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.”
When the disciples badger Jesus for a way to pray he responds, “When you pray, pray like this: Lord, you are great. Do what you need to do. Give us some bread. Forgive us, because we are trying to forgive everyone indebted to us. And keep us away from evil.”
The Lord’s Prayer according to Luke is decisively different than the one recorded in the Gospel according to Matthew. It’s shorter, it dispenses with some of the elevated liturgical language, and it cuts right to the heart of the matter.
And, even though Christians say the Lord’s prayer over and over again, we can’t help but scratch our heads with regard to how strange of a prayer it really is. Particularly when we consider how Jesus told the disciples this prayer after they requested something akin to what John gave to his disciples.
John, unlike Jesus, was living by a different paradigm, one in which people could enter what we might call “The Program of Salvation.” There are different stages and expectations of what it means to get from where you are to where you can be. You confess and repent of all your sins, you start engaging in works of piety and social justice, and then you earn your heavenly reward.
In John’s “Program of Salvation,” redemption is all about having the right ethical, religious, moral, and political beliefs in order to make something new happen in the world.
Jesus, on the other hand, sees all things differently. He, himself, is the new thing that happens to, and for, everyone. There’s no “program” to get God to do anything.
Jesus doesn’t come to show the disciples, and us, how to get our lives in order in order to get good with God. Instead, Jesus is God who comes to us.
This, admittedly, can be frustrating for the many of us who would prefer it if Jesus were clearer about what we should and shouldn’t do. And yet, the proclamation of the Good News is, indeed, good news: Jesus saves us because we are in need of saving.
The challenges comes in admitting that we are not like what we ought to be.
The disciples, people like us, we want a program. We want salvation to be laid out nice and clear with regard to what we need to do, and say, and believe. We enjoy trite and memorable zingers of goodness like, be prepared or do a good turn daily. We love the idea of being reasonably good people getting better all the time.
But then Jesus responds to the disciples’ request for a prayer with one that runs against our notions of what it means to be faithful. Because, according to Jesus, to be faithful doesn’t require us to do much of anything. In fact, the only thing we can do, according to the prayer, is forgive.
The Lord’s prayer (Matthew’s and Luke’s) rejects all of our contemporary understandings of what it means to pray. It does not contain giant and lofty ideals that blanket our Sunday morning liturgies. It does not hint at ethical perfection, or dance around moral equivocation. It is just the bare necessities of keeping us together and fed so that we can finally start celebrating the wonderful and wild news that Jesus is for us, no matter what.