Reflection on Luke 11:1-13
by Rev. Kathryn Matthews
The disciples find Jesus at prayer. They're on the road to Jerusalem, where Jesus will face suffering and death, and he's teaching them along the way. The lessons of discipleship have been coming, one after another, reflected in our readings in the past few weeks.
We've learned about the importance of traveling light on our mission (don't even carry bread, Jesus says, suggesting it will be provided along the way), the centrality of love for God and neighbor (including those folks we'd rather not call "our neighbor") and, in the story of Mary and Martha, the importance of not just listening to, but doing, the Word of God.
Choosing to follow Jesus
What comes next could form the basis of many sermons, but the preacher may want to resist the temptation to examine each line of the Lord's Prayer, or to unpack the unusual parable of the man knocking, knocking, knocking on his neighbor's door at midnight, or to explore in depth the well-known verses on asking, seeking, and knocking.
Instead, we might ask: what is this passage, as a whole, teaching the disciples - then, and in every age - about what it means to follow Jesus?
Show us how you do that
After all, that's what disciples do: they follow, and model themselves on, their teacher. That's why they asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, just as John the Baptist taught his disciples.
In those days, you would be known by the prayer that was distinctive to your group, gathered around the teacher you followed. (Yes, "They'll Know We Are Christians by Our Love," but also "They'll Know We Are Christians by Our Prayer.")
Learning again for the first time
The disciples were, of course, men of faith who were raised in a setting in which they had certainly been taught to pray. But did you ever think you knew how to do something, until you saw someone do it so much better, or you saw the remarkable effects of how they did it, and you wanted to say, "Show me how you do that"?
Throughout the centuries, in many different places and cultures and many different faiths, spiritual teachers mostly teach "how," and many people come to them not so much for answers to specific questions, but for ways to practice their faith so that they can have the same peace, strength, and wisdom as their teacher.
Wanting what Jesus has
I think those disciples saw the power of the Spirit of God in Jesus. I think they saw the strength, the power, the wisdom of God in Jesus, and they wanted to be strong, and full of power, and wise. When they watched Jesus at prayer, and saw the coherence between his prayer life and everything else that he did and said, they longed to go deeper into the life of the Spirit that filled him.
Most of the time, by the way, the disciples didn't seem to know or understand what they were asking for, which makes them once again pretty much like us. And Jesus responded with a short prayer that has indeed become the prayer that marks us, identifies and unifies us as Christians.
We come to church from many different places, not just geographically different, and we've followed many different spiritual paths, especially in the United Church of Christ. Many of us were raised in one of the mainline Protestant denominations — Presbyterian, Methodist, Episcopal (some of us even in the United Church of Christ!) — and many others grew up in the Roman Catholic tradition.
The prayer we share
There are other faith backgrounds represented in just about every congregation, as well, including the Jewish faith, of course. And some of us were not raised in any religious tradition at all. To most if not all of us, however, the prayer that Jesus teaches his disciples in this week's reading is something familiar, something we share in common.
The prayer that Jesus taught us is the one prayer we're most likely able to recite by heart (along with Psalm 23): in fact, it's amazing and very touching when pastors visit people who are suffering from strokes or memory loss but are able to join in, when the Lord's Prayer is begun, however slowly, and recite each word.
An intimate conversation with God
Jesus models prayer as an intimate conversation with God. There are many references in the Gospel of Luke to Jesus at prayer, and I suspect that he listened just as much as he spoke. In any case, he tells the disciples — again, that includes us, too — that we should talk with God as we would to a loving parent, a parent who listens to us, cares for us, forgives us, provides for us, protects us.
Jesus doesn't talk obscure, intellectual theology. He brings the reality of God's love home to the people in terms they — we — can understand, the language of everyday relationships (at their best and not so best).
Read the scriptures and this entire reflection here.