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PRAYER AND JUSTICE

Read­ing Time: 16 minutes

(Ref. Texts: Gen 18:20–32; Col 2:12–14; Luke 11:1–13)

Pray­er is not ask­ing. It is a long­ing of the soul. It is daily admis­sion of one’s weak­ness. It is bet­ter in pray­er to have a heart without words, than words without a heart” (Mahatma Gandhi).

Pray­er is not ask­ing. Pray­er is put­ting one­self in the hands of God, at His dis­pos­i­tion, and listen­ing to His voice in the depth of our hearts” (Moth­er Theresa).

The func­tion of pray­er is not to influ­ence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays” (Sᴓren Kierkegaard).

Introduction

Dear read­er, how was your week? I hope you were able to handle the dis­trac­tions that came your way dur­ing the week? Gradu­ally, you will get rid of them all. Do not be afraid to fail as no one has suc­ceeded all the time. Suc­cess is the dir­ect off­spring of fail­ure. Moreover, the worst fail­ure is the fail­ure to make attempt. Hence, if a per­son fails and gets up, then, that per­son is on the way to suc­cess. The king­dom of God is the king­dom of justice and love. Pray­er without justice is a total waste of time and an offence to the immens­ity of God. Pray­er and justice are inseparable.

Among the Gos­pel authors, Luke gives more atten­tion to Jesus’ teach­ings on pray­er. He also men­tions Jesus at pray­er more than the oth­ers. In the early verses of Luke Chapter 11, Luke presents the core of Jesus’ teach­ing on pray­er. It con­sists of Jesus guideline or teach­ing on how to pray to his dis­ciples, a par­able on the per­sist­ent neigh­bour, and assur­ances that God hears our prayers.

An exhorta­tion to pray and the need for con­stancy in pray­er fol­lows Jesus’ pre­vi­ous teach­ings on the mean­ing of neigh­bour and being a good neigh­bour (cf. Luke 10:25–37); hos­pit­al­ity and the invit­a­tion to avoid dis­trac­tions so as to be able to make the right choices in life, espe­cially in terms of spir­itu­al life and etern­al life (cf. Luke 10:38–42). Luke arranges this Sunday teach­ing in three ascend­ing order. In oth­er words, Jesus’ instruc­tion on pray­er con­sists of four parts:

  1. In Luke 11:1–4, Jesus teaches and presents to the dis­ciples the for­mula for pray­ing (what to pray for).
  2. In Luke 11:5–8, Jesus uses an anec­dote (a brief story) to edu­cate the dis­ciples on the need to be aggress­ive (determ­ined) and con­stant in pray­er (the import­ance of per­sist­ence in prayer).
  3. In Luke 11:9–13, Jesus exhorts and encour­ages the dis­ciples to do as instruc­ted in vv.1–8 (the cer­tainty of a pos­it­ive answer because of God’s love and goodness).
  4. And the ulti­mate gift of the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spir­it), who is the source and power for all cor­rect and sin­cere pray­er (Luke 11:13b. Cf. Rom 8:26–27).

Mat­thew and Luke give this pray­er in two dif­fer­ent forms and in two entirely dif­fer­ent cir­cum­stances. In Matthew’s account, it is giv­en as part of the Ser­mon on the Mount and as a cri­ti­cism to the osten­ta­tious­ness com­mon to the pray­ers of the hypo­crites and the Hea­then. Con­versely, Luke intro­duces the pray­er after the Galilean mis­sion and presents it as a response to a request from one of the dis­ciples of Jesus, to teach them how to pray as John taught his own dis­ciples. Fur­ther­more, he uses an example of the rela­tion­ship between a fath­er and his son to illus­trate the rap­port between God and His chil­dren. Luke’s ver­sion is simple and dir­ect. We pray that God’s name be recog­nized as Holy and that His rule be estab­lished on earth. This is fol­lowed by peti­tions for our daily bread, for for­give­ness, and for lib­er­a­tion. Luke uses the more theo­lo­gic­al lan­guage of “sins” rather than “debts,” which is used in Matthew’s ver­sion. Do we really under­stand the true mean­ing of pray­er? Why did the dis­ciples ask Jesus to teach them how to pray?

