Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer is shorter than the more familiar version found in Matthew’s gospel. However, all the essential elements are there. We are asked to address God as “Father” because that word, in normal circumstances, suggests to a child both strength and love. This leads us to the rather astounding conclusion that God’s supreme power is made available to us through his love.
We are then told to pray for the coming of God’s kingdom—the fulfillment of God’s loving plan for us—which comes only at the end of time. In the meantime, we will need daily spiritual nourishment so that we may be strong enough and free enough to forgive others as we await in trust the final challenge of faith at the moment of death.
Jesus then makes all this even more explicit by offering us examples of the power of prayer, especially when it is fervent and persistent. We should note, however, that what God promises in response to our earnest prayers is not necessarily that answer that we seek, but rather the “Holy Spirit.” This reminds us that the best answer to all prayers is the powerful gift of the Spirit who enables us to love and trust in the most difficult situations of life.
We do not usually find it too difficult to acknowledge the power of God. Creation is proof enough of that. Jesus now asks us to address this all-powerful God as One whose irresistible power is completely in service of his love. This is difficult for us because we experience power so often as domination and violence. Nonetheless, we must continue to call God our loving Father with the sure conviction that eventually our experience will match our words. For we cannot remain hopeful unless we hear, with Jesus, that God’s love offers us all of his immense power for our salvation and happiness.
Praying for the coming of God’s kingdom does not mean asking God to come and “shape up” all those other folks who are not as upright as we are. Rather, it means that we trust God so much that we want his dream for us to be fulfilled–something that will come about only at the end of time. It is therefore the victory of God’s love for which we pray…and that may very well mean forgiveness of our own self-righteousness.
We are asked to pray also for our daily bread. We are on a journey and, like all travelers, we need sustenance. Mostly we need the nourishment of courage and hope, lest we succumb to cynicism and despair. Then we ask our heavenly Father to lift from our shoulders the burden of sinfulness and guilt so that we may make this spiritual journey with wings on our feet. This petition is followed by a solemn pledge to turn our sense of confidence and joy into forgiveness for all our fellow travelers. For only those who are willing to forgive can expect to be forgiven.
The Lord’s Prayer is so central to our Christian experience that St. Teresa of Avila is supposed to have said, when asked how to be a true contemplative, You must simply say the Lord’s Prayer…but you must say it very, very slowly! The implication is that we will never exhaust the wisdom found in this wonderful prayer which is so special because it was given to us by Jesus himself.
Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B.