He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.” And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs. “So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 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!”
Now he was casting out a demon that was mute; when the demon had gone out, the one who had been mute spoke, and the crowds were amazed. But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons.” Others, to test him, kept demanding from him a sign from heaven. But he knew what they were thinking and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself becomes a desert, and house falls on house. If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? —for you say that I cast out the demons by Beelzebul. Now if I cast out the demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your exorcists cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his castle, his property is safe. But when one stronger than he attacks him and overpowers him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his plunder. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it wanders through waterless regions looking for a resting place, but not finding any, it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ When it comes, it finds it swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and live there; and the last state of that person is worse than the first.”
While he was saying this, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!” But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!”
One of the most frequent things I hear from people, as a priest, is some form of “I don’t know how to pray.” Some say, “I can’t pray.” Or, “I don’t know what to say.”
If you’re one of those people, or if you’ve ever caught yourself thinking something along those lines, you should feel some comfort in today’s reading – because apparently the disciples had the same questions rattling around in their brains, and they wanted Jesus to teach them how to do it.
You could also find comfort in Jesus’ answer here. Not just because he gives us the familiar “Lord’s Prayer,” but because of what this prayer IS. It’s short. It’s simple. It finds a way to address God, it asks God for strength and sustenance, the ability to be forgiven, the fortitude to extend that forgiveness to others, and a plea to keep us from suffering.
It’s not a long-winded prayer. It doesn’t use big words. It’s not flowery or pretentious. It’s lean, it gets to the point, and it does what prayers are supposed to do: connect us to God.
There is a place for longer prayers, and prayers with rich language. We have a whole book of those in the Bible, where they are called the “psalms.” Jesus liked the psalms so much, that he quoted them over and over and over again. I’ve heard it said that the psalms were Jesus’ Prayer Book. But, for a group of people who are looking for an entry-level basic primer on prayer, Jesus doesn’t begin with a something long and complex. He gives the disciples a starting place.
And, the Lord’s Prayer is always a good place to start, if you’re looking to get going with the practice of prayer.