1He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”2He said to them, “When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
3Give us each day our daily bread.
4And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.”
5And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ 7And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ 8I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.
9“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright © 1989, 1993 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Text & textual features
In Luke’s travel narrative of Jesus journey to Jerusalem (Lk 9:51 – 19.27) there are many lessons about the nature and demands of discipleship. This text is a discourse on how to pray and on the necessity to persevere in prayer. It has three separate but related segments: the prayer Jesus teaches his disciples (verses 1-4); a complicated example of persistence in prayer (verses 5-8) and the assurance of being heard (verses 9-13).
The text of the prayer in Luke is shorter that Matthew 6:9-13, which has seven petitions compared to five here. Matthew has “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” and “but rescue us from the evil one”. In Matthew the prayer is part of the Sermon on the Mount, as is the material that corresponds to verses 9-13 (Matthew 7:7-11).
The passage is typical of the Gospel as a whole. Luke presents Jesus at prayer more than any other evangelist. He was praying after his baptism when the Spirit came down upon him (Lk 3:21-22); he prayed in the desert (Lk 5:16) and before he chose twelve disciples to be his apostles(Lk 6:12-16). In the account of the transfiguration only Luke tells us that Jesus “went up on the mountain to pray” (Lk 9:28-36). Only in Luke do we read Jesus’ injunction about the “need to pray always and not to lose heart,” which he goes on to illustrate with the parable of a widow and an unjust judge (Lk 18:1-8). He then teaches about the proper disposition for prayer by telling the parable about the prayer of a Pharisee and a tax collector (Lk 18:9-14). Luke gives the words of Jesus’ prayer on the Mount of Olives (Lk 22:40-46) and on the cross (Lk 23:32-38). In this Gospel it is in and through prayer, on the model provided by Jesus, that his followers most intentionally relate to God and find guidance and strength to live out their discipleship.
Characters & setting
Jesus, the rabbi and teacher, and his disciples are the characters throughout the passage. The disciples ask him to teach them to pray and Jesus obliges. The author also has Jesus addressing the remaining verses to his disciples as well, for having said “when you pray, say …”, he goes on to say “suppose one of you has a friend ..” and next “so I say to you …”. The last four petitions are in the plural, (“us”, not “me”) which suggests that this prayer is already a communal prayer within the faith communities of the sayings of Q, and of Matthew and Luke.
The characters in the parable in verses 8-11 are worth noting, since textual analysis gives richer meanings than are evident at first. The parable offers the certainty that God will respond to prayer. A friend with an unexpected night guest asks the assistance of his sleeping neighbour, also a friend, so that as host he can fulfil his obligations for hospitality. At first the sleeper resists but gives in “because of his persistence” (verse 8).
The “persistence” is often thought to refer to the one asking for assistance and the point of the parable is that one should persist in prayer. However, the translation, persistence does not carry the true sense of the Greek which denotes “lack of shame”, or “avoidance of shame”. Some other modern English translations offer “you [the knocker] are not ashamed to keep on asking” (Good News), “yet because of your shameless persistence in asking” (New Community Bible) and “your [the knocker’s] shameless audacity” or “yet to preserve his good name” (NIV). Whose good name?
Is it the shameless insistence of the one asking for bread? It could be but it is just as likely to refer to the one in bed with his family. The sleeping neighbour’s desire to avoid shame in the eyes of the knocking host, and probably in the eyes of all the village once his inhospitable behaviour became known, leads him to get up and give his neighbour the loaves of bread.
Jesus contrasts the attitudes of God and the friend in bed. God answers prayer but not out of the shame of not responding. Although the unneighbourly friend responds to avoid shame, how much more willing is God, an honourable and provident father, to respond to prayer.
It is a child’s unique privilege to use the word ‘Father’. The disciples have just heard Jesus address God as his Father (Lk 10:21-22) and he now invites them to do the same. The text uses the Greek word for a father but the original Aramaic would have been the intimate family term, abba. The use of the word ‘Father’ expresses the sense of a uniquely personal and familial relationship between God and one praying. Jesus’ close relationship with God is now theirs and the disciples are invited to pray out of that relationship.
Hallowed be your name
These words have a parallel in the Kaddish and other Jewish prayers. To be “hallowed” is to be recognised as holy and treated as such. ‘Holy’ is a word kept solely for God; it recognises God’s absolute difference or ‘otherness’ to all created things. God is so holy that Jews to this day never say God’s personal name or read it out in the Scriptures. In its place is spoken the Hebrew word Adonai, “Lord”.
Your Kingdom come
This petition too has its parallel in the Jewish Kaddish prayer: “May he establish his Kingdom in your life and in your days”. The Greek word means both kingdom and the reign and rule of kingship. In the original Aramaic the expression was stronger: “make your Kingdom come”. The petition recognises that the Kingdom comes about through God’s action establishing a new age of God’s life-giving rule over all creation.
The Greek word generally translated as ‘daily’ exists nowhere in ancient Greek except for here and in Mt 6:11. The most accepted translations based on etymology and context are “daily bread” or “bread for tomorrow” or “the bread we need (for life)”. The tense of the verb indicates “keep giving us”. It draws an allusion to the manna God kept giving on a daily basis to the Chosen People in the desert, “as much as each of you needs” (Exodus 16:12-35). The use of the plural (“us”) may also infer a prayer at table fellowship, and as such may have had Eucharistic overtones.
The sense here is not that God waits to see if whether the disciples forgive others before offering forgiveness but that they prevent the movement of God’s forgiveness if they do not live forgiving lives. The disciples can forgive only because they have been empowered by God’s own prior forgiveness.
The forgiveness of sins is a theme of the Gospel of Luke. Examples include Jesus’ authority to forgive sins (Lk 5: 20-24), the pardon of a sinful woman (Lk 7:36-50), the story of Zacchaeus (Lk 19:1-10), forgiveness of his executioners (Lk 23:32-38) and the promise of immediate Paradise for the good thief (Lk 23:39-43).
The time of trial
The final phrase situates the disciples’ dependence on God who has ultimate control of their destiny. The time of trial recognises the reality of sinfulness. God is not the cause of the time of trial but can grant them the strength to resist its attraction.