Wednesday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time
An actual photograph of Jesus during the “Sermon on The Mount”…
Reading 1 GAL 2:1-2, 7-14
After fourteen years I again went up to Jerusalem with Barnabas,
taking Titus along also.
I went up in accord with a revelation,
and I presented to them the Gospel that I preach to the Gentiles–
but privately to those of repute–
so that I might not be running, or have run, in vain.
On the contrary,
when they saw that I had been entrusted with the Gospel to the uncircumcised,
just as Peter to the circumcised,
for the one who worked in Peter for an apostolate to the circumcised
worked also in me for the Gentiles,
and when they recognized the grace bestowed upon me,
James and Cephas and John,
who were reputed to be pillars,
gave me and Barnabas their right hands in partnership,
that we should go to the Gentiles
and they to the circumcised.
Only, we were to be mindful of the poor,
which is the very thing I was eager to do.And when Cephas came to Antioch,
I opposed him to his face because he clearly was wrong.
For, until some people came from James,
he used to eat with the Gentiles;
but when they came, he began to draw back and separated himself,
because he was afraid of the circumcised.
And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him,
with the result that even Barnabas
was carried away by their hypocrisy.
But when I saw that they were not on the right road
in line with the truth of the Gospel,
I said to Cephas in front of all,
“If you, though a Jew,
are living like a Gentile and not like a Jew,
how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
Responsorial Psalm PS 117:1BC, 2
Praise the LORD, all you nations,
glorify him, all you peoples!
R. Go out to all the world, and tell the Good News.
For steadfast is his kindness toward us,
and the fidelity of the LORD endures forever.
R. Go out to all the world, and tell the Good News.
Alleluia ROM 8:15BC
You have received a spirit of adoption as sons
through which we cry: Abba! Father!
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel LK 11:1-4
Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he had finished,
one of his disciples said to him,
“Lord, teach us to pray just 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 in debt to us,
and do not subject us to the final test.”
Commentary on Luke 11:1-4 From Living Space
It is surely no coincidence that Jesus’ commendation of Mary for spending time listening to Jesus should be followed by a section on prayer.
Luke’s gospel has been called the Gospel of Prayer. It is in his gospel, more than any of the others, that we are told about Jesus praying, especially before the more important moments of his public life, such as at his baptism, the choosing of the Twelve, before Peter’s confession of his Messiahship and in the garden before his Passion.
Today we see Jesus just praying somewhere and we get the impression that it was something he did quite often. We mentioned earlier that it was perfectly natural for Jesus to pray to his Father, if we understand by prayer being in close contact with God.
Sometimes it will be to ask him for help in our lives or in making the right decision, sometimes it will be to thank and praise him, sometimes it will be to pray on behalf of someone else and sometimes it will just to be in his company. We saw this yesterday with Mary of Bethany sitting quietly at the feet of Jesus listening to him. In fact, a lot of our prayer should be in silent listening. Some people talk so much in their prayer that God cannot get a word in! And then they complain he does not answer their prayers!
After seeing him pray on this occasion, Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them how to pray. In reply, he gives them what we know as the Lord’s Prayer. It is not quite the form we are familiar with, which comes from Matthew’s gospel. It is simpler but the basic structure is still the same.
Matthew’s text has seven petitions (we know how he likes the number ‘seven’) but Luke only five. It is believed that Matthew follows an earlier form which may be closer to Luke’s.
When Jesus taught this to his disciples did he mean that praying meant reciting this formula at regular intervals? In fact, it is (in Matthew’s version) a formula we all know by heart and which we recite regularly during the Eucharist, when we say the Rosary and on many other occasions. But it seems more likely that Jesus intended to do more than just teach them a formula to be recited. It is probably much better to see his words as an answer to their request: “Lord, teach us how to pray.” This is not the same as “Teach us some prayers to say/recite.”
We will get much more out of the Lord’s Prayer if we take each petition separately and see each one as a theme about which we can pray. We can take each petition separately and spend time praying around each one. When we do that seriously and conscientiously we will see that it is a very challenging prayer.
