17th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Learning to Pray

Prayer is a theme that runs all throughout the Gospel of Luke. It is something that keeps Jesus on course through his journey. It is what focuses his vision. As we observe Jesus at prayer we observe that for him, prayer acknowledges our dependence on our “Abba” (a special term of endearment Jesus uses to name our Parent-God) in the present and for our future. Words and language are important only insofar as they lead us to understand the Reality. Jesus' answer to His followers about prayer is very simple: He has told us about His Father. We praise His name, we ask, we seek, and we knock at the door in full confidence knowing He will answer our needs. And we love one another and forgive one another as He has already loved and forgiven us. This is an awful lot to unpack from such a short prayer.

openhandsinprayerThe Lord's Prayer offers us a glimpse of Jesus' understanding of the Father - his awe and reverence for God, his childlike, simple-yet-strong faith in his Father, and his strength to go bravely through life no matter what comes. It sums up his entire teaching.

The Lord's Prayer is one of the most revered in the New Testament. We learned to mouth the words in our infancy, and continue to pray them throughout our adult lives. It appears everywhere in the church's life: in its liturgy and sacraments, in public and private prayer. It is a prayer that every Christian treasures and the first thing we notice is that it is communal in nature. It is a “we” prayer. “Give us,” “forgive us” and “subject us not to the trial.” It is a prayer of the community, for the community.

This becomes most evident in the request, "Give us each day our daily bread." This is a plea of the poor for the poor. The poor are important throughout Luke’s gospel. The poor, who respond to the Lord in their daily lives, depend on God for each day's sustenance. But this request is also an awakening moment for a community that is called to share all things in common. We’re invited to consider what nourishment or help we actually need, and what we’re doing to provide for the needs of others. Our national response to the poor who cry out for daily bread is not good. We hear the poor and the vulnerable crying out to God for the help that we as a nation and as a Christian community should be doing something about. Our faith tradition as Christians calls us to put the needs of the poor and the vulnerable before all else. If that were done, such a community would have no poor.

Today’s Gospel is rich in images and meaning. Much can be lost if we simply focus on our own needs and requests. It is far too easy for us, confined by human sensibilities and ideas to misjudge, misstep and misundertand. But by praying as Jesus actually taught, we acknowledge our enduring need of God's protection and solicit his help in making life-affirming choices and decisions.

When we pray the prayer that Jesus taught, we ask that God will do the seemingly impossible – make the ordinary holy, make the reign of divine justice and peace a reality, lift up the voices of the oppressed, provide whatever is needed in the moment, forgive those who need to be forgiven (including ourselves), and save us all from the time of trial and temptation.

Jesus never prays to  a remote God or to a God "out there."  He prays to a loving "Abba", and he encourages us to do the same. It takes courage to pray the Lord’s Prayer, to truly believe these familiar and yet radical words.

And we need to be bold enough to believe that God is the father who accompanies us, forgives us, gives us bread, and is attentive to everything we ask.