Reflection on the Lord’s Prayer
“Give us each day our daily bread.” Jesus in Luke 11:1-13, NRSV.
“Today there is a beacon on the Black Sea, a beacon of hope.” General Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary, regarding the negotiated release of Ukrainian grain.
There are two versions of the Lord’s Prayer in the Bible, this in Luke and a longer form in Matthew 6:9-13. They differ and neither has the doxology, ‘For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory for ever and ever, Amen.’ – this was added later. In Luke’s version, the gospel for today, Jesus has been praying by himself and his disciples clearly see something in his prayer that is vital to him and that they want for themselves so one of them asks, ‘Lord, teach us how to pray.’
Jesus gives no preamble about preparation, attitude or posture but teaches them a prayer that has become familiar to Christians everywhere. God is called not just Father but the intimate term Abba – this is not a formal statement of belief in God but an actual relationship with him. His holy name is to be hallowed, requiring a human response for it to be honoured in this way, and his kingdom come in the sense of being both longed for and having begun. Yet this is no remote deity: God is asked to provide food for the day just as the Israelites depended on their daily needs being supplied in the wilderness as manna could not be stored without going mouldy. God is also asked to forgive our wrongdoing, with the obligation that those praying this prayer must forgive others too. Finally, protection is asked from any temptation or trial that might be too much to bear and Jesus goes then tells the disciples a story about persistence.
In those days, hospitality obliged a host to provide for a guest whenever they arrived and regardless of the hour even if, in avoiding the heat of the day, a traveller might arrive very late and perhaps without warning. Neighbours could be asked even after they’d gone to bed to help to provide bread should an unexpected guest arrive and, in banging on the door and disrupting the whole household, eventually the food would be given to stop the disturbance. Jesus likens this to persistence in prayer – not because we are a nuisance to God but because prayer requires commitment and trust that its blessings will eventually be forthcoming although this will happen in God’s timing – not necessarily as anticipated by those praying to him. “Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you,” says Jesus – this is in the future as well as the present.
At the present moment, there may be hope that the vast amounts of Ukrainian wheat that couldn’t be exported because of the ongoing war with Russia may now be able to be released thanks to the intervention of the UN and lengthy negotiations for two months to overcome the impasse. The Black Sea has been mined and the plans are not without risk but the price of wheat has already fallen at the news that many dependent, hungry people may now be able to be fed. If we want there to be daily bread, we have to play our part, too, in bringing this about – will the fragile hope be fulfilled?
Luke’s briefer version of the Lord’s Prayer teaches its users to bring to God practical requests for bread, forgiveness and protection from temptation whilst proclaiming that this is done in his name and kingdom. Jesus tells his disciples, then and now, to ask, seek and knock at the door which will be opened – no matter how late it is. As Malcolm Guite puts it in the first of his Seven Sonnets on the Lord’s Prayer:
‘And so I come and ask you how to pray, Seeking a distant supplicant’s petition, Only to find you give your words away, As though I stood with you in your position, As though your Father were my Father too, As though I found his ‘welcome home’ in you.’
With my prayers; pob bendith,