The disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray. The question arises after it
is said that they see Jesus praying. The question fits very clearly into the
larger Lukan context. The importance of prayer for Jesus is found throughout
Luke. In addition, the disciples are often depicted as learners being taught by
Jesus. That being said the traditions surrounding the prayer are far more
complicated than the simplicity of the prayer. Knowing something about the
complex background of this prayer enables us to begin to understand that in the
21st century across the church we still have diverse practices regarding this
so-called "Our Father." Notice, in Luke it is not "Our Father "!!
First, the prayer was certainly not originally in Greek or Latin as we have
it. Most likely it was in Aramaic, and Jesus most likely spoke Aramaic. One of
the suggested reconstructions of the earliest Aramaic form of the "Our Father"
May your name be sanctified!
May your kingdom come!
Give us this day our bread for subsistence.
Forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors.
And bring us not into temptation.
Second, anyone familiar with Jewish prayers will see that it sounds much like
a Jewish prayer. One can read the Qaddish and you can see similarities. In
some ways the simplicity of the address to God, as Father, has roots in the
Hebrew Bible and the Judaism of Jesus time. We should not be surprised
that Jesus prayer has these similarities to a Jewish prayer since Jesus did grow
up in the Jewish community.
Third, today there are varieties of ways the various Christian communities
say the prayer. This was no different in the past. The early recitation of the
"Our Father" reveals differences. The Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 6:5-15)
compared to Luke's Gospel is indicative of some of the differences. Notice
Luke's prayer has the simple form of address, two wishes spoken before God and
three petitions. The Matthean form has an expanded address, three wishes, and
four petitions. There are also contrasting literary settings in the two
gospels. Matthew has it in the context of the Sermon on the Mount. Luke in the
context of his already earlier having spoken of God as the Father (Luke
10:21-22) and the focus upon helping the disciples learn, understand, and not
Fourth, Luke's story of the conveyance of the prayer seems less to answer the
question of "how to pray." It deals more with the one to whom we are to pray,
namely God. Not surprisingly the focus on the one to whom we are to pray fits
seamlessly in Luke with the two parable like elements, really almost wisdom type
sayings (Luke 11:5-8, 11-12) and the implications of those stories/sayings (Luke
11:9-10, 13). The first saying uses the comparison with the friend. It says
that the one to whom you pray will give you what you need if you are persistent.
The second one moves to the comparison of the father-child relationship.
Internally the story moves from the lesser to the greater. The earthly father
will not give an unreasonable response to the request by the child for food.
The child can trust the father. The father will give the fish or the egg not
the snake or the scorpion. So God will give far more than what we seek. The
"far more" in this case is the gift of the Holy Spirit. Some have assumed that
the writer of Luke is in some sense looking ahead to the second volume of his
work, namely Acts where the Holy Spirit comes to the Christian community.
Luke's account moves us to reflect on the one with whom we communicate in our
prayers. Jesus assures us that we can be confident that the God to whom we pray
will do what we need to have done just as the friend did in the story. The
prayer begins with the simple address, Father, and ends with the assurance that
the Father will exceed what any earthly father would do. There are no elaborate
formulas we must follow as we speak with God. God provides and exceeds our
daily needs, forgives our sins, and recognizes our constant need of care in all
times. The stark simplicity is found in God's presence ever open to our