Lord, Teach us to Pray

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Luke  11: 1-13

The Venerable Ralph Leavitt, Honorary Associate Priest

How do you approach the Lord’s Prayer? The most well known Christian prayer around the world. The fact that it is so well known, written on our hearts so to speak, is a tremendous blessing. However, being so familiar can be a problem too. Do you just rattle it off without thinking of what you are saying? I think we are all guilty of that from time to time.

Today I want to tell you some things about the Lord’s Prayer that possibly you do not know. And in learning more about it, perhaps you will fully enter this incredible prayer in a new way.

We find the Lord’s Prayer in 2 places in the Bible, in Luke (our Gospel today) and in Matthew. Their versions are similar but not quite the same. Why? Because their audiences were different, and of course they were different too.

The Gospel of Luke was written in about 85 AD, it was written in Greek addressed to Greek speaking Gentiles. They did not know much about prayer and Luke’s purpose was to teach them.

The Gospel of Matthew was written also about 85 AD and it was addressed to faithful Jewish people who knew their prayer. It was written in Aramaic, the vernacular language of the day. Matthew’s purpose was not to teach people about prayer, but to reform their prayer and place it within the context of the Sermon on the Mount.  Put rather bluntly, he wanted to show that Jesus was indeed the Messiah for whom faithful people had been waiting.

The Lord’s Prayer is actually a very Jewish prayer in structure and content. There are several parallels between it and ancient Jewish Prayers. For instance Jesus would have always prayed the Kaddish: May his great name grow exalted and sanctified in the world that He created as He willed. May He reign to his Kingship in your lifetimes and in your days”. Also, the Third Amidah blessings prayer goes as follows: Thou art holy and they name is holy. We will sanctify thy name in the world as thy sanctifiers in the heavens above. The Fourth Amidah blessings says;  Our Father, our King, forgive and pardon us all our sins. Quite familiar words in ancient Jewish prayers that Jesus himself would have known.

One thing I find intriguing in the Gospel today is the introduction when, as Jesus is praying, one of his disciples make a direct request of him. He says “Lord, teach us to pray”. We have to ask ourselves, what was it that was so compelling in Jesus’ personal prayer that prompted the disciple to ask Jesus this question? It seems to me that this request came straight from his heart, he truly wanted to be able to pray like Jesus. And so Jesus teaches him and the other disciples by starting;

Our Father  – from the beginning we see that this is to be a very personal prayer. Jesus does not say ‘Lord” but uses a form that is quite shocking, he is actually almost saying ‘Daddy”, in the Aramaic “Abba”.  It is a familial approach to the Creator.

It is helpful when thinking about this prayer, that Jesus is talking to his Father in heaven. It is Jesus petitioning his Father in heaven. The wonderful thing is that Jesus includes us. He does not say “My father” but rather “Our Father”.

What follows in this Lucan version of the Lord’s Prayer are 6 specific petitions. The first three refer directly to God and God’s kingdom.

Hallowed be thy name – Jesus wants God to hallow, or make holy God’s name. Names were so important in ancient Israel, the meaning of the name carried great weight. So Jesus wants God’s name to be holy.

Thy kingdom come – Jesus refers to the time when God’s kingdom will come. This of course separates God’s kingdom from the life we live here on earth. Jesus told his disciples over and over parables of the kingdom of heaven. His wish being that God’s kingdom would come to earth.

Jesus was always talking about the ever present Kingdom of God, and also of the coming Kingdom when justice and peace would embrace.

(Thy will be done) – not actually in our text today, but it is in many other ancient texts. This follows that God’s will be done. And God’s will is nothing less than the salvation of all people.

As we say “your will be done” we are asking that we can align our lives with Jesus and seek God’s power in our lives.

If we remember that Jesus is praying this prayer to his Father, it is interesting to note that Jesus does not ask for one thing for himself, but rather that the Father’s will be done.

The next three petitions center around human need, our need for food, forgiveness, and deliverance.

Give us each day our daily bread – reminding us perhaps of the manna in the desert that was given to the Israelites in exile, just enough for each day. We are to pray daily for what is necessary for each day. And, most importantly, we are to remember that God is the source of all our needs. Jesus himself is the bread from heaven.

Forgive us our sins – it is interesting that Luke uses the word  “sins”, and in Matthew we find the word “debts” – forgive us our debts. This reflects again who Matthew and Luke were writing to. Luke uses “sins” as the Greek Gentiles he was writing to did not know any Jewish religious law,  whereas for Matthew writing to faithful Jews, they would know that “debts” meant “sins”.

In any case, this petition should remind us of God’s infinite mercy. His infinite forgiveness.  And as God has forgiven us, so we should forgive each other.

Do not bring us to the time of trial – (but deliver us from evil) – (I heard once of a small girl who got these words a little mixed up, she prayed ‘Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us some e-mail’)

Actually the time of trail refers to the final battle between God and Satan. On a smaller scale, we pray that God will indeed deliver us from the temptations of everyday life.

Pope Francis has reportedly approved changes to the wording of the Lord’s Prayer. Instead of saying, “Lead us not into temptation,” (because God would never lead us into temptation) Roman Catholics will say, “Do not let us fall into temptation”.

Of course there are sections of the Lord’s Prayer that are not mentioned in Matthew or Luke, the most obvious being the ending of the prayer “For Thine is the kingdom the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.

The translators of the 1611 King James Bible assumed that a Greek manuscript they possessed was ancient and therefore adopted the doxology “For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory for ever” into the Lord’s Prayer of Matthew’s Gospel. Oh, those English reformers!

So there you have it, some information on the most familiar and most said Christian prayer. And my hope and prayer are that being good Anglicans who repeat the same liturgy every Sunday, and know the Lord’s Prayer so well, I would ask that you never take it for granted, or say it without meaning it. Remember that when we say the Lord’s Prayer we are actually sharing in Jesus’ own prayer in his own  life and his own desires for the world. Know that God hears, provides, forgives, and protects, and expects us to love each other. Be in awe of that, and always mean what you pray.

God bless you in all your prayer life.


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