March 7th, 2017: Mattew 6:7-15.
I’ve told you that Lent is a kind of spiritual spring training. It focuses on three essential practices: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Today’s gospel gives us Jesus’ teaching about prayer. “Do not babble like the pagans,” Jesus says. The pagan gods of Jesus’ day were manipulative. They were in competition with one another. To get on their good side, the worshipper had to say the right words, and repeat them as often as possible. Forget all that, Jesus says. The God to whom you must pray is your loving heavenly Father. He “knows what you need before you ask him.”
Jesus then lays out the pattern for our prayer. By praying our Father, and not my Father, we acknowledge that we approach God as members of his people. We don’t have a private me-and-God religion. Three petitions follow, having to with God himself. “Hallowed be thy name” is the first. It means “may your name be kept holy.” God’s name is kept holy when we speak it with faith, not as a magical word to get his attention, or to con him into giving us what we want.
“Thy kingdom come” is a petition for the coming of God’s rule over us and the whole world. We are unhappy, and frustrated, because the world, and too often our own personal lives as well, do not reflect God’s rule. “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” extends this petition. In heaven God’s will is done immediately, and gladly.
Four petitions follow which have to do with our brothers and sisters in the family of God: for bread, forgiveness, deliverance from temptation, and victory over evil.
Here is a Lenten suggestion. Take at least five or ten minutes to pray the Our Father slowly, phrase by phrase, even word by word. Start with the opening word: “Our.” Reflect on the implications of that word. Pray that you may be mindful not only of your own needs, but also of the needs of your brothers and sisters. That could be your whole prayer for five or ten minutes. Move on in your next prayer time to the word “Father,” and on the day following pray over the words “Hallowed be thy name.” Practiced faithfully, and with patience, this way of praying the one prayer Jesus has given us will bring you close to Him who tells us in John’s gospel: “All this I tell you that my joy may be yours, and your joy may be complete” (15:11).