Jesus taught us how to pray, and why we need to


We can conclude that the Our Father is how the Lord wanted us his disciples to pray. The Twelve had asked him how since they regarded him as a rabbi/teacher who obviously knew prayer. Who were they to know, ordinary fishermen, one tax collector-collaborator, one revolutionary, and all but one (Judas: Ish Keriot means man of Judean Keriot) from backward Galilee? But they noticed he had some mystical connection to God, to whom they watched him pray sometimes all night, sometimes with intensity enough to sweat blood. How else explain his many miracles, and the sublime teachings way beyond those of the temple establishment? In their envy, these latter asked “Where did he get all this?” so bothered that an unschooled wandering preacher could show them up.

But why did Jesus conclude his prayer by having us ask God not to lead us into temptation? How likely is it that an all loving parent (Our Father) would dangle sin disguised as something good in front of us? Jesus must have told his friends how harrowing it was to be tempted in the desert right after God called out to him at his baptism that he was the beloved son. It was as though Satan wanted to find out if this were so. Prove it by bowing down to evil in return for lying promises.

Modern English translations render Matthew’s (chapter 6 verse 13) and Luke’s (chapter 11, verse 4) Greek quotes thusly: “. . . and do not subject us to the final test.” It is not temptation in our usual sense but a final test about which we know we are so weak that we admit we need help. What we are really asking is that God make the test easy since we know we will probably flub it on our own. We know from non-biblical literature of Jesus’ time that Jews expected some kind of prolonged severe trial before the end of the present age that they saw as yielding to a new and better age.

In one of Jesus’ severe sermons (Mt 24, 15-28), he speaks about a cataclysmic end of the world which is coming and for which all must be ready. He says, “And if those days had not been shortened, no one would be saved; but for the sake of the elect, they will be shortened.” Is this the start of old-time Catholicism, meant to scare us into moral obedience, doing the right thing in order to avoid the punishment of a God anxious to catch us wretched miscreants? If this is what we think, we do not have much of a relationship with God, and in fact we have missed the previous text of the same prayer. It’s sad how many adults trudge through life with such a poor a relationship with a God whom Jesus taught us to address as our Father, you know, the same one who even allowed his beloved son to be crucified for our good. They look over their shoulder waiting for the lightning bolt.

Counselors helping children with poor father relationships teach them to pray “Our Mother.” Pope John Paul I, who lived only 33 days as pontiff, is remembered for recalling this truth from the ancient church fathers of the early centuries, who knew that mothers love their children unbelievably, sacrificing and suffering for their good for years, hoping they will not just be grateful but will learn how to love in their turn. If we think that all parents are as good as our own, we might get the idea that parenting is their job and they have no alternative but to do it, and that there is nothing unusual about it. I was a young priest ordained maybe two years before I realized that children from broken or abusive homes often do bad things. It’s called “acting out.” Without thinking much about it, I just assumed everyone’s parents were as good as mine. Pastoral ministry taught me otherwise.

God knows we are weak, and the wiser among us come to realize it. God made us with the capacity to sin, despite our best intentions. After we have been on the treadmill of sinning and reconciling and sinning again for a while, we begin to wonder how wobbly our human intentions will be, when we need to be delivered from evil, when it’s time for our own amen.