A Reflection on the Scripture for Sunday July 28, 2019
Scripture for this week: Luke 11:1-13
Jesus teach us to pray….
What is the intention behind that Request? How hard can it be to pray?
The Jewish people have a deep tradition of prayer. Yet, perhaps the disciples wanted a specific prayer to identify them as followers of Jesus. “John the Baptist’s disciples have an identifying prayer. Jesus, give us a prayer that identifies us as your disciples so we can be like John’s disciples!” Perhaps.
More likely is the possibility that the disciples had observed Jesus praying, had participated in the prayers offered by John, and were uncomfortable with the way Jesus prayed. They did not know what he was doing. You see Jesus prayed silently. This was totally new to the disciples. It was outside of their experience. They watched Jesus just sit with his eyes closed for an hour or more at a time. When they asked him what he was doing Jesus replied enigmatically, “I am praying.”
The disciples felt ashamed to ask what Jesus meant by those words. They thought prayer involved memorized words or phrases. They had prayed the Psalms out loud all of their lives. They knew the ritual prayers of their tradition. But they had never met anyone who prayed silently.
Today many people pray silently, and it is not an unusual experience to observe. But to the disciples, this had to be exceedingly strange. It would have been like watching someone read silently. No one did that 2,000 years ago. When people read a book, they read it out loud. Always. Not so that other people could hear them, but because that was how people read. A room could be filled with scribes, all reading texts to be copied, and all of them would be quietly reading out loud to themselves.
Here is a great example, in the year 360ish of this era, Augustine (who later became the bishop of Hippo) was a young man trying to understand what it meant to be Christian. He would go to the Bishop of Rome at the time and try to get a meeting with him. They only times Bishop Ambrose was not engaged in meetings, he would be silently reading. Augustine and his friends had no idea of what to make of such a practice:
“When he (Bishop Ambrose) was reading, his eyes ran over the page and his heart perceived the sense, but his voice and tongue were silent. He did not restrict access to anyone coming in, nor was it customary even for a visitor to be announced. Very often when we were there, we saw him silently reading and never otherwise. After sitting for a long time in silence (for who would dare to burden him in such intent concentration?) we used to go away. We supposed that in the brief time he could find for his mind’s refreshment, free from the hubbub of other people’s troubles, he would not want to be invited to consider another problem. We wondered if he read silently perhaps to protect himself in case he had a hearer interested and intent on the matter, to whom he might have to expound the text being read if it contained difficulties, or who might wish to debate some difficult questions. If his time were used up in that way, he would get through fewer books than he wished. Besides, the need to preserve his voice, which used easily to become hoarse, could have been a very fair reason for silent reading. Whatever motive he had for his habit, this man had a good reason for what he did.”
Just as Augustine wondered what Ambrose was doing when silently reading, Jesus’ disciples must have wondered what he was doing when silently praying. Instead of asking how Jesus prayed, their minds asked the question the only way they knew how to ask it, “Jesus teach us to pray in a way that we know how to pray, the way John taught his disciples to pray.” So, Jesus did as they asked.
Franciscan Priest Murray Bodo understands how and why Jesus prayed as he prayed. In his book, The Landscape of Prayer, Bodo writes:
“Jesus, the Son of God, descends from the Father, makes the crossing to dwell among us, away from his homeland. And when he prays, he goes apart in order to commune with the Father, to remember where he came from and where he will ascend again. We, too, have come from God and need to go aside to remember where we’ve come from and where we are returning (Bodo, Murray. Landscape of Prayer, Kindle Location 97).
Bodo then explains why Jesus offered the parable about praying without ceasing after he taught his disciples what would later be called the Lord’s Prayer. Bodo teaches that we need to keep our attention focused on God at all times. The world tries to interfere and break our concentration. We are easily distracted, and distraction from our source of life will leave us lost and adrift, wondering if there is any meaning to life. As spiritual beings in human form, we are created with, “The need for structure of some kind to nourish, moderate and maintain the impulse toward the spiritual. That which endures submits to the life-giving, structured practice of prayer and love. Haphazard, intermittent responses to spiritual impulses or grace soon wither and die, and the heart goes elsewhere (Bodo, Murray. Landscape of Prayer, Kindle location 426).
The disciples asked Jesus for a prayer. Not only did he give them a prayer, he also told them how to pray. Ceaselessly. Jesus then taught them what (or whom) to pray for. The Holy Spirit. (How much more will God give the Holy Spirit to those who ask?) Jesus teaches us to pray for the greatest gift that God offers – the very presence of God in our lives, lives filled with the Holy Spirit. What more could anyone ask for?
Come Holy Spirit. My heart is opened to you. Fill me with your presence. Inspire me to live the way you desire me to live. I offer my life to you…