The disciples came to Jesus one day and asked, “Teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples.” Have you ever thought about that request? It’s rather curious, if you think about it. After all, the Jewish faith is filled with examples of prayer. Just look at today’s first reading where we hear Abraham praying to save Sodom and Gomorrah or turn to the Book of Psalms which is filled with prayers of praise and petition, lament and thanks. Does the disciples’ question indicate that they think that there is a right way and a wrong way to pray? We don’t know how St. John the Baptist prayed. How was it different from the traditional Jewish prayer? We do know the importance of prayer and we have all been frustrated when our prayers weren’t answered as we expected. There have been those who have forsaken the faith because they prayed and did not receive what they expected. On the other hand, others have prayed with the same result – not receiving what they wanted – and it has drawn them even closer to God. They have had to alter their expectations, but they did not alter their faith in God. What is the difference? I’m sure we have all asked the question why some prayers are answered and others are not. The best answer I can give to that perennial question is that all prayers are, in fact, answered. God responds with a “yes,” or a “no” or a “wait” or an “I have a better plan.” We just need to trust God with whatever occurs because God loves us and is always working to make all things work to our good; even in the midst of tragedy and heartache. And so, we are encouraged to pray, knowing that God hears our prayers and loves us, and we just leave the rest to God.
Let’s get back to the disciples’ request. Jesus answered with the model prayer – one that we know as the Lord’s Prayer. As we all know, Jesus began like this: “When you pray, say, ‘Our Father.’” Such a simple beginning, and yet how dramatic in its impact on the world of religion. Never before in history had a spiritual leader referred to God in such a familiar way. The ancient Jews wouldn’t even dare to call God by the name that he had given them: Yahweh. Instead, they called him Adonai, which means Lord. As we all know, the original Aramaic word here for “Father” is “Abba.” In my several trips to Israel, I have often overheard young Palestinian children, speaking in Aramaic, calling after their father with that familiar name, “Abba.” That’s how Jesus teaches us to address God. After all, we are his beloved children and he is as attentive to each of us as those Palestinian fathers are to their children; in fact, infinitely more attentive. Of course, we hear Jesus then add: “hallowed be your name.” Although God is our loving and attentive father, he is also all holy and we are to keep his name holy.
Then, as we hear Jesus assure us in today’s Gospel: “I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”
God’s will is always for His children’s good. That is why we can trust that our prayers will be answered in a way that will ultimately be for our good. Look through the Bible and you will see that, even in the midst of great tragedy and struggle, it is ultimately for our good. When Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, he begged God, “if it is possible, let this cup pass me by.” God did not prevent his crucifixion. But, from this great tragedy came the promise of the Resurrection for all of us. That’s why we pray, “Your will be done.”
Listen as the prayer continues: “Give us each day our daily bread . . .” What Jesus was saying to his disciples – and us – is that we should pray that our daily needs are met. That is a reminder of our total dependence on God. Of course, most of us have difficulty distinguishing between our daily wants and our daily needs, and we have to come to grips with that, don’t we?
Back to how Jesus teaches us to pray. In this Lucan version, we hear Jesus go on to say that we should ask God to, “forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us.” This is a recognition of our weakness as human beings. We sin. So does everyone else. We need forgiveness. So do those who sin against us.
The prayer continues, in today’s Gospel passage, with: “And do not subject us to the final test.” We’re familiar with the phrase, “and lead us not into temptation;” that what we say in the official version of the Lord’s Prayer. Some of you may have read or heard the Pope Francis has decided to change this phrase. I agree with him because it’s a bad translation and sounds as if God might, indeed, lead us into temptation. “Do not let us fall into temptation,” as Pope Francis has approved, is a much better translation; I can’t wait until that change is made official. Confident of God’s infinite goodness, we ask him to help us avoid temptation. All we need to do is turn to God in prayer and we can be assured that he will help us. Like those people for whom Abraham pleaded in today’s first reading, God has saved us. It doesn’t matter how unworthy we may be, God extends his mercy and love. All we need to do is accept it. We acknowledge this in the response we make together at Mass before receiving the Eucharist: “Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”
This is how we should pray; let’s learn the lesson well and pray as Jesus taught us. It’s the best way for God to hear us and for us to be open to God and his plan for us; that’s even more important.