Gospel for the Seventeenth Sunday (24 July 2016)
Gospel Notes by Michael Whelan SM
He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, 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 indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.”
And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs. “So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:1-13 – NRSV)
See Matthew 6:9-13 for another version of Jesus’ of the instruction on the Our Father. However, verses 5-8 – the persistent friend – is unique to Luke.
In the late 1st century text, the Didache, we find a further presentation of the Our Father:
“Nor should you pray like the hypocrites. Instead, ‘pray like this’, just as the Lord commanded in his Gospel: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread, and forgive us our debt, as we also forgive our debtors; and do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one; for yours is the power and the glory forever.” (M W Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek texts and English translations (Updated edition), Baker Books, 1999, 259.) The Didache then states that Christians are to “pray like this three times a day”. That sounds a little bit like the Jewish practice of reciting the Shema morning, noon and evening.
“Prayer is a constant motif in Luke-Acts, and the critical moments of Jesus’ ministry are punctuated by prayer (3:21; 5:16; 6:12; 9:18, 28–29; 11:1; 22:41, 44–45; 23:46). Luke omits ‘coming out of the water’, and therefore disrupts the ascent/descent pattern found in Mark 1:10 and Matt 3:16. Instead, the event is a prayer experience, as is also Luke’s version of the transfiguration (cf. Luke 9:28–29).” (Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke, The Liturgical Press, 1991, 69.)
Father, hallowed be your name: A typically Jewish way of beginning a prayer. For example, the kaddish begins: ‘Magnified and sanctified be his great name’.
Your kingdom come: This prayer for the rule of God to be made effective in our world again echoes the kaddish. More to the point, it reiterates Jesus fundamental message – see for example 9:2, 11, 27, 60, 62; 10:9, 11.
our daily bread: Johnson translates this as “the bread we need”. He explains: “The hardest part of this petition is the phrase shared by Matthew and Luke, ton arton ton epiousion. The word epiousios is not found anywhere else in Greek literature, so interpretation depends on the shaky grounds of etymology and context. Least likely is ‘supernatural bread’, favored by some patristic writers. The three likely options are: 1) ‘daily’, 2) ‘future’, and 3) ‘necessary’. In light of the narrative context which emphasizes going without provisions and depending on hospitality for provisions, the translation ‘the bread we need’ is appropriate.” (Op cit, 177-178.)
forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us: Forgiveness is major theme in Luke’s Gospel – see 1:77; 3:3; 5:20–21, 23–24; 7:47–49; 12:10; 23:34; 24:47. Forgiveness also represents a major development by Jesus of the Jewish tradition. God alone forgives, yet Jesus places great emphasis on Christians forgiving. This was a major point of conflict with the religious authorities.
And do not bring us to the time of trial: On the eve of his passion we hear Jesus say to the disciples: “Pray that you may not come into the time of trial”. (22:40) And there is an interesting statement in St Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians: “No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it”. (1Corinthians 10:13) Thus we might understand these words as something like, “please spare us the testing that might break us”.
So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. What are we to make of this teaching? Doesn’t our experience contradict it?
We must first take note of the parable. Suppose one of you has a friend ....: You, the listener, are invited by Jesus to place yourself in the position of doing something that would really stretch any friendship: and you go to him at midnight ..... You make such a pest of yourself that your friend gives you what you want, not for friendship’s sake, but to get rid of you: because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs. What are you thinking? How are you feeling about being a pest?
Jesus is derailing our taken for granted patterns of thought and expectation. Something similar happens in all the parables. (Luke’s gems, the good Samaritan and the prodigal son, are wonderful examples of this.) We are much more likely to be open to Kingdom-thinking when our rational minds, with their tiny assumptions and limited expectations, have been derailed. The everyday rational mind seeks clear cut definitions, it wants answers, it will not rest until it has brought the matter at hand under control. This is the mind yet to awaken to the way things really are, it is scandalized by the actual structure of the real. The Australian poet, the late James McAuley (1917-1976), reminds us:
The meaning not ours, but found
In the mind deeply submissive
To the grammar of existence,
The syntax of the real. (“Credo”)
Kingdom-thinking is at home with “the syntax of the real”. For example, Kingdom-thinking says “yes” to the glory of God made manifest on the Cross, “yes” to God who is three persons in one, “yes” to the promise, “I am with you” and, at the same time, “yes” to the mystery Presence that cannot be named or understood.
At the heart of Kingdom-thinking is our relationship with the “I AM WHO AM”(see Exodus 3:14), embodied in Jesus of Nazareth. Through him, with him and in him, “the grammar of existence” is made known to us. We begin to see with his eyes, hear with his ears, think with his mind, feel with his heart. We also experience a growing sense of what it is we want in life – what we really want.
With this in mind we listen to and hear Jesus’ words: So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. What do you “hear” and “see” as you chew over these words?