Chapters forty-four through fifty of the Book of Sirach contains a series of eulogies of the heroes of the Hebrew Scriptures. Today we complete our readings of the stories of Elijah and Elisha by reading a portion of one such eulogy. Jesus ben Sira, the author of the book, gives us a quick summary of the various miracles and works of Elijah and how Elisha continued his work.
The author also tells us that the prophetic words of Elijah and Elisha were as a flaming furnace. These two men are not what scholars call “classical prophets.” In other words, they did not write their words down as did Isaiah or Jeremiah or any of the other dozen or more prophets. However, though they did not write their words down, their words mattered. They mattered to the people who heard them, and they matter to us to whom they have been handed down. They mattered because they were God’s words. They preached God’s message.
In the Gospel today, Jesus also talks about words that matter and contrasts them to the worthless babble of pagans. The Lord’s Prayer, as it is called, appears in the middle of Jesus’ dissertation which we heard yesterday and which we hear every Ash Wednesday. In between the admonitions to fast and to give alms, Jesus teaches us some words that really matter. These words, however, are directed to God rather than from God. Coming as they do between the notion of fasting and almsgiving, they can be understood as the lynch pin that holds fasting and almsgiving together. Fasting and almsgiving without prayer can be likened to babble, which is to say that the fasting and almsgiving would be meaningless.
The simplicity of the prayer is quite amazing. Contained within these few verses are adoration, thanksgiving, petition and repentance, the four types of prayer we were taught in our catechisms. Traditionally, the Church prays this prayer three times a day although I am sure that many of you pray even more often. It was this prayer that is the genesis for the Liturgy of the Hours which gradually developed as a way to embellish the Lord’s Prayer.
We could discuss this prayer for years and years. For me, however, the most important thing about the Lord’s Prayer is the very first word. We call upon “OUR” Father. We are linked together by our common parent. As we pray these words together today, let us make our words as a flaming furnace that burns away any thoughts of being anything but the child of a loving Father and a brother or sister of all who pray with us.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M.