Let us briefly look at the petitions as they are in Luke:
To begin with, let us not get into arguments about God’s gender. We can address God as either Father or Mother; the basic meaning is that God is the source of life, that God is the Creator of every living thing. In addressing God as Father (or Mother) we are acknowledging that we are children, sons and daughters, of God. But if we are children of the one God, then we are brothers and sisters to each other. And there can be no exceptions to this, not even one.
Is this what I mean when I utter the word “Father”? Am I prepared to see every single person on the face of this earth, irrespective of race, nationality, skin colour, class, occupation, age, religion, behaviour… as my brother and sister? If not, I have to stop praying at this first word. We can begin to see now what teaching his disciples to pray meant to Jesus as well as to them and us.
May your name be held holy:
God’s name is already holy and nothing we can do can make it any more so. In this petition we are rather asking that the whole world recognise the holiness of God, that the whole world sing with the angels, “Holy, holy, holy…” God does not need this but we do. And when we sing like this in all sincerity then we are saying that we belong to him and recognise him as Lord. And it is, in fact, another way of expressing the following petition…
Your kingdom come:
We refer frequently in these reflections to the Kingdom. It is that world where God’s reign prevails in people’s hearts and minds and relationships. A world where people have submitted gladly to that reign and experience the truth and love and beauty of God in their lives and in the way they react with the people around them. It produces a world of freedom, peace and justice for all.
In praying this petition, though, we are not just asking God to bring it about while we sit back and wait. We are also committing ourselves to be partners with God in bringing it about. Our co-operation in this work is of vital importance. To be a Christian, to be a disciple of Jesus is essentially to be involved in this task of making the Kingdom a reality. And it has to begin right now; it is not just to be left to a future existence. (In Matthew’s version we pray: ‘Your kingdom come on earth…’)Like many of these petitions, it is a prayer that God’s will be carried through our involvement. Again it is a really challenging prayer.
Give us each day our daily bread:
A prayer that we will be always provided with what we need for our daily living. There is a highly dangerous word buried in the petition. That word is “us”. To whom does “us” refer? My family? my friends? my work companions? my village, town, city, country, nationality, race? Surely it refers to all God’s children without exception.
If that is the case, then we are praying that every single person be supplied with their daily needs. But that cannot happen unless we all get involved. The petition is not simply passing the buck to God. The feeding of our brothers and sisters is the responsibility of all. Yet millions are hungry, other millions suffer from malnutrition as well as being deprived of many of the other essentials of dignified living. Clearly, we are not doing all we could to see that all of “us” have “our” daily bread. So again this is a very dangerous prayer.
It is even more dangerous when we say it in the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the sacrament or sign of a community that takes care of all its members and of others in need. It is the sacrament of breaking bread with brothers and sisters. If we leave the Eucharistic table and do nothing about this then our sign has been a sham.
Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who is in debt to us:
How easily we say this again and again! Yet it is a very frightening thing to do: to put God’s forgiving us conditional on our forgiving others. Forgiveness and reconciliation must be part and parcel of Christian living and we all know that at times it can be very difficult. Yet, as we see in the book of Jonah (read during Cycle I at this time), our God is so ready to forgive. To be like him, to be “perfect” is to have that same readiness to forgive. Our deepest urge should be not to condemn and punish but to rehabilitate and restore to life.
Do not put us to the test:
We are surrounded by forces which can draw us away from God and all that is true, good and beautiful. We pray that we will not succumb permanently to anything of the sort. We need constantly God’s liberating hand to lift us up as he lifted the drowning Peter. This is the one petition where we depend totally on God’s help.
The Lord’s Prayer is beautiful. It is challenging. It needs to be taken slowly and meditatively so that we have time to enter deeply into each petition. Perhaps as we pray we can stop at just one petition which at this time is particularly meaningful to us and leave the others for another time. It is primarily not a formula to be recited but themes for prayer. Any one petition is enough to last a long time.
