The “Our Father,” found in the Gospels of both Matthew and Luke, reveals the prayer life of Jesus himself, which the disciples sought to understand and imitate.
St. Luke wrote that Jesus was “praying in a certain place, and when he ceased, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray’” (Lk 11:1). The disciples saw Jesus at prayer, and it awakened in them the desire to learn from him.
Luke depicts Jesus at prayer more than any other evangelist. Many of the major moments in Jesus’ ministry occur in prayer: at Jesus’ baptism (3:21), before the choosing of the Twelve (6:12), at his transfiguration (9:28), and on the cross itself (23:46). Like the disciples, we come to Jesus to learn how to pray, and he gives us the words that unlock the hidden treasures of prayer.
Let’s walk through this well-known prayer to see what it is about and what we ask for when we pray it.
The “Our Father” has been transmitted to us in a shorter form in Luke. It contains five petitions, and begins with a great consolation: we are allowed to say “Father.” We can do this because the Son, Jesus, was our brother and has revealed the Father to us. This prayer leads us directly to the heart of the Father. We should not pass a day
without reciting this prayer.
It is true that many people have difficulty experiencing the consolation of the word “father,” since their experience of the father has been absent or obscured by inadequate examples. And yet fathers are necessary, and indeed critical to the foundation of each family, giving children a sense of safety and security. Simply put, boys and girls need fathers. The overwhelming majority of youth offenders behind bars come from fatherless homes. We beg the Lord to protect our fathers and to raise up good fathers.
The next petition goes on to ask that God’s name be hallowed. What does that mean? To “hallow” is to treat God’s name as something holy. To hallow God’s name means to acknowledge him, to praise him, to give him honor and to live according to his commands.
We then ask, “Your kingdom come.” When we pray this, we acknowledge first and foremost the primacy of God. Where God is absent, nothing can be good. With this petition we say thy kingdom come, not our kingdom. To pray for the kingdom of God is to say to “Jesus, pervade us, live in us; gather humanity together so that in you
everything may be subordinated to God.”
Next we ask, “Give us each day our daily bread.” This is the most human of all the petitions. We are asking for food. The earth bears no fruit unless it receives sunlight and rain. These cosmic powers are out of our control. So, we pray that God would provide our daily food.
But we pray that our bread would come to us, not that my bread would come to me. We pray then also for bread for others. This forms part of this petition. Those who have an abundance are called to share.
We also pray for our daily bread, which translates the Greek word epiousios. This came into the Latin version of the Bible as supersubstantialis, or super-substantial bread, i.e., bread of a higher substance that the Lord gives us in the Eucharist with his body, blood, soul and divinity. So, we pray also for the food that sustains our souls on our Christian journey.
“Forgive us as we forgive.” If we are not merciful and do not forgive one another, God’s mercy will not reach our hearts. Sometimes we struggle to forgive. We take as our model Christ himself who, when he hung on the cross, suffering unimaginable pain, said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:24).
The final petition asks, “Lead us not into temptation.” Every day we are in danger of falling into sin and saying “no” to God. In this petition, we beg God not to leave us without his aid at the hour of temptation. We can trust in God’s assistance in time of trial.
The Lucan form of the prayer includes two other instructions: the encouragement to persevere (Lk 11:5-8) and confidence in prayer’s effectiveness (Lk 11:9-13). In the Lucan context, the stress is on persistence. Luke presents Jesus as encouraging his followers to not give up, to persevere, which is the virtue needed, aside from faith, hope
and love, more than any other. If the disciple ceases to persevere, all the other virtues will cease.
Finally, Jesus exhorts his disciples to “ask, seek and knock” (Lk 11:9). These are arranged in a crescendo of supplication. This section concludes with a comparison between an earthly father and God (Lk 11:11). A human father will give sustenance to his son. How much more will God give the supreme gift, the Holy Spirit, to those who ask (Lk 11:13)?
Pray this prayer each day. Pray it slowly and unlock the hidden treasures of the Lord’s Prayer.
Father Christopher Moriconi is a priest of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, currently completing his graduate studies at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome.
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