Tenth Sunday after Pentecost | Luke 11:1-13
The Two Hands of God
Maybe there are secrets in it, this prayer that Jesus taught to his disciples when they asked him how to pray. Maybe it is just that we find what we seek. Maybe it is that simple, and it has less to do with the nature of God than with the nature of the universe, and with our own natures.
It is the Lord’s Prayer this Gospel gives us, but not as we learn it, not the version Matthew gives us with the verses added at the end. The Lord’s Prayer is short, direct, but it is even shorter here, as Luke records it, given to a group of disciples when they ask and not as part of the Sermon on the Mount.
The disciples claim that John the Baptist taught a prayer to his followers. If so, we do not have it. It is difficult to imagine John, that great shaggy loudmouthed prophet out in the wilderness, pausing to teach people how to pray. Still, it is one more place in the gospels where John is mentioned, one more indication of interaction between the cousins, Jesus and John.
So Jesus gives them a prayer, but he isn’t teaching them how to pray. He is teaching them about the nature of God. On the one hand, it sounds as though Jesus is comparing God to a lazy friend or an evil parent. On the other hand, if even a lazy man will eventually get up, and if even an evil father may feed a child, how much more will God respond? The God whom Jesus is revealing is not a God with evil in one hand and good in the other, punishments and rewards, judgment and mercy. We are not the toys of a manipulative puppet master. In this Gospel we hear that we are children, and children with a good and benevolent parent.
In the prayer he gives his lack wit followers, Jesus asks for bread. In the illustrations that follow, he speaks of bread again, and fish, and eggs–good simple food for good simple people. In the end, the final point, Jesus doesn’t compare God to the lazy friend and the poor parent, he shows how they are different.
If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?
There it is, if we are paying attention, the thing that we are to ask, the point of our prayer—the Holy Spirit. Surely God already knows that we need food, clothes, means to make our lives endure in a challenging world? Reminding God of those things is akin to reminding gravity to hold us down. There is no need.
And we note the conclusion, the great gift that God waits to share, and it is not bread, not the kind that we eat. Or maybe that is why Jesus uses such a peculiar word, επιούσιος, a word for which we in translation settle upon “daily”, though we do not know just what it means. It does not occur anywhere else in ancient literature but in the Lord’s Prayer. Maybe it is daily, or needed, or necessary, this sort of bread for which we are to pray.
Does Jesus mean for us to identify the bread as the Holy Spirit? Or, to cast the idea in different words, the opportunity to merge with and to become aligned with the Divine? Perhaps for that gift, God waits until we recognize our need and ask.
We may prepare wonderful things for our children, hoping that they will grow to recognize their need, grow to ask for the gifts we have prepared. A bicycle for a two year old? Maybe not. We can put the bicycle aside, though, and one day, when her legs are long enough to reach the pedals and her courage has grown to join her curiosity, she will ask for it. And that is how we know she is ready. Then, unsteadily at first but with growing grace, she will begin to ride out into her world.
That is what awaits us, when we know our own need for something more, something that transcends our humanity, something divine. And so we ask, praying yet again the Lord’s Prayer, but finally understanding that it isn’t about bread, not really. It is about something harder to touch but longer lasting.
All that is eternal, all that is divine, has been waiting for us to know our need. Ask, and it will be given you…