No matter what the setting, if it is time to pray, the one prayer that all Christians know and love is the Lord’s Prayer. It is a common link regardless of denomination, age, whether you attend church or not. Because it is fixed in our memory, it is a prayer which can be voiced even by those who can’t grasp a prayer book or even see words or a page.
In today’s Gospel, we read a passage which includes one of two versions of the Lord’s Prayer. The other, longer version is found in Matthew. And like all translations, this one read in today’s Gospel is a little different than the one we usually use.
Whole books have been written on the Lord’s Prayer. I remember about thirty-five years ago in Banff, going to a “Theology Alive” conference where the speaker, Dr. Peter Craigie, a religious studies professor from the University of Calgary, gave a whole two-hour lecture on each sentence of the Lord’s Prayer.
So really, what we’re looking at is a summing up of our faith — not of doctrine, like the creed, but of our faith in God.
The custom in Jesus’ time was for Jewish rabbis to give their students a simple prayer to use on a regular basis. Jesus’ disciples observed that their master was a very prayerful man, and prayer was an important part of his ministry.
They wanted him to share that gift with them. So they asked him to teach them how to pray. Since there was no prayer book then and the Torah - the Hebrew scripture was on scrolls which were read by the rabbis - Jesus responded by teaching the disciples a simple yet profound prayer which we still use today.
The first part of the prayer is not about us. We address God as Father. This is an important part of our Judaeo-Christian heritage. We believe our relationship with God, our creator, is an intimate one, like a father and his children. God is not a remote being, a philosophical concept. We have a relationship with God. So our faith is in that relationship, not a set of propositions.
And our first petition in the Lord’s Prayer is also not about us. We pay tribute to God. “Hallowed by your name.” Names were important in Jewish tradition. But this phrase also has another meaning. It is a way of saying: May the time come when the holiness of God’s being will be acknowledged universally.
“Your kingdom come” acknowledges the primary goal of achieving the Kingdom of God, both at the present time (whatever that is in human history) and at the end time.
“Give us each day our daily bread.” This is our first petition for ourselves. Bread is a symbol of life. It is sustenance. And this phrase, especially because it mentions each day, focuses our attention on the daily need to renew our relationship with God.
The next sentence is different because it is a conditional petition. “Forgive us our sins as we forgive everyone indebted to us.” In other words, for God to forgive us, we need to forgive others. So again, relationship is important in prayer — not only our relationship with God, but our relationship with our fellow human beings.
The final phrase in this shorter version is “And do not bring us to the time of trial.” The translation most of us use frequently is “lead us not into temptation” The trouble is the word temptation meant a lot more in the sense that Jesus was using it than it does for us now. It really means anything which really tests our mettle, hence the use of the term “time of trial” instead of temptation.
So that’s the short version of the Lord’s Prayer. It is simple, but profound, and it’s important for us to have a common link as Christians.
The Gospel passage also talks about prayer after the telling of a brief parable. Jesus says those familiar words “Ask and it will be given you, search and you will find, knock and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks and receives and everyone who searches, finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”
There are probably few passages which have caused so much misunderstanding. A literalist reading certainly opens us up for a lot of disappointment. If we look at just the literal sense of the word, Jesus is saying every prayer will be answered.
But we know that isn’t the case. Some people who are sick are healed through the power of prayer. But are their prayers more worthy than those of the people who lose loved ones to illness, and don’t have their prayers answered?
The danger in interpreting this passage literally is that we end up with God as a diving traffic copy, granting some prayers and refusing others.
The only answer to this conundrum seems to be to rise above the literal meaning, as a poet does above real life, and offer the image Jesus gives us of God, who listens to all our prayers, opens doors, blesses us in countless ways and helps us in our search for wholeness.
So it is the big picture which is important. Our God is a God of possibility, a God of relationship, a God of blessing. That is the essence of what Jesus is telling his disciples. We must not be afraid of asking, of searching, of praying, of opening new doors in our lives.
Jesus concludes his teaching by reminding his disciples that God has given them the Holy Spirit to accompany them in their spiritual journey. They are not alone. We are not alone. We are blessed with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit who will accompany us on our journey - wherever it leads. Thanks be to God.