Gospel for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (28 July 2019)
Gospel Notes by Michael Whelan SM
The Lord's Prayer in Arabic Calligraphy. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=56216
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 6:7-13 for a comparable text, where it is part of the Sermon on the Mount. Luke and Matthew have obviously derived this episode from a source other than Mark’s Gospel, normally a common source for them.
Matthew’s form has seven petitions whilst Luke only has five petitions.
Luke is unique in making reference to the fact that John has taught his disciples to pray.
Luke does not use the expression, “Our Father”. However, we have heard Luke tell of Jesus’ prayer: “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth ...” (10:21). Luke’s form of the prayer picks up the theme of neighbourly love which he has so beautifully spoken of in the parable of the good Samaritan (see 10:29-37) and being attentive to God’s word and will epitomized in the disposition of Mary (see 10:38-42). “This complex of episodes thus reveals in its own way what the ideal attitude of the Christian disciple toward God should be and the sentiments that that attitude should evoke. The passage, moreover, is the first of three Lucan episodes dealing with prayer (see HST 324), being followed by the parable of the persistent friend (11:5–8) and sayings on the efficacy of prayer (11:9–13), the climax of which tells of the gift of the Spirit to be given to those who call on the heavenly Father in prayer” (Joseph A Fitzmyer S J, The Gospel according to Luke X–XXIV: introduction, translation, and notes (Vol. 28A), New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2008, 896).
One commentator notes, in the context of Jesus’ baptism in Luke 3:21: “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, Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1991, 69).
John taught his disciples: This is unique to Luke. Luke has already told us something of John and his disciples: he preached (3:18) and fasted (7:33) and his disciples both fasted and “prayed” (5:33).
when you pray: A generalized instruction. There is however a first century document, written in common Greek, called the Didache (Teaching), that would suggest this instruction of Jesus was accepted as a specific prayer very early in the life of the community: “8. But do not let your fasts coincide with those of the hypocrites. They fast on Monday and Thursday, so you must fast on Wednesday and Friday. (2) 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 ed., p. 259), Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999, 259). The version found in the Didache is based on Matthew’s version. Note, however, that it adds the doxology, “for yours is the power etc”.
Father, hallowed be your name: Luke tells us that Jesus himself calls God his Father (see 10:21). Luke does not use Matthew’s express, “Our Father in Heaven”. The hallowing of the name is ancient Jewish tradition.
Your kingdom come: A prayer that God’s intentions for our world will be realized. This proclamation of the kingdom has gained more urgency at this point in the Gospel of Luke (see for example 9:2, 11, 27, 60 & 62; 10:9 & 11).
Give us each day our daily bread: “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. Matthew has ‘today’, while Luke has kath’hēmeran ‘day by day’ or ‘every day’. In line with this, he uses the present tense of didōmi (in contrast to Matthew’s aorist), to emphasize repeated giving = ‘keep giving us’. For the wondrous character of bread in unlikely circumstances, see the feeding of the multitude, 9:12–17” (Luke Timothy Johnson, op cit, 177-178).
forgive us our sins: This is a major theme in Luke’s Gospel and in Acts (see 1:77; 3:3; 5:20–21, 23–24; 7:47–49; 12:10; 23:34; 24:47; Acts 2:38; 5:31; 10:43; 13:38; 26:18).
do not bring us to the time of trial: This petition must be understood in the context of the belief of that time, that God controls all human events (see 1 Cor 10:13). Disciples must expect “testing” (see 8:13; 22:28). Note also Jesus’ statements in the garden: “Pray that you may not come into the time of trial” (see 22:40 & 46). Luke omits Matthew’s final petition, “and save us from the evil one”.
From the first century to the present day, the words of Jesus found in today’s Gospel – Luke 11:2-4 – have been used as a particular prayer formula. Everyone knows what you mean when you refer to the Our Father. This actually masks a precious gift that Jesus gave his disciples when he taught them those words. Whilst it is a good thing to pray the Our Father in that prayer formula as it has come down to us, it is also a good thing to recognize the pattern of prayer that is found in those words.
God is present to me. Prayer is my awakening to God’s Presence. The more I practice being aware of God’s Presence, the more intimate and familial will my presence with God become. Jesus is inviting us to share his presence with God, whom he calls Father. This presence to God is interdependent with my presence to myself and my presence to other people and my presence to the wider world. All four relationships grow together.
The Father is very near to Jesus, and Jesus is very near to the Father. Jesus invites us to share that nearness. The concept of “person” – as in the title of Father – is crucial. Whereas the words of Jesus taken as a formula lock us into the male gender, those words taken as pattern, allow us to call God Mother. Jesus is inviting us to claim a deeply intimate and personal relationship with God – beyond biological metaphors or social and cultural constructs. And such an intimacy would not be recognized, for example, in calling God the “First Cause” or the “Unmoved Mover” or even “Creator”.
Words, images, rituals, symbols, images and the like all have their place in helping us to develop this familial presence with God both as individuals and as community. It hardly needs to be said, however, we can have the most wonderful words and images without being present to God! In the end, the familial presence is beyond words and images.
A Carmelite nun, Sr Ruth Burrows, gives us a beautiful description of that pattern implicit in Jesus’ words: “Christian prayer is nothing other than being present to God so that God can give to us. The only thing that matters is that we believe this and stay there with Him, regardless of how we feel or don’t feel. I suggest that the most profound expression we can give to faith is to set aside an inviolable time each day, no matter how short, when we deliberately affirm God’s, Jesus’, absolute love for me here and now and that we stay there in blind trusting faith, receiving it. This will mean learning the precious lesson that, in fact, we have no inner resources of our own; it will mean learning to live happily without any assurances from within ourselves but casting our whole weight onto infinite love. This is to glorify God, for it glorifies God’s true nature, which is love” (Ruth Burrows, Essence of Prayer, Paulist Press, 2006, 52-53).