Prayer and Meditation for Tuesday, February 16, 2016 — “In praying, do not babble like the pagans.” — “No Prayer, No Spiritual Life” (Toward a Better Understanding of the Lord’s Prayer)
God, I offer myself to Thee-
To build with me
and to do with me as Thou wilt.
Relieve me of the bondage of self,
that I may better do Thy will.
Take away my difficulties,
that victory over them may bear witness
to those I would help of Thy Power,
Thy Love, and Thy Way of life.
May I do Thy will always!
Thank you, God, Amen!
Shortly after he converted to Catholicism in the late 1930s, Thomas Merton was walking the streets of New York with his friend, Robert Lax. Lax was Jewish, and he asked Merton what he wanted to be, now that he was Catholic.
“I don’t know,” Merton replied, adding simply that he thought maybe he wanted to be a good Catholic.
Lax stopped him in his tracks.
“What you should say,” he told him, “is that you want to be a saint!”
Merton was dumbfounded.
“How do you expect me to become a saint?,” Merton asked him.
Lax said: “All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one. Don’t you believe that God will make you what He created you to be, if you will consent to let him do it? All you have to do is desire it.”…
Thomas Merton knew his friend was right.
Merton, of course, would go on to become one of the great spiritual thinkers and writers of the last century.
His friend Bob Lax would later convert to Catholicism himself — and begin his own journey to try and be a saint.
But the words Lax spoke ring down through the decades to all of us today. Because they speak so simply and profoundly to our calling as Catholic Christians.
Thomas Merton said: You should want to be a saint.
You should want to be a saint. And to be one, all you need is to want to be one.
Of course, if you only want to be a run-of-the-mill, average Christian, that’s probably all you’ll ever be. Every one can do just enough to get by. It’s not hard.
But many of us are challenged to do more….
It is quite common for us to disagree with those in authority, be they religious, government or corporate leaders. When that happens, many do not know how to handle such conflicts. More often than not, they play to the gallery by publishing their grievances and their one-sided myopic views in the mass media. Some go to the extent of attacking the leaders personally, using nasty, intimidating and offensive words. Such approaches will only further widen the conflict and instead of solving the problem, make it even more difficult to resolve. In some instances, they cause the authorities to react by being defensive, and if the situation becomes critical, become offensive as well.
In the first reading we had precisely such a problem. There was a growing tension in the primitive Church when the gospel was preached to the gentiles. Initially, when the early Church comprised mostly Jewish converts to Christianity, the faith and culture were still homogeneous. Although Christians, the Jewish converts practically continued to observe the Jewish practices that they were accustomed to. We cannot expect them to put away their Jewish culture when their faith and culture were so intertwined. Furthermore, such practices were deeply ingrained in their DNA for more two thousand years. To give up the Jewish practices practically meant to deny their Jewish heritage. So the Jewish converts remained Jewish in their values and culture, even though their faith was in Christ. The full implications of their faith in Christ were still not worked out.
On the other hand, with the conversion of St Paul, he had brought the gospel beyond Palestine to the Greek world where many were non-Jews. It was difficult for them to accept the cultural practices of the Jews. They were converted to Christ, not to Judaism. Thus, they did not see the necessity of embracing the Jewish culture and practices. For them, faith in Christ was all that mattered, not the Jewish practices. Observance of the Jewish laws could not save them for they were justified in Christ. It was by His passion, death and resurrection that they were reconciled with God.
This, then, was the crux of the tension. The leaders of the Church therefore had the unenviable task of trying to reconcile these two groups of people within the one Church. What was made more difficult was that the Jewish group considered the Gentiles as outcasts, unclean and therefore sinners in the ritual sense. To be associated with the Gentiles, especially having common meals with them, would tantamount to contamination. In the understanding of the Jews, only the Chosen People were loved by God, whilst the rest lived under condemnation.
