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Lord, Teach Us to Pray

We can never thank enough the unnamed disciple who asked Jesus in today’s gospel, “Lord teach us to pray.” His request occasioned Jesus not only to teach us how to pray and what to pray for. More importantly, it prompted Jesus to invite us to enter into and experience his own prayer. By giving us the Our Father, Jesus takes us into his own intimacy and relationship with the Father and draws us in their conversation. He brings us into direct communication with God, enabling us to enter into the divine paternity. And so, we can now truly address God “Abba, Father.”

This may be the reason why the Church traditionally prays the Our Father standing up. We stand on the same ground with Jesus, who has made us his sisters and brothers, children of his Father. Emboldened by his invitation, “we dare to say, ‘Our Father…’”

Luke’s version of the Our Father is shorter than the more familiar version of Matthew, which we use in our prayers. It seems that Matthew’s version may have gradually been shaped by the liturgical life of the first communities. Thus, Luke’s version is probably closer to the original form that Jesus taught. It is simpler and more direct.

Luke’s version contains five petitions: two concerning God and three concerning ourselves. They are the most essential things in life, and when we think of it, they are all that really matter.

“Hallowed be your name” is a petition that God be valued above all else. This is the first and most essential condition for the full functioning of life. Since God is creator, he is sovereign over all. It is only right that the first commandment is to love God above all. The second petition, “Your kingdom come,” is for the ordering of the world according to God’s design. Only when God rules will there be true peace and prosperity, and fulness of life.

The succeeding three petitions comprise all that we personally need in life: sustenance for our present, forgiveness of our past and protection for our future.

The parables that follow are lessons on two necessary qualities of prayer: persistence and confidence. The first parable impresses on us that if sheer dogged persistence can achieve what friendship cannot, how much more so with God. Indeed, if a neighbor is willing to help someone who is persistent enough, how could God not respond to our requests?

But more than persistence, Jesus asks us to put our total trust in the Father who will give whatever we ask. His words are forceful and unequivocal, “Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

Does God really grant our every prayer? Experience tells us that even now some of our prayers are still unanswered. Some wise guy quipped that God does answer every prayer; it’s just that sometimes his answer is No.

I personally believe that God answers every one of our prayers. He says so, and he is all powerful. There is no arguing about that. How and when he does, we may not always know.

But I think the point of the gospel is not about the credibility and efficacy of Jesus’ word. In prodding us to ask God for whatever we need, Jesus simply wants us to put ourselves completely in God’s hands as a child totally surrenders himself to his father. Let us remember that the central point of the Our Father is the coming of the kingdom of God. The reign of God will dawn on us when we submit ourselves completely to him and subject our will to his. Hence, Jesus assures us: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.” (Mt. 6:33)

All good comes with the kingdom of God. And surprise of surprises, the Father intends to give us not only every good, but the source of every good gift – the Holy Spirit.

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