The Prayer of Prayers

February 18th, 2014

In this series of articles on the Lord's Prayer I would like to consider each of the petitions and affirmations that Jesus taught his disciples. However, at the outset, it is I think valuable to ask the simple question, 'Why did Jesus feel the need to teach his followers to pray in the first place?' Were they not part of a sophisticated and profoundly ancient religion which abounded in some of the most wonderful forms of worship? One need only think of the Psalms. As to daily worship, the prayers of the synagogue were and still remain sublime expressions of faith in the God of the Exodus.

Again, it is not at all a question of Jesus' rejection of the covenant religion—in the sense of the covenant worship not being adequate. In many places in the Gospel, we see Jesus affirming the authenticity of the Temple worship. He says of himself that he is the fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets (St Matthew 5:17-19). Admittedly, in the succeeding verse he goes on to castigate the 'righteousness' of the scribes and Pharisees, yet in another place (St Matthew 23:2-8) he makes the distinction between the valid, God given authority of those who 'sit on Moses' seat' and contrasts this authority with their lax and vain behaviour.

What then, are we to understand Jesus as a religious reformer whose intention is to unblock and release the purer spring of the original faith and clear it of all the detritus of human tradition? Jesus is certainly aware of this dulling down process. He is particularly severe regarding the way the religious teachers have subtly reinterpreted the commandments over the centuries until they serve more selfish motives or indeed end up contradicting entirely the spirit of the original commandment (St Matthew 15:1-9). However, the logical end of seeing Jesus as a reformer is to render the events of the Passion as no more than a human tragedy which, sadly, has often been the fate of those who have challenged vested interests. Christians, by contrast, see the Passion as the crowning, cosmos-altering purpose of Jesus' life—a Life laid down willingly which leads to abundant life for all who trust in him.

A way forward to understanding Jesus' intention in teaching the Prayer of Prayers is to concentrate on the word 'spirit' in the above paragraph. It is consistently Jesus' way to direct his disciples to the interior, spiritual meaning of the commandments. Not what is done, but why it is done. The reality behind the appearance, the inner motive underlying the outward action. He is therefore not reforming a religion but recreating a spiritual relationship with the Holy Trinity in God's own image. The true worshipper is that one whose heart worships 'in spirit and in truth' (St John 4:24). The Prayer of Prayers marks off a new community, faithful to the spirit of the commandments but given power by virtue of the Cross to become true children of God.


Lord Jesus Christ, teach us
to live and pray in spirit and in truth.
Transform our hearts and conform us
by your Holy Spirit. Amen.

comments powered by Disqus