Daily Bread

This coming Sunday marks our journey in Ordinary Time, the 17th Sunday in Year C. You can read a complete commentary on the Sunday Gospel here.

1 He was praying in a certain place, and when he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say:  Father, hallowed be your name,  your kingdom come. 3 Give us each day our daily bread  4 and forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us, and do not subject us to the final test.”

 5 And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend to whom he goes at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, 6 for a friend of mine has arrived at my house from a journey and I have nothing to offer him,’ 7 and he says in reply from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked and my children and I are already in bed. I cannot get up to give you anything.’ 8 I tell you, if he does not get up to give him the loaves because of their friendship, he will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence.

 9 “And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? 12 Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? 13 If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the holy Spirit to those who ask him?” (Luke 11:1-13)

With the geographical note, “in a certain place” Luke has separated this narrative from the immediate context of Chapter 10 (the conclusion of the mission of the 72, the parable of the Good Samaritan, and the encounter with Martha and Mary). Luke now presents three episodes concerned with prayer:

  • the first (Luke 11:1–4) recounts Jesus teaching his disciples the Christian communal prayer,
  • the “Our Father”; the second (Luke 11:5–8), the importance of persistence in prayer; and
  • the third (Luke 11:9–13), the effectiveness of prayer.

The Matthean form of the “Our Father” occurs in the “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 6:9–15); the shorter Lucan version is presented while Jesus is at prayer and his disciples ask him to teach them to pray just as John taught his disciples to pray. In answer to their question, Jesus presents them with an example of a Christian communal prayer that stresses the fatherhood of God and acknowledges him as the one to whom the Christian disciple owes daily sustenance, forgiveness, and deliverance from the final trial.

Luke on Prayer. Luke has a greater emphasis on prayer than the other gospels. His vocabulary includes the following (Although last two do not specifically mean prayer, there are instances where requests are made of Jesus or God.):

  • proseuche/proseuchomai = prayer/pray in the gospels
  • deomai/deesis = ask, beg, pray/prayer, petition
  • erotao/eperotao = ask, request, beg/ask for

Even when a pericope (story) is found in other gospels, Luke alone includes comments about Jesus’ praying:

  • Jesus is praying at his baptism before heavens open (3:21)
  • Jesus spends the night praying to God before selecting the twelve (6:12)
  • Jesus is praying before he asks the disciples, “Who do the crowds/you say that I am?” (9:18)
  • Jesus is praying on the mountain before the transfiguration. (9:28, 29)
  • Jesus is praying before the disciples ask him to teach them to pray. (11:1)

The following parables about prayer are unique to Luke:

  • The Friend at Midnight (11:5-8)
  • The Widow and the Judge (18:1-8)
  • The Pharisee and the Tax Collector (18:9-14)

As well Luke also has passages parallel to other synoptic passages about prayer:

  • Pray for those who mistreat you (6:28)
  • “When you pray, say . . . (11:2)
  • “My house shall be a house of prayer” (19:46)
  • Scribes, for a show, make lengthy prayers (20:47)
  • Jesus praying in the garden and asks disciples to pray (22:40, 41, 44, 45, 46)

This same emphasis on prayer continues into the Acts of the Apostles. Why this emphasis on prayer in Luke? It may be that Luke was writing to a group of people unfamiliar with Christian/Jewish prayer, so he emphasizes the importance of prayer. The effect is to show that if Jesus often prayed, how much more does the true disciple need to pray? Many scholars have pointed out that this is a Lucan characteristic of what it means to be a disciple.

The Communal Nature of the Lord’s Prayer. The context for the Lord’s Prayer in Luke and Matthew (6:5-15) are quite different. Matthew is writing for Jewish Christians that share a common heritage of prayer.  Thus Jesus simply begins: “But when you pray…” They seem to know how to pray and the importance of prayer, but they need further clarification about prayer – especially vis-à-vis the temple and synagogue exemplar and the pagans. In Luke, the audience, (including the disciples,) don’t know how to pray (at least as Jesus’ followers). The disciples (and Luke’s readers?) ask Jesus to teach them to pray – and this seems to be in distinction from John the Baptist’s disciples (v.1). This introduction also suggests that we are defined by our prayers.

In v. 2 both verbs are second person plural. The prayer is intended to be communal, rather than personal. Note also the plural pronouns in the prayer: “our” and “us”. It has been suggested, and rightly so, that the “Our Father” was given as a prayer to define “us”.  Perhaps this suggests that one way the prayer defines us as belonging to Jesus is not necessarily the words, but the fact that we pray it together.  Culpepper (Luke, New Interpreter’s Bible, 234) makes this brief comment:

… use of the first-person plural later in the Lukan prayer shows that it is still understood as the community prayer of Jesus’ disciples. Even in Luke, therefore, the prayer is not an expression of individual piety apart from the life and worship of the community.

In this Culpepper reflects what the Church has proclaimed since the earliest of days:

Before all things the Teacher of peace and Master of unity is unwilling for prayer to be made single and individually, teaching that he who prays is not to pray for himself alone. For we do not say, “My Father who art in heaven,” nor “Give me this day my bread”…Prayer with us is public and common; and when we pray we do not pray for one but for the whole people because we the whole people are one. Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage (d. 258)

Commanding God? Many of the phrases in the Lucan prayer are imperative – as though the prayer commands God:

  • “Hallowed be your name,”
  • “Your kingdom come,”
  • “Give us,”
  • “Forgive us”
  • “Do not subject us” (technically subjunctive but with imperative force)

What does it mean that we are “commanding” God? Last week Martha was politely chastised for telling Jesus what he should do (Luke 10:41). It may be that these requests are asking God to do what God would do anyway. Culpepper (p.234) offers this explanation to the first two petitions:

The petition that God’s name might be sanctified is double sided. On the one hand, it is a prayer that God would act to establish God’s own sovereignty. On the other hand, it voices the longing for the day when all people will revere God. The second petition, therefore, is an extension of the first. If God’s name is sanctified, then God’s sovereignty and dominion will have been established (Ezek 36:22-23).

Green (The Gospel of Luke, p,442) also comments on this petition: “Why must God sanctify his name? Because it has been profaned by God’s own people (cf. Lev 22:32; Isa 52:5-6; Ezek 36:29-21). God’s eschatological work to reestablish the holiness of his name, then, invokes shame on the part of his people and invites them to embrace practices that honor him.”

In the petition about bread, Luke uses a present tense, which emphasis the continual giving of God. This seems to indicate a petition for God to take care of daily needs.

 

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