Luke in chapter 12 tells us that “Jesus was praying in a certain place.” The disciples surely noticed that Jesus often prayed in private. Corporate worship is public, and it engages a community in various forms of prayer and praise. But, for the disciples, Jesus modeled a form of prayer that is typically private. Luke tells us that Jesus would often “withdraw to deserted places and pray.” Mark tells us about a time when Jesus got up very early, long before daylight, to pray in a lonely place by himself. Luke also tells us how Jesus went out to a mountain and spent the whole night in prayer before calling the twelve to join him. These stories tell us that, for Jesus, prayer was a way to feed himself spiritually. And through it, he re-grounded himself in mission.
And so, having set his face toward Jerusalem, Jesus is praying by himself. Perhaps his words are like his later prayer on the cross: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” In other words, in both living and in dying, Jesus was in the habit of saying to the Father, ‘I put my whole being into your hands.’
How fitting, then, that a disciple boldly says, “Lord, teach us to pray!” Well, who do we typically ask, to teach us things we want to learn? Of course, we ask someone who knows about the subject. Indeed, we are likely to ask someone who not only knows about the matter, but who actually lives it. On occasion, Jesus may have prayed like other rabbis. Yet the disciples noticed that he also prayed differently and, probably, more sincerely and more deeply. Luke, among the Gospels, is most clear that Jesus embodied and modeled a life of prayer, not just the occasional practice of it. Here, it’s helpful to remember what The Book of Common Prayer Catechism teaches us ~ that “prayer is responding to God.” The kind of prayer that Jesus lived and modeled was at least this, a genuine and intentional process of responding to God.
What a wonderful thing for them to ask, ‘O Lord, please teach us to pray!’ For prayer is something at which all of us are just beginners. Jesus honors their request by teaching them the Lord’s Prayer. The contemporary form in our Prayer Book is based on how Luke shares it. Jesus teaches us to speak to God directly, as Father. In this prayer, we speak with Jesus, and through Jesus, as he shares with us his own relationship with the Father. Therefore, his Father becomes “our” Father. Jesus underscores the personal nature of our new relationship with the Father, by saying, “Father, hallowed be your name.” As Moses learned in the wilderness, the holiness of God’s name is directly connected with the holiness of God’s being. Through the prayer Jesus teaches us, we begin to live into a new personal relationship with God.
The image above is of Stanley Spencer’s painting, Christ in the Wilderness: Driven by the Spirit. This post is based on my homily for Sunday, July 28, 2019, which can be accessed by clicking here. Other homilies of mine may be accessed by clicking here. The Revised Common Lectionary, which specifies the readings for Sundays and other Holy Days, can be accessed by clicking here.