Matthew 6: 17-15 (Read verse 6 onward)
The Lord’s Prayer is to be found in all the three synoptic gospels, namely Matthew, Mark and Luke. In Matthew’s gospel, it consists of six verses; in Luke’s gospel, three verses, and in Mark’s gospel, it is all of two verses. (Matthew 6: 9-15, Luke 11:2-4, Mark 11: 25-26). The context of the Lord’s Prayer differs in the three gospels.
What is the context of the Lord’s Prayer as seen in Matthew’s gospel? Jesus gives us this prayer in the context of ‘how not to pray’. He uses the ‘hypocrites’ as an example who love to pray standing up in the house of worship and in the street corners so that everyone may see them. So Jesus suggests that we go to our private room, close the door and pray to The Father in secret. That is, Jesus is telling us to pray privately, by ourselves, to God. He is giving us an instruction on ‘private prayer’ and in continuation of this instruction, He gives us the Lord’s Prayer.
Even more, in verse 7, Jesus says, ‘do not babble like the pagans when you pray’. Why does he say babble? The pagans would say the name of their gods again and again, mindlessly. Jesus did not want his disciples to be babblers, but disciples who prayed. Disciples who meant what they said, to their Abba.
The Lord’s Prayer is part of the great Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5-7). This sermon is given primarily to His disciples (5:1). So from all of the above, we can conclude that the Lord’s Prayer as seen in Matthew’s gospel, is a disciple’s prayer to be prayed in private. Then why do we say the Lord’s Prayer in public?
Although in this passage Jesus is talking about private prayer, we find many examples and instructions elsewhere in the Bible about praying as a community. Take the example of Jesus praying in the synagogue service in Mark 1:21. So this teaching does not disparage the public use of this prayer or any prayer. While the Lord’s Prayer was given primarily as a private prayer, it is certainly a good prayer to also pray together, provided one also prays it secretly to The Father. And of course, when praying publicly, we must be careful that we don’t just do it ritually, without thinking of what we are saying.
It is sad that language used loosely and incorrectly, has contributed to this prayer being sometimes babbled. Take for example when we say, ‘let us recite the Lord’s prayer’. The Lord’s Prayer is not a recitation! It is a prayer to be said consciously, to be prayed meditatively; concentrating on the words and understanding what we bring before The Lord even when we say it as a community. Jesus gave it to us as a pattern of all prayer.
Yet it is not ‘my prayer’ but ‘our’ prayer because we pray it to ‘Our Father’. The prayer acknowledges the presence of God in the first three petitions and the connection to the community when we intercede for ‘our’ daily bread, for forgiveness of ‘our’ sins , that ‘we’ may not be let into temptation but ‘we’ may be delivered from evil.
There is one more issue. Some call it the ‘Lord’s Prayer’; others, the ‘Our Father’. What is it to be called? My little black book has some nice information. Prior to the Reformation, the Lord’s Prayer was always said in Latin. Hence it became known as the Pater Noster (Our Father). It became known as the Lord’s Prayer because Jesus (The Lord) taught it to His disciples. Whatever we may call it, it would be a pity if we only knew the prayer, and not The Lord of the prayer.
Fr Warner D’Souza