The 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
The “Our Father” is one of the Christian traditional prayers. Yet A.J. Levine observes that “it says nothing uniquely Christian, and it fits neatly within Jewish piety.” [Levine, 51] We might be able to rediscover and recover its meaning and challenge for us today if we spend time to consider it within is Jewish milieu, as we are always encouraged to do in Bat Kol Institute. Exploring the meaning of the “Our Father” in her book, Levine states, “When placed in a first-century Jewish context, the prayer recovers numerous connotations that make it both more profound and more political. It fosters belief, promotes justice, consoles with future hope, and recognizes that the world is not always how we would want it.” [Levine, 42]
The Hebrew word for “prayer” is tefillah. The word l’hitpalel, which shares the same root, means “to judge oneself.” This is exciting to note because we can see in our gospel reading how this comes into play. The appeal to God for forgiveness in verse 4 is “measured” according to one’s own ability to forgive others, “for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.” I can only be convincing to God in so far as I am able to forgive. If I can do it, why can’t God? The parable that followed is also an anthropomorphic depiction of God. God, like a friend, will give in to persistent prayer. Another set of images is given to us in verses 11-13 of how God would act because we are also able to act in a particular way. In teaching the disciples how to pray, Jesus is leading them to look at themselves and ask: “Am I a forgiving person? Will I be bothered to give a friend what s/he needs even if I am inconvenienced? Am I a good father/mother who knows how to give good things?”
There is sentimentality in praying the “Our Father” because it was taught by Jesus himself. We usually begin with, “Let us pray in the words that Jesus taught us…” Like the Psalms, it gives one the words to be able to express oneself. Lawrence Kushner writes, referring to the Psalms, “These words, recited for generations, are already in the universe, whether or not we say them. If we say them, however, we understand a little more about the mystery of being alive.” [Kushner, 82] We can, perhaps, say similar in praying the “Our Father.” The prayer is repeated and fixed. Art Green explains the significance of this kind of prayer, “The familiar rhythms of fixed prayer serve ideally as a language familiar to the heart, one that can stir it to wakefulness like a friend who comes to remind one of the affections of a silent lover.” [Green, 110] In contrast, the prayer of Abraham in Genesis would fall into the second type of verbal prayer, “the spontaneous prayer of the moment,” as Green would call it.
For Reflection and Discussion:  Read the discussion of A.J. Levine on the “Our Father” in the book, “The Misunderstood Jew” 41-51  What is the meaning of the “Our Father” in our time?
Bibliography: Levine, The Misunderstood Jew (New York, 2007). Kushner, Jewish Spirituality: A Brief Introduction for Christians (Vermont, 2001). Green, These Are The Words: A Vocabulary of Jewish Spiritual Life (Vermont, 1999).
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