Summary: The Lord’s Prayer is a model for prayer for those in the Christain family.
My wife has been working diligently for many months to compile the genealogical histories of our families. She’s traced Fields, and Bendens, and Arbuthnots, and Delashmuts, and Cellas, and Cassarinos, and other lines too many to mention. She’s really “into it,” as they say. She’s found out that I’m Irish, Dutch, French/German, English, Native American (maybe), and at least half a dozen other ethnic groups. I’m a melting pot. She’s all Italian, as far as we can tell. Nothing but. I’m a mutt, she’s a purebred . . . but you probably already figured that out!
We have a family, she and I, and it goes back quite a way. I’m proud to know more about my roots now than when she started. I have a greater sense of belonging to my historic family.
But what does talking about being part of a particular family have to do with today’s Gospel? If we look at the Gospel only in a literal sense, then the answer is, “Probably not much.” If we look at it only literally, we’ll be tempted to say that this Gospel gives us two things: 1.) the exact words of a prayer to repeat over and over, and 2.) the understanding that all we have to do is pray hard enough and persistently enough and we can nag God into giving us whatever we want.
Understanding today’s Gospel that way leads to frustration because we’ll eventually knock up against the hard things in life, and in those circumstances, we might find, "I asked, but I didn’t receive. I knocked but that door wasn’t opened."
So . . . we have to realize that this reading isn’t just a "how-to" reading. It’s not intended to give us a sure-fired formula to use when we want or need something. It’s not about nagging God with the right requests, the right stock phrase, or the right procedure. To see what it is, we need to look deeper at these verses in their context in Luke’s Gospel, and then we’ll see that there’s a whole lot more going on here.
The 13 verses in today’s Gospel are just a brushstroke in the Gospel writer’s masterpiece portrait, and when seen as part of that greater whole, they tell us something very important about what it means to be a part of God’s family . . . what it means to be the people of God.
Do you remember the other Gospel lections we’ve read the past two Sundays? Let me review. Two weeks ago, we heard the parable of the Good Samaritan, which reminded us that it’s our actions, our works, and the way we treat others that proves whether we’re living in the kingdom of
God or not. We live life a certain way, make certain choices, and carry out our daily tasks in a certain way and that shows we understand Jesus’ lessons about how his followers ought to act.
Then last week, we heard again the story of Martha and Mary. Jesus was not putting one sister above the other. In the midst of a complex and multi-leveled dynamic, he was reminding us that we must constantly renew and strengthen ourselves to do God’s will by listening to God’s word and sharing together in prayer, just as we’re doing right now.
That sets the stage for today’s Gospel where Jesus again teaches on the meaning of discipleship. Note, if you will; the disciples want to learn. They’ve heard him teach others; they’ve heard him speak to Martha and Mary. Now they want him to teach them to pray. And that’s where things get interesting.
The New RSV translates Jesus’ introduction to his answer as, "When you pray, say . . . " But remember! What we read this morning is a translation of a Greek text. The Greek could just as correctly be translated, "When you pray, you are saying . . ." Doesn’t that give you something to think about? What Jesus was giving us was an interpretation of sound prayer, the attitude for Godly prayer, just as much as a prayer to repeat rote.
Jesus was talking to Jews, and the prayer we’ve come to call "the Lord’s Prayer" isn’t an exclusively Christian prayer. Any devout Jew could pray these same words without qualms. Perhaps, Jesus was reminding his followers that they already knew how to pray. Indeed, they’d been doing it all their lives. Perhaps, his answer to their request was just an attempt to renew their conscious understanding of what they’d been praying all along, but which might have lost its spiritual vigor by becoming too familiar.
Then he went on to give them an example of how prayer ought to affect us.
Now, we must not make the mistake of turning the neighbor-banging-on-the-door-to-get-bread story into an allegory. We can’t make God the neighbor and us the person who comes banging in the middle of the night. That’s how we could get the erroneous notion that God can be nagged into doing what we ask, and that’s not the point of the story. The point is that, if we are members of God’s family, we’re bound to act in a certain way.