By Dr. Judy Bullock
The only prayer recorded in Scripture that Jesus taught his disciples was the Our Father. In this prayer we have, not only the formula for how to pray, but also the expectation of behavior for Jesus’ followers.
In both Gospel accounts of the Lord’s Prayer in Luke and Matthew, Jesus addresses God as Father, communicating deep respect, intimate love, yet powerful authority.
Scholars tell us that the shorter version of this prayer in Luke’s gospel is most likely the one closest to Jesus’ words.
Nonetheless, Matthew’s version, likely expanded for liturgical use, is the text most of us learned in early childhood and is the one we pray in the liturgy to this day.
The Lord’s Prayer is the prototype for all prayer. Tertullian called this prayer the summary of the whole Gospel. The Lord’s Prayer embodies the aim of every liturgical celebration: to give honor and thanksgiving to God and to help us on the path to goodness.
In the Gospel of Luke, the chapter preceding the one on prayer presents the context for the Lord’s Prayer. The evangelist describes God’s kingdom where there are no divisions between rich and poor, men and women, etc.
The first part of the Lord’s Prayer carries this theme, “hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
These phrases express esteem for God and the hope that someday heaven and earth will be one in the goodness of God, a world of peace and justice.
In the second portion of the Lord’s Prayer a set of petitions follows asking God to provide for our needs, both physical and spiritual, to protect us, and to support our quest for holiness.
Theologians and Scripture scholars have given various interpretations of the phrase, “Give us this day our daily bread” — from a request for the physical needs of everyday living to reference to the future banquet.
Although Jesus’ discourse on prayer is separate in time and space from the Last Supper accounts, some have believed this reference to bread may be referring to Christ’s Body and Blood in the Eucharist, a sharing of bread rather than individual satisfaction, a meal of reconciliation.
One of the most striking elements of the Lord’s Prayer is the focus on mercy. In this prayer, God’s mercy and forgiveness of sin are directly connected to a willingness on our part to forgive others.
In recent weeks, Pope Francis has stressed the importance of “mercy” as one of the most needed in our world today. The pope is calling for a Jubilee Year of Mercy beginning in December, a time set aside for the people to grow in the experience of God’s compassion and forgiveness.
Prompted by Pope Francis’ declaration, Bishop Edward J. Burns of Alaska said, “the credibility of the church is based on how the church lives out the mercy and compassion of Jesus Christ toward all people.”
Each time we pray the Lord’s Prayer we are reminded of God’s love and mercy for us and our responsibility to carry this to all those we encounter.
Dr. Judy Bullock is the director of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Worship.