater Noster") by James Tissot

Gathered around Jesus, the disciples ask him to teach them to pray. With arms opened wide and hands upraised in a gesture of humility, Jesus begins his prayer with an acknowledgment of God’s power in heaven and on earth.

Pay attention to the pronouns. What holds understated importance in The Lord's Prayer is the pronouns, beginning with "Our Father." God belongs to the Christian community together. God is the One who draws us toward one another as children of the same Heavenly Parent. Similarly, when we pray "Your kingdom come" and "Your will be done," we are distinctly not praying for our own kingdoms of power or our own desires to be the most important things. The prayer continues in the communal language of "our" rather than "my," and that matters immensely because this prayer does not simply help us to become more Christian. It teaches us how to be Christian together, in community.

Daily . . . everything? The insomniac might pray, "Give us this day our daily sleep." The lonely soul might pray, "Give us this day our daily human connection and affection." Give to each person what we stand in need of this day. Amen.

Praying with the hungry. Although the parameters of "Give us this day our daily bread" can be expanded to include each of our daily needs, perhaps the greater challenge is for those of us with easily filled bellies to expand our compassion and imagination to embrace those who are haunted by hunger. So when we pray "give us this day our daily bread" we are also asking how we can help to make "daily bread" available to those who are hungry, homeless, or hopeless.

Forgiveness. Nowhere else does the Lord's Prayer falter on our lips as it does when we get to this petition: "Forgive us our sin as we forgive those who sin against us." The Heidelberg Catechism tells us that this petition means "Because of Christ’s blood, do not hold against us, poor sinners that we are, any of the sins we door the evil that constantly clings to us."  Though we might recite this line, by rote or on auto-pilot, it is not the intention of God that this petition is easy in practice. "Rather, in commanding us to forgive, Jesus is inviting us to take charge, to turn the world around, to throw a monkey wrench in the eternal wheel of retribution and vengeance."  As it has been done for us, may we be "fully determined" to demonstrate our gratitude to God in ways that will surprise and benefit those in need of our forgiveness.

“And do not bring us to the time of trial.” Trial can be interpreted in a number of ways, including conflict with spiritual powers and human enemies, temptation or testing. This line of the prayer is difficult to understand because it raises the question about whether God brings us to trial or temptation.

Jesus was a thought-provoking teacher who did not give easy answers. He often taught using parables which presented disturbing concepts to his listeners and forced them to think about their assumptions. This last line of Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer follows in the same vein. It asks the hearers to think.

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