For freedom, Christ has set us free

Sunday 17C19
Gospel Commentary
for smart phones and tablets

28 July 2019


Gospel
Luke 11:1   He 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.” 2 He said to them, “When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
3 Give us each day our daily bread.
4 And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.”

Luke 11:5   And 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; 6 for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ 7 And 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.’ 8 I 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.

Luke 11:9   “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. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13 If 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!”

Initial observations

(i) From the first century ad, the Lord’s Prayer comes down to us in three forms. It appears in Luke, but also in Matthew and in the Didache, a Jewish Christian guide to discipleship in community. The prayer is not in Mark’s Gospel and is only distantly echoed in John 17.
It Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, it appears as an expansion of the classical Jewish triad of almsgiving, prayer and fasting: “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. “Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one. For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6:7–15)

In the Didache, a very early Christian text, it is found within a general church “order” including instructions on prayer:

Nor should you pray like the hypocrites. Instead, “pray like this,” just as the Lord commanded in his Gospel: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread, and forgive us our debt, as we also forgive our debtors; and do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one; for yours is the power and the glory forever.” (Didache 8:2)

Notice the additional doxology, traditional in Reformed versions (albeit in an adjusted form). In all three cases, the wording is different, and scholars, with careful examination of editing techniques and removing what seems typical of the writing or theology of each evangelist, have arrived at a probable form of the “original”, which may have read like this:

Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors and do not bring us to the time of trial.

It may worth be recalling that this way of praying is not so much a formula of prayer (like the Hail Mary) as precisely a way of praying, a sequence or series of steps to follow, when praying.

(ii) The parable of the friend at midnight is found only in Luke 11:5-8.

(iii) The teaching on intercession is found also in Matthew but with significant differences:
“Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:7–11)


Kind of writing
A teaching on prayer, with a parable to illustrate intercession. The extensive teaching on prayer in Luke-Acts may be summarised as follows:
  • Prayer is hugely significant for Luke.
  • Jesus himself prays frequently
  • Many others pray
  • Many prayers are given
  • Three parables are devoted to prayer.
  • There is an extended teaching on prayer in Luke 11:1-13 and 18:1-14.
  • Prayer etc. remains vital in the Acts
  • Heart of prayer: the Holy Spirit.

Old Testament background

(i) Father: Father of orphans and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation. (Psalms 68:5) He shall cry to me, ‘You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation!’ (Psalms 89:26)

(ii) Time of trial: The great day of the Lord is near, near and hastening fast; the sound of the day of the Lord is bitter, the warrior cries aloud there. That day will be a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of trumpet blast and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the lofty battlements.   (Zephaniah 1:14–16)

New Testament foreground

The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’ (Acts 17:24–28)

He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” (Mark 14:36)

St Paul
For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15) And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Galatians 4:6)

Brief commentary

Verse 1 Luke frequently shows Jesus at prayer; the request of the disciples could well be the setting for the original teaching on prayer.
Verse 2 “Father”, common in all religions and in Judaism, has a special meaning for Jesus and for Christians. Kingdom points to God’s end-time justice.
Verse 3 Literally, the food we need every day.
Verse 4 Forgiveness is a gift we can receive only if we give it away immediately. The time of trial is not just any temptation but the temptation, under pressure of persecution or the like, to give up the faith altogether.
Verse 5 The parable teaches persistence in prayer. The need for persistence is in formal tension with the teaching on God’s readiness to give. Clearly, we are not dealing with persistence as persuasion!
Verse 9 The triad promotes confidence in the giver of every good gift. We ask, of course, for many things we do not receive, so the next verses go on to deal with the giver’s discernment of what we truly need.
Verse 11 This is an a fortiori argument: if humans can be kind and discerning, all the more so God. A fish and a snake superficially resemble each other. But no human father would make that mistake.
Verse 12 An egg and a small white scorpion also superficially (if briefly!) resemble each other.
Verse 13 Here is the conclusion to the a fortiori argument. However, Luke has adjusted Matthew’s saying and replaced “good things” with the Holy Spirit. This might seem a dodge, but there is no greater gift in Luke’s religious worldview (the statistics speak for themselves: Luke 1:15, 35, 41, 67; 2:25–26; 3:16, 22; 4:1; 10:21; 11:13; 12:10, 12; Acts 1:2, 5, 8, 16; 2:4, 33, 38; 4:8, 25, 31; 5:3, 32; 6:5; 7:51, 55; 8:15, 17, 19; 9:17, 31; 10:38, 44–45, 47; 11:15–16, 24; 13:2, 4, 9, 52; 15:8, 28; 16:6; 19:2, 6; 20:23, 28; 21:11; 28:25).

Pointers for prayer

1. In the prayer Jesus gave us as a model, the focus is not on getting God to do what we want but on trying to be open to what God wants: “Your kingdom come”. That openness implies a trust that what God wants for us, is our good. When have you found that you benefitted when you were open to whatever happened and trusted that the Spirit was with you no mater what happened?
2. One of the points in the parable of the friend knocking at the door is that in the case of true friendship it will not be necessary to browbeat the friend into giving what you seek. Recall times when you had a friend who gave willingly and readily. What was it like to have such a generous and willing response? Perhaps you can also recall when you have been that kind of a friend to others.
3. In the culture of the Middle East hospitality is a priority. It would be unimaginable not to help a friend. Just so, it is unimaginable that God will ignore our prayer. When you think of the reliability of God what are the images that you find helpful and that encourage you to persist in prayer?

Prayer

Provident Father, with the prayer your Son taught us always on our lips, we ask, we seek, we knock at your door.
In our every need, grant us the first and best of all your gifts, the Spirit who makes us your children.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

Thought for the day

Although the Lord’s Prayer is clearly Christian in origin and, I would guess, exclusively Christian in usage, actually there is nothing in that could not be sincerely prayed by Jews. And yet, a closer look reveals just how Christian the prayer is. We call God “Father” because we his children in the Son. The coming kingdom is the one preached by Jesus. Our daily bread includes the bread of the Eucharist. Even “the time of trial” points to the travails of the end when Christ-believers might find themselves denying him. In this way, the prayer both enables and expresses our being “joint heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17). Rather than a set of words, it is really a way of praying.

Prayer

God, teach us to be your children in Jesus both in name and in reality.