The Our Father Prayer

If you wanted to learn some skill or art, you would seek out some expert in that skill or art. Whom would you seek to learn about making money? Whom you would seek for advice on personal relationships? . What Hall of Fame Baltimore Oriole player would you ask how to play shortstop? . And whom do we seek out for instruction and inspiration in praying? Like the disciples in today's gospel, we seek out Jesus, whom the gospels tell us repeatedly went to both quiet places like the mountains, lakes, and desert to pray privately; as well as to the synagogue to pray publicly. And so the disciples approached this man of prayer, and begged him, "Teach us how to pray." In today's gospel we read Luke's version of Jesus' response.

I'd like to compare Luke's and Matthew's versions of the Our Father, and then comment on this most famous prayer.

Luke was written about 75 AD, and Matthew, about 85 AD. Luke's Our Father extends for four verses, and Matthew's, six; in each version, the first half gives praise to God, and the second half consists of petitions for the people. Luke's audience was Gentiles; Matthew's, Jews. Luke writes about the Kingdom of God, which Matthew calls the Kingdom of Heaven.

Just a side-bar note about the difference between the Catholic and Protestant versions of the Our Father: since the 3rd century, the Catholics have consistently used Matthew's version of the Our Father. Beginning around 1700, the Protestants used the form of the Our Father found in the Didache, a liturgical book which was written in 95 AD. The phrase, "For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever," is included in the Roman Catholic Missal one sentence after the Our Father. This doxology is similar in purpose to the common Catholic phrase, "Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit .." Both the Catholic and Protestant versions of the Lord's Prayer are of first century origin and are to be highly respected.

Commenting on the prayer itself. "Our Father." Personally, these two words are packed theologically and emotionally. Oftentimes when praying, I say these two words and I add nothing more. These two words are truly awe-some. "Our": Jesus identifies himself with ourselves in this prayer; Jesus prays with us. "Our": we all pray with each other. All Christians from different continents, colors, classes of people; Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox Christians; we all pray with Jesus and with each other. We are all brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ. One-third of the world's population is Christian. Our prayer is being prayed by lots of people. Father signifies procreativity, protection, and providing for the care of the child. Consider all the good traits of our individual fathers, and all fathers, and the source of that goodness is our heavenly Father.

"Who art in heaven." By the way, John's gospel never says that Jesus prayed. It says instead, Jesus "lifted up his eyes." This is the Jewish way of praying. In Jewish cosmology, the universe consisted of three parts: heaven, earth, and hell. God lived in heaven. Interestingly, Luke never uses the word heaven. Luke writes about the "kingdom of God," whereas Matthew, about the "kingdom of heaven."

"Hallowed be thy name, or Holy be thy name." Holy means "other," so "Holy be thy name" means that God transcends all of us. God is "absolutely other."

Having finished the praise of God, we turn now to the petitions for ourselves.

"Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." This prayer has an eschatological sense, i.e., a sense of the "end times." We pray that God's will might be done at this moment, this day, and for all time. For all time, even to the end of time, may "thy kingdom come." Reflect on this broad vision of human history and eternity.

"Give us this day our daily bread." This refers to bread in the physical sense, and in an allegorical sense. Give us help with our physical needs, and help in all our needs. Again, this phrase is eschatological; help us now and for all times, even to eternity.

"Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." Forgiveness is an especially Christian concept. While the Jews in the Old Testament, and the Moslems in the Koran speak occasionally about forgiveness, Jesus Christ actually died for our sins. Neither Moses nor Mohammed even thought about that. By the way, do you think Jesus is really serious about his instruction: "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."? . I think so.

"Lead us not into temptation." God cannot lead us into temptation. God cannot encourage us to perform anything that is evil; that is contrary to the nature of our all-good God. Rather, our mis-use of God-given freedom leads us into evil. We pray that God will deliver us from evil by his intervention, by his grace. Again, the petition is eschatological because it pertains not just to this moment, but especially to the end-times and Last Judgment.

What a profound and yet simple prayer. Jesus wants us to pray it often. Remember today's first reading about Abraham's persistent interceding for his people, and God listens to Abraham's persistent prayer. And remember today's gospel concludes with the parable of the friend persistently knocking on a neighbor's door, even though it is late at night. The friend receives what he seeks. Jesus encourages us: "Ask and you shall receive; seek and you shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you." Let's be persistent in our prayer. Be persistent in speaking Jesus' prayer, the Lord's Prayer, the Our Father.

Read other homilies by Father O'Malley