I’ve got no doubt that many of those following Jesus in the Gospels were good people. They went to the synagogue (or to the temple, if in Jerusalem) on a regular basis. They had their prescribed times during the day for prayers. They also had their traditional prayers, written somewhere or passed on from one generation to generation. These prayers they knew by heart.
Yet, they must have seen something in Jesus which they did not possess. Once, they said that the way he teaches is not the same way their other masters teach. He teaches with authority. Now they must have seen something else. The way he prayed was, somehow, different to the way they were used to, or taught. And they must have also realized that it was good. Hence, they wanted to start praying like him. Perhaps they also saw that his prayers were more effective than theirs.
In answer to their request, Jesus did not give them a prayer-book to learn. Neither did he start teaching them how to sit or stand, taking different postures, etc. Instead, he gave them the Our Father – a prayer which we ourselves say probably more than once daily.
This prayer must have shocked quite a few people in those days. First of all, Jesus invites us to call God Father. Unheard of, in Jesus’ time. We remember that one of the accusations brought against Jesus during his trial was the fact that he called God “Father”. For the Jews, this was a more serious crime than working on the Sabbath: “For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” (Jn 5:18). Now, he is inviting us to do the same!
For Jesus, prayer was not just rituals, or saying formulas, often expecting some magical outcome. For Jesus, prayer is a dialogue with a loving Father, a Father who knows what is good for us, a Father who would never do anything that would harm us. More importantly, Jesus invites us to enter into a relationship with a God who wants to be close to us. This is why prayer is so important. Because, not unlike any other relationship, our relationship with God has to be nourished and nurtured in order to grow. Otherwise it will slowly taper off and die.
“Lord, teach us to pray”. This is a good question to ask, as disciples of Jesus. Being his followers, we desire to walk on his footsteps. Our hope is that, one day, our life will be like his. And prayer is a very important element of this lifestyle. Through the Our Father, Jesus teaches simplicity, honesty and humility. Above all, he teaches trust.
Simplicity, because there is no need for too many words. The essentials that come from the heart is enough.
Honesty, because he teaches us to present ourselves and our desires as we really are. With God, there is no need to pretend otherwise.
Humility, because through this prayer we know that we need God even for as little as our daily bread, as much as we constantly need his forgiveness in our lives.
Finally, trust. Because we trust that He knows what’s best for us, and that He will give this to us. With a childlike trust, we are invited to throw ourselves in God’s loving arms.