The theme of persistent prayer is central in our liturgical readings for this Sunday. In today’s Gospel, at the request of one of his disciples, Jesus teaches them how to pray. Prayer can be expressed in the form of adoration, thanksgiving, reparation or petition. This last form, petition, seems to be the most common form of prayer. Thus, in light of what Jesus teaches today, we will reflect on how our prayer of petition is based on what is even more fundamental, namely our communion with God.
St. Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer, which is shorter than the more familiar version given by St. Matthew, is comprised of five petitions; the first two are for the glory of God. This placement is of utmost significance, for these two give meaning and orientation to subsequent petitions, which are for our benefit. This tells us that even our petitions first acknowledge the primacy of God rather than our own needs. When we pray, we seek to please God as the absolute priority of our lives, as Jesus taught us: “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides” (Mt 6:33).
After the first two petitions that give glory to God, Jesus then teaches us to say: “Give us this day our daily bread.” This petition is so deep that volumes of commentary have been written on it, and more can still be written. Without going into too much detail, we can begin by pondering why Jesus teaches us to ask for anything at all, since our heavenly Father already knows all our needs even before we open our mouth, and he is already determined to give us what is good (cf. Mt 6:8, 32). The Catechism gives us this answer: “Jesus teaches us this petition because it glorifies our Father by acknowledging how good he is, beyond all goodness” (CCC 2828). In other words, making this petition praises God’s goodness and acknowledges our dependence on him. It is an expression of our poverty of spirit – which is a condition of possessing the Kingdom of God (cf. Lk 6:20). The petition “give us” is also an expression of the bond of love between God and us. He is our God and we are a people who belong to him.
What did Jesus tell us to ask the Father to “give us”? We come now to the crux of the matter: we ask God for “our daily bread.” This petition touches us deeply, for we need food for our very survival. While we present before God our most basic human necessities, we also show solidarity with all who are in need. We acknowledge that we are one with the starving poor people of the world, and that we must help each other meet our daily need for food.
However, the “daily bread” that we ask for also has a meaning that transcends the daily need to satisfy physical hunger. Our existence is not limited to this earthly life. There is a future, heavenly dimension in the request for our daily bread. (In theological terms, we say that there is an eschatological dimension to this petition.) Jesus refers to this when, in reply to Satan’s temptation to make bread his highest priority, he says that “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Mt 4:4). The word of God is also bread which gives life to the world! The brief petition, “give us each day our daily bread,” addresses both the basic need to sustain our earthly life and also our hunger for eternal life. Both are answered by Jesus Christ, who is himself the life-giving Word, the Bread of Life. “I am the living Bread which has come down from Heaven. Anyone who eats this Bread will live forever; and the Bread that I shall give is my Flesh for the life of the world” (Jn 6:51).
In the Lord’s Prayer, we are essentially asking that we be brought into the eternal communion of love and joy with God. This is the gift of the Holy Spirit that the Father does not hesitate to give to those who ask him, as Jesus says in today’s Gospel. This communion is the very goal of our existence – and the very reason why Christ died and rose again for us. St. Paul expresses this beautifully in today’s second reading, where he proclaims the great gift Christ won for us through his death on the Cross. Christ brought us to fullness of life with him, freeing us from sin, “obliterating the bond against us,” so that we have may have eternal communion of life, love and joy with God and all the saints.
The prayer of petition in the Lord’s Prayer, then, is about eternal salvation. This is also at the heart of the prayer of petition that Abraham makes in today’s first reading. The inhabitants of Sodom are on the brink of losing their lives because of their sinfulness. Abraham makes a bold and persistent prayer of petition that God save the whole city for the sake of the innocent. His example gives us another important lesson on prayer. Our petitions are not only for ourselves. God shares with us a role in bringing his mercy to bear on others, including those who may not pray at all. Our prayer expresses our solidarity with all God’s people, for the sake of their eternal salvation. The act of charity that matters most is to save souls or help save souls. As we pray today: “give us today our daily bread,” we think of the needs of others and we also show concrete concern for their eternal salvation.
Do I see the word of God as nourishment for my mind, body and soul? How often do I pray for others who are in need of God’s Love and Mercy? Do I ask God through prayer to help me forgive those who I feel have treated me unjustly?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 15, no. 6. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.