Lord, teach us to pray

I’ve always read Luke 11:1-13 as a two only somewhat related stories.  First, the disciples, jealous that John’s disciples have a prayer they’ve learned from their Rabbi, ask Jesus to teach them to pray, and Jesus gives them the Lord’s Prayer.  Then, sometime later, but within the construct of Luke’s narrative, Jesus tells the parable of the persistent neighbor.  It’s always felt really disjointed to me, as if there was some kind of record scratch in between.

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Luke B All

This reading is probably due to my Episcopalianism.  As a priest in a tradition that is tied heavily to prayers written in a book, my inclination is to hear the disciples asking Jesus for the words to say in prayer, not necessarily how it should happen.  For some reason this morning, however, I read the text as a singular encounter between Jesus and he disciples.  When they ask Jesus to teach them to pray, first he gives them a basic framework of words to use and then he goes on teach them how often they should use them.

Father, hallowed be your name – The prayer begins by addressing God and articulating that God is God.  In the Jewish tradition, this would be in line with Shema which states that the Lord is God and the Lord is one.

Your kingdom come – This is the core message that Jesus came to bring, that the Kingdom of God has come near.  The prayer of Jesus’ disciples, it would follow, should be primarily focused on seeing that come to fruition.

Give us each day our daily bread – The story of the relationship between God and God’s people is one of faith renewed each morning.  As the Hebrews travelled for 40 years in the wilderness, they were given manna, bread from heaven, that was only enough for the day.  If they took any more than that, it would spoil.  As inheritors of that faith tradition, we look only for enough to deal with today, for tomorrow has its own worries.

And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us – Jesus steers clear of the sins/trespasses/debts debate by using two different words here.  We pray for forgiveness of our sins as we attempt to learn what it means to forgive others who we perceive owe us something.  This is the only place in this prayer where we are invited to directly ask God to change us – from those who do not forgive to those who are and can forgive.

And do not bring us to the time of trial – By far the most difficult petition to understand.  Not only do we pray for forgiveness, but we also pray that God might protect us from situations that would lead us into sin.  Maybe, if we are going to take this prayer seriously, we should all delete our Twitter accounts in order to not be led into a time of trial.

What follows then is a parable from Jesus about how often we should pray.  We know that God knows our needs before we ask and our ignorance in asking, so I don’t think that Jesus is saying that God needs us to be pesterful in order for prayers to be answered.  Many a hospital room has been sullied by such bad theology of “if you only prayed harder” or “if you had more faith.”  Rather, if our relationship with God is to develop, we need to approach God in prayer with great regularity, not merely asking for God to fix those things that are in crisis, but above all, asking God for the Holy Spirit to be our advocate and guide.  “How much more willing will your heavenly Father be to give the Holy Spirit to those who ask.”

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Give us today our [daily] bread

One of the most famous lines ever uttered by Jesus, and my Greek lexicon says, “of doubtful meaning,” how can this be?  Well, it seems that in both versions of the Lord’s Prayer: Luke’s that we will hear on Sunday and Matthew’s that we will pray on Sunday; the word used to describe the type of bread is, wait for it, a hapax legomenon!

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The Greek word “epiousios” is found in both versions, which they probably borrowed from Q or some other shared source, and, at least according to none other than Origen, was not a word used in ordinary speech.  He posits that perhaps one of the evangelists coined the term.  So, if the word for “daily” wasn’t used to mean “daily,” does it make a difference?  And if so, what does it mean?

Thanks to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, I’ve come to know that in the Peshitta Syriac New Testament, the word is translated to mean “necessity.” “Give us the bread of necessity for today.”  In the Curetonian  Gospels, which are also Syriac in origin and perhaps older than the Peshitta, it is translated as “continual.”  The question remains, “does it matter?”  Well, probably not.  In the end, the earliest translations seem to be in line with the more modern “daily.”  Jesus invites us to follow in the footsteps of Israel in the wilderness and to trust God enough only to ask for provision for this day.  Tomorrow’s worries will take care of themselves.  Whether the bread comes to us continually or only according to our necessity, the reality is the gifts of God will come to suit us for today, and today alone.

