Prayer: a context

This coming Sunday is the 17th Sunday in Lectionary Cycle C. 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.

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