Genesis 18, 20-32 + Psalm 138 + Colossians 2, 12-14 + Luke 11, 1-13
There is something very intimate at this moment in Luke’s Gospel. The request of the disciples is not a “show me how you do that” sort of request, and the response of Jesus to their request reveals just how intimate and how seriously he takes their request. It also shows us just what mattered to them about this man they have left all things to follow. They never ask him to show them how to cleanse lepers. We never hear them say: “How did he do that?” when the blind are given their sight or there is suddenly food for countless numbers of people who flock to hear him in the desert. But at this point in their journey to Jerusalem they finally go to the heart of their experience. It seems to me that suddenly they know that all those other things that are going on happen because this man knows how to pray, and they want to know that secret.
I’m not absolutely certain, but I don’t think the culture and the society in which these events took place was much like ours when it comes to prayer. There is a prayerful quality about the Jewish people that seems to keep a running conversation going with God all the time so well revealed in the written prayer of this ancient chosen people that we call the Psalms. There is a balance of praise, thanksgiving, petition, intercession for others, and simply awe all woven into the psalms these people sang all day long in the synagogue and probably at work. In that prayer, there is almost always a distance from God, a respect that establishes a relationship between creature and created, Lord and servant, powerful and powerless.
The disciples knew those prayers. They were in the Synagogue all the time. Probably more than once a day. The disciples also have come to realize that there must be something more than those prayers, something more that inspires, strengthens, enables, and encourages their friend and teacher, so they ask.
What he gives them is not a formula of words. If that were the case, I suspect that there would be no difference between the prayer we find in Luke and the prayer we find in Matthew. The formula would have been too important to abbreviate or elaborate. What he gave them was an intimate opportunity to share in the relationship he had with his Father; a relationship that had all the power to enable him to do the Father’s will bringing forgiveness and healing, joy and peace.
That relationship is established by the first two words, and everything flows from that. OUR FATHER! That’s the prayer. That is the relationship that empowers, heals, brings peace, and relieves every need. But don’t be too quick to jump on that word: “Father.” Notice that the prayer does not begin by saying: “MY FATHER?” In fact there is no singular personal pronoun anywhere in this prayer. Not one of them. There is no “me”, or no “mine” anywhere in the prayer.” It is always “our” and “us”.
The intimacy I find in this prayer is not just a look at the intimate relationship between the Son and the Father that encourages the Son to call “God the Almighty”, “Creator”, “King of the Universe”, and all the titles we find for God in the Psalms a “Father”; there is also the intimacy developing between the Son and the disciples and between the disciples themselves that brings them to say: “Our.”
Think of it for moment. Think about how prayer still has the power to bring us together. All you have to do anywhere in the world when prayer is called for is say those two words, and Christian people everywhere, Christian people of every communion and tradition suddenly are one – sharing through those words the intimate relationship that Jesus came to establish. It’s not about bread, temptation, or forgiveness. It is about unity and the intimacy of fellowship in Christ, through Christ, and with Christ.
Think of it for another moment. When we pray like that, we pray with Christ. It was his prayer. We pray as children of God, one with Christ. When we pray like that, we pray as one people, God’s only people. When we pray like that, we are never alone. Think how often we offer that prayer and how often others must be doing the same hour by hour, minute by minute all over this earth. When we pray as Jesus taught us, we join them in prayer, in praise, in thanksgiving, and in the work of Christ that brings forgiveness and peace. In prayer, we are never alone.