That’s our prayer, then.  Give me the bread I need for today, and by extension, make be to be content with what I have and not anxious about what is to come.

Father

By the standards of this world, this blog has a pretty meager following.  On any given day, not counting those who read posts in their email box or through an RSS feed, only about 80 or 90 sets of eyes lay upon my words.  As I’ve said, however, this blog is such a part of my own spiritual practice that I would write it even if nobody read it.  Still, it is nice to receive feedback from time to time.  Overnight, one of my parishioners read my blog and offered some thoughts on the opening line of the Lord’s Prayer from her reading of CS Lewis.

“Its very first words are Our Father. Do you now see what those words mean? They mean quite frankly, that you are putting yourself in the place of a son of God. To put it bluntly, you are dressing up as Christ. If you like, you are pretending. Because, of course, the moment you realise what the words mean, you realise that you are not a son of God. You are not being like The Son of God, whose will and interests are at one with those of the Father: you are a bundle of self-centred fears, hopes, greeds, jealousies, and self-conceit, all doomed to death. So that, in a way, this dressing up as Christ is a piece of outrageous cheek. But the odd thing is that He has ordered us to do it.” (From Mere Christianity Compiled in Words to Live By)

I find these words from Lewis to be quite interesting in light of the Apostle Paul who, in his letter to the Romans, suggests an alternative way of looking at our calling God “Father.”  In a lesson that will be very familiar to Episcopalians who attend funerals, Paul suggests that we do not approach God as “Father” or “Abba” of our own volition, but through the power of the Spirit.

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.”

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When Jesus suggests to his disciples that they begin their prayers by addressing God in the same manner he does, it isn’t, I don’t think, about taking on the veil of Christ and thereby being convicted of our own inadequacies.  Rather, to approach God as Father is to come before him with the boldness of faith in the power of the Spirit.  It is to stake our claim as adopted children and co-heirs with Christ.  To begin the prayer of the kingdom by simply calling God “Father” is to embrace our position in the kingdom which should convict us not of our own sinfulness but of our high calling as brother and sister disciples of Jesus and sons and daughters, first-order heirs of God, who are committed to the spread of the kingdom of God throughout the world.

The Lord’s Prayer – Unplugged

This Sunday, we will once again hear a very familiar passage from Luke’s Gospel.  The Lord’s Prayer is, without a doubt, the most familiar prayer in the western world, which is why despite the familiarity of this passage, many will find the Lukan account to be very disconcerting.  Luke’s version of Jesus teaching his disciples how to pray is very different from the Matthean version that we Episcopalians are used to praying on a daily basis.  It is, to use a modern idiom, The Lord’s Prayer Unplugged.

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Still one of the best albums ever recorded.

In fact, the Lukan version is so stripped down from its more familiar Matthean counterpart, that two full pages in Metzger’s A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament are devoted to scribal accretions on the very simple original.  Some of them are familiar.  Some add in “who art in heaven.”  Others needed it to include “on earth, as it is in heaven.”  The most interesting addition is an invocation of the Holy Spirit that seems to come from left field: “Your Holy Spirit come upon us and cleanse us.”  Still, the most likely original version is that which we will hear read on Sunday.

“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.”

While it might be interesting in a sermon to play on the differences between the more familiar version from Matthew and Luke’s acoustic rendition, I wonder if it wouldn’t be more helpful to let it sit on its own.  Let the people feel uncomfortable, as if you’d had them read Psalm 23 from something other than the King James Version.  Instead of focusing on what isn’t in Luke’s version, pay careful attention to what is.  As the week goes one, we’ll look more deeply at the particular petitions, but given the context, with Jesus having set his face toward Jerusalem and the urgency of his message that the Kingdom of God being at hand, what are we to learn from this abbreviated teaching on prayer?