We can therefore appreciate the dilemma of Peter. He was in favour of accepting the Gentiles into the Church, especially after God revealed to him in a vision that all were clean, and after seeing how Cornelius and his household received the Holy Spirit even when they were not yet baptized. This is because God has not favourites. (cf Acts 10) However, under pressure from certain friends of James, he stopped having meals with them “and kept away from them altogether for fear of the group that insisted on circumcision.” Whilst Peter had no qualms eating with the Gentile Christians, he was also aware that his action could cause the other group to break away as well.
Conversely, Paul was also annoyed that Peter was not firm in his position with respect to the position of the Gentile converts. He felt that by his action, he was giving the wrong signal to the rest of the Christian Church. He was betraying the gospel, which was given to all of humanity, regardless of race, language or culture. Accordingly, he was very firm with Peter for vacillating in his principle. He rationalized with him that since he ate with the Gentiles, then he should not impose Jewish practices on the Gentiles. “In spite of being a Jew, you live like the pagans and not like the Jews, so you have no right to make the pagans copy Jewish ways.” It was necessary therefore for Peter to make a clear stand with respect to the Gentile converts.
Faith in Christ transcends culture even though faith needs to be expressed through a culture. But the principles of faith come from the gospel, not from the culture. Since Christ died for all, it is necessary for us to accept that all of us are brothers and sisters in Christ since we share in His sonship. What keeps us together is charity and compassion. That is what the apostles asked of us. “The only thing they insisted on was that we should remember to help the poor, as indeed I was anxious to do.” The early Church gave great emphasis not so much on the laws and rituals but to the works of charity for the poor. When we have compassion for the poor, it includes not just the materially or financially poor but those who are suffering from privation, marginalization, discrimination and oppression.
But throughout this whole conflict that Paul had with the Jewish Christian leaders, Paul was never disrespectful. He was certainly unsettled and exasperated. He was firm in his principle but he spoke in a measured tone. Right from the outset, he made it clear that his position was not against the principle upheld by the apostles in Jerusalem. He affirmed that the apostles firstly recognized that he had been given a divine revelation directly from Christ. “The same person whose action had made Peter the apostle of the circumcised had given me a similar mission to the pagans.” Although Paul received the revelation, he wanted to be sure that what he was preaching was not something alien to the Christian faith. “I went there as the result of a revelation, and privately I laid before the leading men the good News as I proclaim it among the pagans; I did so for fear the course I was adopting or had already adopted would not be allowed.” He sought communion and unity of doctrines with the apostles.
Secondly, he made it clear that they recognized that he had been “commissioned to preach the Good news to the uncircumcised just as Peter had been commissioned to preach it to the circumcised. So, James, Cephas and John, these leaders, these pillars, shook hands with Barnabas and me as a sign of partnership: we were to go to the pagans and they to the circumcised.” So what Paul did was in total agreement with the leaders. They did not differ in matters of principles with regard to the spread of the Good News. However, with respect to Peter’s lack of decisiveness in upholding this principle, Paul felt the need to be firm with him. So in no uncertain terms, he had to tell Peter that as a leader he had to show the way.
Accordingly, in our relationship with others, Jesus reminds us that we have one Father. In teaching us the Lord’s Prayer, we are reminded that there is only one God who is the Father of us all. Therefore regardless of race, language or religion, we must affirm this in our relationship with others. This is what it entails in keeping the name of God holy. Only when we live truly as His sons and daughters in unity, respecting and loving each other, can we claim ourselves as His sons and daughters. Praying the Lord’s Prayer is more than asking for favours from God but acknowledging His Fatherhood over us. As our Father, He will provide us all our needs on one hand. On the other hand, we as brothers and sisters must take care of each other so that others will know that we are from the same Father and the same family of God.
In conclusion, we are called to maintain the foundational principle of God’s fatherhood over all of us and to live accordingly. This also demands proper respect for those whom God has appointed to be His representative on earth. Respect must always be rendered to those who have been given this authority. When there is disagreement, we must engage in respectful dialogue and in Christian charity to preserve unity in the Church.