Lord, teach us to pray

And it came to pass, that, as 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” (Luke 11:1). The dis­cus­sion on pray­er was ignited by the disciple’s request to Jesus, to teach them how to pray. One of the dis­ciples made this request on behalf of the oth­er dis­ciples. This request is curi­ous. Among the Gos­pel writers, Luke is excep­tion­al in under­lin­ing that Jesus is con­stantly in pray­er. Pray­er always pre­cedes all his actions and decisions. The dis­ciples must have been observing Jesus pray. His pat­tern of pray­ing must have been dif­fer­ent from the tra­di­tion­al Jew­ish form­al and ste­reo­typed way of pray­ing. From all indic­a­tions, they (the dis­ciples) pre­ferred it to what they have done till then. Jesus teaches with and through prac­tic­al examples! This calls for sober reflection.

There is a sug­ges­tion that this pray­er should be called the ‘Dis­ciples’ pray­er’ rather than the ‘Lord’s pray­er.’ The reas­on is that the dis­ciples wanted a unique pray­er to dis­tin­guish them as the dis­ciples of Jesus. How­ever, both expres­sions are not wrong. We can even add a third title as the ‘Chris­ti­an pray­er’, which auto­mat­ic­ally reflects the dis­ciples’ pray­er. It will be good to con­sider the for­mu­la­tion of the request. The dis­ciples did not say teach us pray­er (Greek: did­ax­on ēmas pros­euchē) but teach us how to pray (Greek: did­ax­on ēmas pros­euchesthai). Matthew’s ver­sion indic­ates the dis­ciples needed a bet­ter way to pray. In Mat­thew 6:6 we read “but whenev­er you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Fath­er in secret. And your Fath­er, who sees in secret, will reward you.” The con­junc­tion super-ordin­ate de trans­lated as but indic­ates a dis­tinc­tion and some­thing dif­fer­ent from what is said pre­vi­ously in Mat­thew 6:5. In Mat­thew, Jesus is the per­son speak­ing, where­as in Luke, the dis­ciples them­selves made the request. There­fore, wheth­er we say the Lord’s Pray­er (refer­ring to how Jesus prayed); the Dis­ciples’ or the Chris­ti­ans’ Pray­er (refer­ring to how the dis­ciples and Chris­ti­ans ought to pray), we are allud­ing to the same theo­lo­gic­al truth. The dis­ciples and Chris­ti­ans should have their own dis­tinct­ive pray­er and should as well pray in a dif­fer­ent man­ner that reflects how Jesus prayed.

What is prayer?

The request of the dis­ciples has made it neces­sary to enquire the true sig­ni­fic­ance of pray­er. Accord­ing to the Cat­ech­ism of Pius X, Pray­er is an elev­a­tion of the mind to God to adore Him, to thank Him, and to ask Him for what we need. Pray­er could also be private or pub­lic. Con­cern­ing the things to be asked in pray­er, the same Cat­ech­ism says the chief things we should ask of God are His own glory, our etern­al sal­va­tion and the means of obtain­ing it. On the ques­tion wheth­er we should ask God for tem­por­al goods, the same Cat­ech­ism answers yes, it is law­ful to ask God for tem­por­al goods, but always with the con­di­tion that these be in con­form­ity with His Holy will and not a hindrance to our sal­va­tion. On the con­di­tions to make our pray­ers effic­a­cious, the Cat­ech­ism responds that the first and best dis­pos­i­tion to render our pray­ers effic­a­cious is to be in the state of grace; or if we are not in that state, to desire to put ourselves in it. Fur­ther­more, to pray well, we need recol­lec­tion, humil­ity, con­fid­ence, per­sever­ance and resig­na­tion. For the Cat­ech­ism of the Cath­ol­ic Church, humil­ity should be the found­a­tion of pray­er (cf. CCC n. 2559). Pray­er is both a cov­en­ant and a com­mu­nion (cf. CCC nn. 2562–2565).

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