“Teach us to pray”
Sunday 28 July 2019
One of the earliest non-scriptural Christian documents that has been found is known by the short name – the Didache. The English title of the document is The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles. It is dated as coming from 70-100 AD so it is really quite early and provides us with an insight into Christian practice from a time not long after Jesus’ death and resurrection.
One of the very interesting practices that we do find in the Didache is the encouragement to its readers to pray the Lord’s Prayer three times a day. This suggests to us that, from the very earliest days of the Church, the Lord’s Prayer was seen as a useful anchor for private prayer, a sound guide for getting our prayer aligned to our practical living of the Christian life.
Probably, one of the strengths of the Lord’s Prayer is the way that it gets to the heart of our relationship with the God and Father of Our Lord, Jesus Christ. Scripture scholar and historian, Bishop Tom Wright, tells us:
“At every point, the prayer reflects what Jesus himself was doing in his work… It was after all, Jesus who was going about saying that it was time for the Father’s name to be honoured, for his kingdom to come on earth as in heaven. It was Jesus who fed the crowds with bread in the desert. It was Jesus who forgave sinners and told his followers to do the same. It was Jesus who walked, clear-eyed, into the ‘time of trial’, the great tribulation that was rushing like a tidal wave upon Israel and the world, so that by taking its full force on himself others might be spared it. And it was Jesus who was inaugurating God’s kingdom, exercising God’s power, and dying and rising to display God’s glory. The ‘Lord’s Prayer’ as we call it, grows out of what Jesus was doing in Galilee. And Gethsemene. It looks directly forward to what he achieved in his death and resurrection (Simply Christian, p. 137).”
So according to Bishop Wright, the Lord’s Prayer makes every sense coming from the mouth of Jesus. But in today’s gospel, we read that this is the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples to say when they asked how they should pray. Even though the prayer is one that Jesus can pray without any qualms, it is plain that he also meant his disciples to make it their own. Not only the disciples that followed him around Galilee, but also us today, his disciples in this part of the world and its history. How can we make the Lord’s Prayer, our prayer, so to speak?
Bishop Wright also gives us some thoughts on how we might personalize the words of the prayer, make it our prayer.
He writes: “The prayer is therefore a way of saying to the Father: Jesus has … caught me in the net of his good news. The prayer says, I want to be part of his kingdom-movement. I find myself drawn into his heaven-on-earth way of living. I want to be part of his bread-for the-world agenda, for myself and for others. I need forgiveness for myself – from sin, from debt, from every weight around my neck – and I intend to live that way in my own dealings with others… And because I live in the real world, where evil is still powerful, I need protecting and rescuing.”
Let’s look at some of these notions more closely.
What does it mean to be caught in the net of Jesus’ good news? Well amongst other things it means that we are convinced that through Christ, we share the joy of being able to enter into union with God. As the Eastern theologians of the early church would say, Jesus has made it possible for us to be divinized through each moment of our lives. Good news indeed!
What about being part of Jesus’ kingdom-movement? The kingdom of God as Jesus taught it is an upside down world where we have to resort to parables and poetry to gain understanding. It’s a world where Samaritans help Jews, where small seeds grow into large bushes and provide shelter for many, where the poor are blessed, where the hungry are filled, where those in sorrow laugh, where being persecuted for the name of Christ is a blessing.
And surely, Jesus’ bread-for-the–world agenda means that we stand up for the rights of the poor and hungry in a world where corrupt governments and transnational organisations create massive wealth at the people’s expense.
But before I become too self-righteous, the prayer reminds me of my own need of forgiveness for my own shortcomings in love for my neighbour on a daily basis.
And certainly, we can look around our world and see evil manifested in all sorts of ways. From the twisting of the truth, the manipulation of opinion, the devaluing of the human person, to the trampling of human rights, ours is a world that seductively calls each one of us into its web of convenience. We certainly need to pray for the insight and courage to avoid complicity with such a world.
And so, it becomes clear that we make the Lord’s Prayer, our prayer by following the example of Jesus in these areas of living. The writer of the Didache did well all those hundreds of years ago to encourage us to pray the Lord’s Prayer three times per day. Reflective saying of the prayer can only help to refocus us on our calling as Christians and what that means for us in terms of following the way of Christ.
The Lord’s Prayer is the prayer of the Jesus Movement. It is the kingdom prayer. Each of us has been called into that movement of the followers of Jesus by our Baptism. Each of us is tasked with being heralds of the kingdom that the Lord’s Prayer asks for.
I encourage you to pray it often, reflectively, not off-handedly. Recall each time that you say it what it is your asking for. And remember that, when Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them to pray, this is the prayer that he taught them – the Lord’s Prayer.
Father Allan Paulsen