From our Archives:
During the season of Lent, one of the most important spiritual exercises is prayer. But we must pray effectively and rightly or else prayer becomes another mere performance or just a thoughtless rambling as Jesus says, “In your prayers do not babble as the pagans do, for they think that by using many words they will make themselves heard. Do not be like them; your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”
How then should we pray? In the first place, let us be clear that God desires to answer our prayers. He is a God who wants our happiness above all things. The responsorial psalm testifies that God wants to hear our prayers. “I sought the Lord and he answered me; from all my terrors he set me free. Look towards him and be radiant; let your faces not be abashed. This poor man called, the Lord heard him and rescued him from all his distress. The Lord turns his face against the wicked to destroy their remembrance from the earth. The Lord turns his eyes to the just and his ears to their appeal. They call and the Lord hears and rescues them in all their distress. The Lord is close to the broken-hearted; those whose spirit is crushed he will save.”
However, if our prayers are to be answered, we need to pray according to the mind of God and not ours. Effective prayer is always made through Christ in the Spirit. This means that our prayers must be made always in union with the mind and heart of Jesus in the same Spirit. Consequently, if we were to pray rightly, what better prayer could we pray if not always the prayer that Jesus has taught us. The Lord’s Prayer is more than just a formula prayer but it is the prayer of Jesus Himself; His attitude and the key elements of an authentic prayer are found in this perfect prayer. This accounts for why the Lord’s Prayer is called the pattern of all prayers.
In the first place, the disposition of anyone who prays must be that God is His heavenly Father. For this reason, there is no need to harass God as if he were an angry deity or someone calculative or indifferent to our needs. God is addressed as ‘Father’ to remind us that He cares more for our needs than we could ever imagine. That is why Jesus said, “Do not be like them; your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” Every father cares for his children and provides the needs of his children even before they could ask him. So, too, is our heavenly Father.
Secondly, we pray that His name be kept holy. This is a prayer that will reflect the holiness of God. The child is the expression of the father. So when we pray that His name be kept holy, we are asking that the way we live our lives may reflect the Father’s love and compassion for all. Otherwise, if we live a life of sin and selfishness, we will discredit the image of our heavenly Father. Indeed, the real enemies of our faith are not non-Catholics but our nominal and lapsed Catholics because they live contradictory lives and are counter-witnesses to our faith in Christ. But when we live holy lives, then God is known and loved through us. In living a life of holiness, we free ourselves from sin and misery.
Thirdly, every prayer, in the final analysis, must always be aligned with the mind of God. Asking that His will be done is to recognize the wisdom and providence of God. Whether it is Jesus or Mary, their secret is always to do the will of our heavenly Father. Both Mary and Jesus in their lives sought to do the will of God and not theirs. So too, if we truly believe that God is our Father and that He loves us, we should desire only what He wills for us. Like children, we need to trust and surrender our lives into the hands of our heavenly Father who knows what is best for each one of us. Mary tells us to do whatever He tells us!
Fourthly, in prayer, we should ask what is basic for us in life. We must not be greedy because no one, not even God, can satisfy our greed. Thus the Lord’s Prayer simply invites us to ask for our daily bread, what we need and for today. Again, God wants us to know that as our Father, He will look after us. If we ask for what we need, the Lord will supply. The problem is that we are asking more than what we need; and we want to have more so that our security is found in ourselves and the world’s goods, not in God our heavenly Father. Asking for our daily needs will help us to live a life of contentment and detachment in freedom.
Fifthly, the most important petition that can give us true peace and happiness is the gift of forgiveness of our sins and the sins of others. This seems to be the most important petition because among all the petitions in the Lord’s Prayer, He elaborated on this petition. “And forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven those who are in debt to us.” He added, “Yes, if you forgive others their failings, your heavenly Father will forgive you yours; but if you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive your failings either.” What we need most in life is forgiveness of ourselves and of others who have offended us. This is necessary if we were to find true healing of mind and soul. Many people want to seek God’s forgiveness, but they are unwilling to forgive themselves for their past mistakes; or they cannot forgive those who have hurt them. They carry with them the history of their past, their hurts and pain which do them no good except to burden them down. What they must do, as Jesus exhorts us, is to forgive others and ourselves.
