Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples." He said to them, "When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial."
The version of the Our Father that we are used to is from Matthew’s gospel, but today’s reading gives us Luke’s version. You notice that it is shorter. In place of Matthew’s ‘Our Father in heaven,’ Luke says simply, ‘Father’. That longer phrase is so characteristic of Matthew’s writing style (he uses it twenty times in his gospel, but Luke never) that it is seen as entirely his own and not Jesus'. Jesus probably said simply, ‘Father’.
It seems to us a strange request: “Lord, teach us to pray.” Jews prayed every day since childhood. Why would they ask him now to teach them to pray? The meaning of it seems to be this: they were asking him for a distinctive prayer as his disciples. John's disciples had a special kind of prayer, but Jesus' disciples apparently did not. In answer to their request he taught them the Our Father. This makes it very special: it is not just any prayer; it is a distinctively Christian prayer.
But look now: there is no mention in it of any of the Christian mysteries! There is no mention of Jesus, nor of his passion, death and resurrection, there is no mention of the Trinity.... What sense can we make of this?
I remember standing some years ago at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, surrounded by Jews. It is a great privilege to stand there beside them, at the only remaining part of the Temple which was destroyed by the Romans in the year 70. I thought of Jesus, a Jew, as I stood there groping in my mind for words. There is no mention of him in his own prayer, the Our Father. I realised that any Jewish person at that Wailing Wall could pray the words of the Our Father and not find them the least bit strange. Jesus was among his own people. But how then can the Our Father be a Christian disciple’s prayer?
Sometime later it came to me: if there is no mention of Jesus, his life, death or resurrection, nor of any of the Christian mysteries, it is because this was his own prayer. In prayer he was seized by a single awareness: the Father; he was not thinking about himself. When we pray the Our Father we are not praying to him, but with him; we are praying his prayer. We are so close to him that we cannot see him; like him, we see only the Father. We are, as it were, inside his head, looking out through his eyes: seeing the Father, and seeing the world as he sees it. We are totally identified with him – we are indeed his disciples. We are praying through him. All our prayers end with the phrase, “through Our Lord Jesus Christ….” At the end of the Eucharistic Prayer we say, “Through him, and with him, and in him....”
If Jesus sometimes seems absent it is because he is everywhere. He has drawn the whole world into his heart. As usual the poet puts it better. Jessica Powers found him in everything, or in her phrase, “in his ubiquity.”
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