17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The passage took place. Luke again does not specify the exact location. The focus is not on where it happened but on what Jesus was doing: he was praying. The disciples, who are by now accustomed to seeing Jesus praying, are inspired to enter more deeply into prayer themselves. So, one of his disciples asks him, Lord teach us to pray, as John did with his disciples (see 5:33). The rabbis of the time typically gave instruction on prayer to their disciples. In response to the request, Jesus teaches a new prayer, brief but profound, which changes the very way of praying.

Luke’s version of the Lord’s prayer is shorter than the one in Matthew (Matt. 16:9-13), containing five petitions instead of seven. Like the variations in the accounts of Jesus’ institution of the Eucharist, the differences here may reflect how the Lord’s prayer was used in prayer and worship in the early Church. Matthew’s version became the one commonly adopted for liturgical, devotional and catechetical use.

Earlier in his own prayer, Jesus addressed God as “Father” (Luke 10:21). He also explained that as the Son he could reveal the Father to whomever he wished (10:22). Thus, he now reveals that when you pray, it is good to begin by addressing God as “Father.” Whereas the title “Father” for God is typically used in the Old Testament in relation to the people of Israel as a whole (Deutoronomy32:6; Mal. 2:10) or to Israel’s king as a special case, Jesus is distinctive in teaching that ordinary individuals can regularly address God as “Father.” In this way, Jesus invites disciples to share in the deep intimacy of his own relationship with the Father, whom elsewhere he describes as merciful (Luke 6:36) 15:20), giving (11:13; 12:32), attentive to the human needs (12:30), and forgiving (23:34).  Jesus may have taught the prayer in Aramaic, saying Abba, a word preserved in its original form elsewhere in the New Testament (Mark 14:36; Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6).  To name God Abba or “Father” in prayer expresses a family bond, indicating that “we are called the children of God. It is with such “childlikeness;” (see 18:17), trust and simplicity that one should daringly pray the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer.

The first two petitions focus on things of God and the last three on the needs of those praying (“us”). The passive form of the petition that God’s name be hallowed—honored as holy—recognizing that God alone can make it happen: “I will sanctify my great name” (Exek. 36:23). Empowered by God, human beings, such as Mary, can hold God’s name in reverence: “Holy is his name” (Luke 1:49). The petition also asks for assistance so that one’s life may not profane God’s name, but rather reflect his holiness: “Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy” (Lev. 19;2).

The second petition, your kingdom come, recalls the preaching of Jesus and of his disciples about the kingdom. Though the kingdom is already at hand with Jesus, one must also fervently pray for its future coming in power. The petition implicitly asks that God’s Kingdom rather than Satan’s kingdom rule in one’s own life.

The petition for bread functions on several levels. First, it is a prayer—made with confidence in God—that life’s basic needs may be met, that those “who are hungry . . . will be satisfied” (6:21). Indeed, the disciples, sent out on mission with no “food,” trusted that God would supply what they needed. Jesus had also multiplied the “loaves,” and all who ate were satisfied.

In the verses that follow, “loaves of bread” and other items of food are used to illustrate Jesus’ teaching on prayer. These examples point to gifts from God of higher order than physical food—for example the gift of “the Holy Spirit” (v.13). This context suggests that the request for bread is also open to spiritual interpretation. For example, recalling the first temptation, it is a reminder that “one does not live by bread alone” (see Matt. 4:4) since one also needs the “word of God” (Luke 1128). Again, the multiplication of the loaves not only signified the feeding of the hungry crowds but also recalled the manna in the wilderness and pointed ahead to the Eucharist. So, too, the Church Fathers thought the petition for bread was a prayer for the new manna of the Eucharist. The words “give us each day” and “daily” are unusual words which allude to the manna, the day’s amount of “bread” that was “given” by God “each day” (Exodus 16:4-5, 15) during the Israelites’ journey to the promised land. Jesus will institute the Eucharist as the bread for the disciples’ journey to the kingdom, which is already present but still awaited its fullness. The petition for bread thus fittingly follows the petition for the coming of the kingdom.

The petition forgive us our sins has a reason attached to it: for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us. Thus, the prayer is a constant reminder to forgive others, indeed “everyone.” Moreover, the verb “forgive” and use of the word “debts” for sins recall Old Testament legislation regarding the Jubilee (Lev.25:10) and “remission of debts” (Deut. 15:1). In Nazareth, Jesus had announced his jubilee mission of proclaiming “liberty.” (Luke 4:18). He now includes the jubilee in his model prayer, indicating that it is a permanent aspect of his mission.

Yours in Christ,

Fr. Vincent Clemente


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