Did you know that there are two Our Fathers? The commonly used one is in Matthew 6, but there is another version found in Luke 11. Luke’s version is shorter. In place of Matthew’s ‘Our Father in heaven,’ Luke has simply, ‘Father’. That longer phrase is so characteristic of Matthew’s writings. In all likelihood, Jesus said simply, ‘Father’.
It seems to us a strange request: “Lord, teach us to pray.” Jews prayed every day since childhood. Why would they ask him now to teach them to pray? The meaning of it seems to be the following.
They were asking him for a distinctive prayer as his disciples. John's disciples had a special kind of prayer, but Jesus's disciples apparently did not. In answer to their request he taught them the Our Father. This makes it very special: it is not just any prayer, it is a distinctively Christian prayer.
But look now: there is no mention in it of any of the Christian mysteries! There is no mention of Jesus, nor of his passion, death and resurrection, there is no mention of the Trinity.... What sense can we make of this? Here is how I found the meaning of it.
I remember praying some years ago at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, surrounded by Jews. It is a privilege to stand there beside them, at the only remaining part of the Temple which was destroyed by the Romans in the year 70. There is a very deep nostalgia, it seemed to me, in their prayer. You could feel something of the weight of their thousands of years of yearning and longing for God.
My tears have become my bread,
By night, by day,
As I hear it said all the day long:
'Where is your God?' (Psalm 41)
They have a custom of rocking back and forth as they pray. It is as if it is too much for the mind and has to overflow into the body. I thought of Jesus, a Jew, as I stood there groping in my mind for words. There is no mention of him in his own prayer, the Our Father. I realised that any Jewish person at that Wailing Wall could pray the words of the Our Father and not find them the least bit alien. Jesus was among his own people. But how then can the Our Father be a Christian disciple’s prayer?
Suddenly it came to me: if there is no mention of Jesus, his life, death or resurrection, nor of any of the Christian mysteries, it is because this was his own prayer. In prayer he was seized by one single awareness: the Father; he was not thinking about himself. When we pray the Our Father we are not praying to him, but with him; we are praying his prayer. We are so close to him that we cannot see him; like him, we see only the Father. We are, as it were, inside his head, looking out through his eyes: seeing the Father, and seeing the world as he sees it. We are totally identified with him - we are indeed his disciples. We are praying through him. All our prayers end with the phrase, “through Our Lord Jesus Christ….”
If Jesus sometimes seems absent it is because he is everywhere. He has drawn the whole world into his heart. As usual the poet puts it better. Jessica Powers found him in everything, or in her own words “in his ubiquity.”
I went into the Christmas cave;
there was no Child upon the straw.
the ox and ass were all I saw.
I sought his stable where He gave
His goodness in the guise of bread.
Emptiness came to me instead….
I found Him (and the world is wide)
Dear in His warm ubiquity.
Where heart beat, there was Christ for me.