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The Sermon on the Mount: Prayer

by Jun 20, 2024Friar Reflection

An essential part of being a true human being, a religious person is maintaining a good relationship with God. Over many generations’ prayer, fasting, and almsgiving formed a central part of religious life for the people of Israel. This continues to be true in God’s vision of a true human being as outlined by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving were intended to produce conversion. They were a way of maintaining a good life with God and others and a way of deepening those relationships over a lifetime. Yet for many in Israel, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving were reduced to external, minimalistic, rules or rituals that did nothing for their lives of conversion. Jesus contrasts an ostentatious, external, superficial, ritualistic prayer life with a more profound, personal, and life related prayer.

Overall, the Sermon on the Mount is revolutionary. The Our Father falls right into that same category. Generally speaking, all of us tend to turn to God when we have some sort of need that is beyond our own means of obtaining. We request and require an action from God. Prayer is reduced to only petitions. Our petitions usually revolve around our own selves or sometimes those close to us: life, happiness, money, work, health, and feeling good. We are the center of our prayer.

The Our Father is just the opposite. The first part of Jesus’ prayer is centered on God. First is that dramatic change of God’s name from judge, distant creator, aloof protector to ‘Dad’ or “Daddy”. This speaks of an up close, personal, and constant relationship, a family relationship. Then the prayer says: Holy is your name; You are good to me; Blessed are you; Your kingdom come; Your will be done. Normally our prayer is just the opposite: You have abandoned me; I am in a bad way; You need to fix this; You need to do my will. This first part of Jesus prayer has no petitions for personal benefits. Rather, it is a song of praise and commitment directed to God, his will and his rule. The Our Father reminds us who God is in our lives and how He continues to act in our daily lives.

The second part of the prayer has petitions regarding bread, forgiveness, and temptation. Our personal prayer tends to be an extensive list of petitions regarding material goods. Sometimes it sounds like we a talking to Santa Claus! In as far as material goods, Jesus’ prayer only mentions bread – food. Then it concentrates on spiritual goods – forgiveness and temptation. Jesus ties our petitions, especially for personal forgiveness, to our life with others. The Our Father is an invitation to live out our prayer.

In Jesus’ prayer our life with God and our life with others are tied together. The Our Father is an invitation and a rededication to live in communion the God and with others – blessing God and forgiving, blessing others. This is the prayer of someone who is living through a process of conversion, a true human being.

Our Father… hallowed be thy name,

thy Kingdom come,

thy will be done.