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.
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.”