Finally, we need to avoid the occasion of sin. We must always pray, “And do not put us to the test, but save us from the evil one.” The only way to overcome sin is to run away from sin. The truth is not that the Evil One tempts us to sin but we tempt the Evil One to tempt us to sin by giving Him the occasions. Knowing how weak we are, we should not allow ourselves to be in those situations when we know we will fall into sin, whether it is smoking, drinking, gambling, pornography or the sin of lust. Asking God to deliver us from sin implies that we must cooperate with His grace by avoiding the opportunities for the Devil to tempt us.
Indeed, if only we pray in this way, according to the mind of God and the Spirit of Christ, we can be certain that our prayers would be heard and His Kingdom will indeed come to our lives. Praying that His kingdom come means that if we find happiness it is because God rules our lives and we live by His Spirit. Putting on the heart and mind of Christ, we will find peace and joy like Jesus, even when we suffer for doing what is right and good. This is the same promise made by the prophet when the Lord says, “As the rain and the snow come down from the heavens and do not return without watering the earth, making it yield and giving growth to provide seed for the sower and bread for the eating, so the word that goes from my mouth does not return to me empty, without carrying out my will and succeeding in what it was sent to do.” Since the Lord’s Prayer itself is the Word of God par excellence, as it is spoken by Jesus and not simply by any prophet, then all the more, how efficacious and powerful this prayer could be for us who pray it with conviction.
Finally, the Lord’s Prayer is not just the prayer of our Lord but in truth, all the fundamental attitudes and principles of this prayer are found all over the bible. All these petitions contained in the Lord’s Prayer are found in the psalms particularly, especially when the psalmist prays for God’s deliverance and assistance, for the grace to walk in the right path, for forgiveness and for their daily needs. Indeed, the Lord’s Prayer for the Church is the pattern of all prayers and the basic model for all Christian prayers. In whatever spontaneous prayer we formulate; it must somehow contain some if not all the petitions contained therein and express the attitudes of surrender, trust and obedience to His will and His divine providence. Any person who cultivates the same attitudes in prayer follows the way Jesus prays, and will find peace and security in His life. “May His will be done and His kingdom come.”
We are asking God to bring about these three things: cause your name to be hallowed; cause your kingdom to come; cause your will to be done as it’s done by the angels in heaven.
OUR FOOD, FORGIVENESS, AND HOLINESS
The second three petitions are:
- give us this day our daily bread
- forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors
- lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
You can see the difference — and feel the difference — between these two halves. The first three petitions are about God’s name, God’s kingdom,God’swill. The last three are about our food, our forgiveness, our holiness. The first three call our attention to God’s greatness. And the last three call attention to our needs. The two halves have a very different feel. The first half feels majestic and lofty. The last half feels mundane and lowly.
THE MINGLING OF ETERNITY AND THE EVERYDAY
In other words, there is a correspondence between the content of this prayer and the content of our lives. The big and the little. The glorious and the common. The majestic and the mundane. The lofty and the lowly.
Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, “God has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” I take that to mean that the world and the human soul are iridescent with wonders linked to eternity. And yet our humdrum, ordinary, mundane experiences of this world keep us from seeing the wonders and from soaring the way we dream from time to time. Even we believers who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God — even we say, “We have this treasure in jars of clay” (2 Corinthians 4:7). Our spirit is alive with God’s Spirit, but our bodies are dead because of sin (Romans 8:10).
PRAYER FOR ETERNITY
That’s the way life is. And that’s the way this prayer is — iridescent with eternity and woven into ordinary life.
- Verse 9: Father, cause your great and holy name to be honored and reverenced and esteemed and treasured above all things everywhere in the world (including my heart).
