The Lord’s Prayer or the “Our Father” is one of the prayers that most of us were taught when we were children. It appears in both the Gospel of St. Matthew, which we read this morning, and the Gospel of St. Luke. As is often the case when two or more Gospels report the same thing, the evangelist uses it to the advantage of their particular Gospel. This is certainly the case in the way the Lord’s Prayer is reported by Matthew and Luke.
The Gospel of St. Luke reports that Jesus taught the disciples to pray these words at their request. The Gospel of St. Matthew includes the Lord’s Prayer as an illustration of Jesus’ words about praying in solitude, a passage that we read yesterday. The Lectionary actually excerpts these words from the passage and presents it on its own rather than including it in the discourse about almsgiving, prayer and fasting. While I understand why the framers of the Lectionary did this, I also feel that it does a little disservice to the text as well.
St. Matthew often writes using a figure of speech called a chiasm. This particular figure of speech asks the reader to work inwards from both the beginning and the end to find the middle of the figure. The effect that this rhetorical device renders is to focus the attention of the reader on the idea the writer finds most important. I believe that St. Matthew wishes the “Our Father” to be our focus when we consider the passage on almsgiving, prayer and fasting. In other words, the Lord’s Prayer, with its emphasis on praising God and on being merciful to our neighbor is as the heart of our life of almsgiving, prayer and fasting.
You have heard me say not a few times that the quest for honor is the driving force of the culture of the Middle East. Almsgiving, especially when it is done publically, prayer, especially when everyone knows of the hours we spend in prayer, and fasting, especially when everyone sees how it affects us, can be undertaken simply to gain honor in the eyes of the world. However, the Lord’s Prayer emphasizes that our religious lifestyle should not be done to gain the respect of others. We pray to glorify God’s name and to express our Love for our Father. We are merciful to our neighbor, especially those who have wronged us, to express our love for our neighbors, even those who wrong us. This prayer is so important that it is absolutely critical that we do not become so used to the words that we forget what we are saying and why we say it.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator