Praying: its nature

jesus-teaching-mountThe Communal Nature of the Lord’s Prayer. The context for the Lord’s Prayer in Luke and Matthew (6:5-15) are quite different. Matthew is writing for Jewish Christians that share a common heritage of prayer.  Thus Jesus simply begins: “But when you pray…” They seem to know how to pray and the importance of prayer, but they need further clarification about prayer – especially vis-à-vis the temple and synagogue exemplar and the pagans. In Luke, the audience, (including the disciples,) don’t know how to pray (at least as Jesus’ followers). The disciples (and Luke’s readers?) ask Jesus to teach them to pray – and this seems to be in distinction from John the Baptist’s disciples (v.1). This introduction also suggests that we are defined by our prayers.

In v. 2 both verbs are second person plural. The prayer is intended to be communal, rather than personal. Note also the plural pronouns in the prayer: “our” and “us”. It has been suggested, and rightly so, that the “Our Father” was given as a prayer to define “us”.  Perhaps this suggests that one way the prayer defines us as belonging to Jesus is not necessarily the words, but the fact that we pray it together.  Culpepper (Luke, New Interpreter’s Bible, 234) makes this brief comment:

… use of the first-person plural later in the Lukan prayer shows that it is still understood as the community prayer of Jesus’ disciples. Even in Luke, therefore, the prayer is not an expression of individual piety apart from the life and worship of the community.

In this Culpepper reflects what the Church has proclaimed since the earliest of days:

Before all things the Teacher of peace and Master of unity is unwilling for prayer to be made single and individually, teaching that he who prays is not to pray for himself alone. For we do not say, “My Father who art in heaven,” nor “Give me this day my bread”….Prayer with us is public and common; and when we pray we do not pray for one but for the whole people because we the whole people are one.

                                                               Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage (d. 258)

Commanding God? Many of the phrases in the Lucan prayer are imperative – as though the prayer commands God:

  • “Hallowed be your name,”
  • “Your kingdom come,”
  • “Give us,”
  • “Forgive us”
  • “Do not subject us” (technically subjunctive but with imperative force)

What does it mean that we are “commanding” God? Last week Martha was politely chastised for telling Jesus what he should do (Luke 10:41). It may be that these requests are asking God to do what God would do anyway. Culpepper (p.234) offers this explanation to the first two petitions:

The petition that God’s name might be sanctified is double-sided. On the one hand, it is a prayer that God would act to establish God’s own sovereignty. On the other hand, it voices the longing for the day when all people will revere God. The second petition, therefore, is an extension of the first. If God’s name is sanctified, then God’s sovereignty and dominion will have been established (Ezek 36:22-23).

Green (The Gospel of Luke, p,442) also comments on this petition: “Why must God sanctify his name? Because it has been profaned by God’s own people (cf. Lev 22:32; Isa 52:5-6; Ezek 36:29-21). God’s eschatological work to reestablish the holiness of his name, then, invokes shame on the part of his people and invites them to embrace practices that honor him.”

In the petition about bread, Luke uses a present tense, which emphasis the continual giving of God. This seems to indicate a petition for God to take care of daily needs.

Sources

  • R. Allen Culpepper Luke, vol. 9 in New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary (Nashville, TN.: Abington, 1995)
  • Joel Green, The Gospel of Luke, vol. 3 of The New International Commentary on the New Testament, ed. Gorden Fee (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1997)
  • Scripture quotes from New American Bible by Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. © 1991, 1986, 1970
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