- Verse 10: And cause you glorious, sovereign, kingly rule to hold sway without obstruction everywhere in the world (including my heart).
- Verse 10: And cause your all-wise, all-good, all-just, all-holy will to be done all over this world the way the angels do it perfectly and joyfully in heaven — and make it happen in me.
That’s the breathtaking part of the prayer. And when we pray it, we are caught up into great things, glorious things, global things, eternal things. God wants this to happen. He wants your life to be enlarged like that. Enriched like that. Expanded and ennobled and soaring like that.
PRAYER FOR THE EVERYDAY
But then we pray,
- Verse 11: Father, I am not asking for the bounty of riches. I am asking for bread. Just enough to give me life. I want to live. I want to be healthy, and to have a body and a mind that work. Would you give me what I need for my body and mind?
- Verse 12: And, Father, I am a sinner and need to be forgiven everyday. I can’t live and flourish with guilt. I will die if I have to bear my guilt every day. I have no desire to hold any grudge. I know I don’t deserve forgiveness, and so I have no right to withhold it from anyone. I let go of all the offenses against me. Please, have mercy upon me and forgive me and let me live in the freedom of your love. And, of course, we know now what Jesus knew when he said this. He knew he would also say of his death: “this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28). When we pray for forgiveness, we expect it not merely because God is our Father, but because our Father gave his Son to die in our place.
- Verse 13: And Father, I don’t want to go on sinning. I’m thankful for forgiveness, but, Father, I don’t want to sin. Please, don’t lead me into the entanglements of overpowering temptation. Deliver me from evil. Guard me from Satan and from all his works and all his ways. Grant me to walk in holiness.
That’s the earthy part of the prayer. The mundane, daily, nitty-gritty struggle of the Christian life. We need food and forgiveness and protection from evil.
OUR FATHER — IN HEAVEN
And I think these two halves correspond to the two things said about God in the way Jesus tells us to address him at the beginning in verse 9: “Our Father — in heaven.” First, God is a father to us. And second, he is infinitely above us and over all — in heaven. His fatherhood corresponds to his readiness to meet our earthly needs. His heavenliness corresponds to his supreme right to be given worship and allegiance and obedience.
For example, in Matthew 6:32, Jesus tells us not to be anxious about food and drink and clothing because “your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” In other words, Jesus wants us to feel the fatherhood of God as an expression of his readiness to meet our most basic needs.
And then consider Matthew 5:34, where Jesus says, “Do not take an oath . . . by heaven, for it is the throne of God.” In other words, when you think of heaven, think of God’s throne, his kingly majesty and power and authority.
MAJESTIC AND MERCIFUL
So when Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:9 to pray, “Our Father in heaven,” he is telling us that the prayer-hearing God is majestic and merciful. He is high, and also dwells with the contrite (Isaiah 57:15). He is a king, and he is a father. He is holy, and he humbles himself. He is far above us, and ready to come to us. He has plans for the whole earth and for the universe, and wants us to care about these great plans and pray about them; and he has plans for your personal life at the most practical level and wants you to pray about that.
So on October 5 last year, I wrote in my journal:
My heart’s desire is to be used by God for
the hallowing of his name and
the coming of his kingdom and
the doing of his will.
To that end I pray for
Health — give me daily bread;
Hope — forgive my debts; and
Holiness — deliver me from evil.
In other words, it seems to me that the great designs of God are first and mainly about God. His name being hallowed, his will being done, his kingdom coming. And the rest of the prayer is how I can be fitted to serve those great designs. My bread, my forgiveness, my deliverance — my health, my hope, my holiness — are for the purpose of being part of God’s great purposes to glorify his name and exalt his rule and complete his will.
THE UNIQUE FIRST PETITION
But there was one more exegetical insight that came as I pondered and prayed this prayer again and again during the leave of absence. There is something unique about the first petition, “Hallowed be your name.” It’s not just one of three. In this petition, we hear the one specific subjective response of the human heart that God expects us to give — the hallowing, reverencing, honoring, esteeming, admiring, valuing, treasuring of God’s name above all things. None of the other five requests tells us to pray for a specific human response of the heart.
If you combine this fact with the fact that this petition comes first, and that the “name” of God (“hallowed be your name”) is more equivalent to the being of God than is his kingdom or his will, my conclusion is that this petition is the main point of the prayer and all the others are meant to serve this one.
ONE GREAT PASSION
In other words, the structure of the prayer is not merely that the last three petitions serve the first three, but that the last five serve the first.
So on October 9 last year, I wrote in my journal:
My ONE Great Passion!
Nothing is more clear and unshakeable to me than that the purpose of the universe is for the hallowing of God’s name.
His kingdom comes for THAT.
His will is done for THAT.
Humans have bread-sustained life for THAT.
Sins are forgiven for THAT.
Temptation is escaped for THAT.
And then on the next day, October 10, I wrote:
Lord grant that I would, in all my weaknesses and limitations, remain close to the one clear, grand theme of my life: Your magnificence.
PRAYER FOR PRESSURES AND PROBLEMS
Here is the sum of the matter.
Sooner or later life almost overwhelms you with pressures and problems — physical problems (give us daily bread), relational and mental problems (forgive us our debts), moral problems (lead us not into temptation). And what I want you to see is this. You have a Father. He is a thousand times better as a Father than the best human father. His fatherhood means he cares about every one of those problems, and he beckons you to talk to him about them in prayer, and to come to him for help. He knows what you need (Matthew 6:32).
That’s the way we usually attack our problems. And so we should. We attack them directly. I have this financial problem, or this relational problem, or this bad habit problem. Father, help me. That is right and good.
But Jesus offers us more in this prayer. There is more — not less than that, but more. There is an indirect attack on our problems. There is a remedy — not a complete deliverance from all problems in this life, but a powerful remedy — in the first three petitions of the Lord’s prayer, especially the first one.
God made you be a part of hallowing his name, extending his kingdom, and seeing his will done on the earth the way the angels do it in heaven. In other words, he made you for something magnificent and for something mundane. He made you for something spectacular and for something simple. He loves both. He honors both. But what we fail to see often is that when we lose our grip on the greatness of God and his name and his kingdom and his global will, we lose our divine equilibrium in life, and we are far more easily overwhelmed by the problems of the mundane.
In other words, I am pleading with you not to lose your grip on the supremacy and centrality of hallowing the name of God in your life. I am urging you from the Lord’s prayer that you go to God for bread, and for healing of relationships, and for the overcoming of besetting sins, and for the doing of God’s will, and for the seeking of God’s kingdom — all of it, all the time for the sake of knowing and hallowing, reverencing, honoring, valuing, treasuring God’s name (God’s being, God himself) above all things.
FEET ON THE GROUND, HEART RISING TO GOD
Keep your feet on the ground. That’s why the second three petitions are there. But let your heart rise into the magnificence of God’s global will, God’s kingdom, and most of all God’s holy name — his being, his perfections.
You may not see it clearly now, but I testify from the Scriptures and from experience, there is more deliverance, more healing, more joy in the hallowing of his name than perhaps you ever dreamed. Let’s pray all year in the fullness of this prayer.
Tags: and do not subject us to the final test, Barnabas, be mindful of the poor, Cephas, evangelize, GAL 2:1-2 7-14, give us each day our daily bread, Go out to all the world and tell the Good News, hallowed be your name, I presented to them the Gospel that I preach to the Gentiles, James, John, Lk 11:1-4, Lord teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples, Lord's Prayer, October 5 2015, on the right road in line with the truth of the Gospel, Padre Pio, Prayer and Meditation, Psalm 117, ROM 8:15, Saint Pius of Pietrelcina, they recognized the grace bestowed upon me, they saw that I had been entrusted with the Gospel, Third Step Prayer, Thomas Merton