Thinking Anew – ‘Lord, teach us to pray’

Godfrey Lundberg, an accomplished engraver,   hand-engraved the Lord’s Prayer on the tiny head of a gold pin

Godfrey Lundberg, an accomplished engraver, hand-engraved the Lord’s Prayer on the tiny head of a gold pin

 

The Mount of Olives is frequently mentioned in the New Testament with several churches and other holy places. The Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed before his arrest and crucifixion, lies at the foot of the Mount. The Church of Dominus Flevit (Latin for “the Lord wept”) reminds us that Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem because its people were unaware of “the things that make for peace”. A clear window behind the altar allows one to imagine what Jesus might have seen as he looked down on the city.

The Mount of Olives is also said to be the scene of the Ascension, although the exact location is uncertain. Sunday’s gospel reading includes an account of our Lord’s teaching on prayer, an event commemorated in the Church of Pater Noster (Latin for “Our Father”) on the Mount of Olives.

Tradition had it that Jesus taught the prayer in a cave under the site of the church, so the 12th-century Crusaders built a church there called Pater Noster. Although that specific claim is questionable, the building nonetheless bears witness to the universal significance of the Lord’s Prayer, with the text displayed in 140 languages, including Irish, on its walls and vaulted cloister.

The Lord’s Prayer has found expression in many art forms. One such is the work of Godfrey Lundberg, an accomplished engraver who, in the early 20th century, hand-engraved the Lord’s Prayer on the tiny head of a gold pin. He worked with his wrists bound tight with leather straps to prevent even his pulse from shaking the engraving tool as he worked. An extraordinary achievement.

Tomorrow’s gospel reading tells how the prayer came to be. “He [Jesus] 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 . . .”.

And so the prayer, common to all Christian traditions, came to be.

It was reported recently that Pope Francis has called for an alteration to the well-known text: he wants the phrase “Lead us not into temptation” changed on the grounds that God does not lead humans to sin. It is characteristic of Pope Francis that he would want to represent God as a compassionate and protective God wanting what is best for people.

However, he is not the first person to raise the issue and already there has been resistance to the change. Some scholars have suggested that the word “test” would be a more accurate translation than temptation. Prof William Barclay explains: “In its New Testament usage to tempt a person is not so much to seek to seduce him into sin, as it is to test his strength and his loyalty and his ability for service.” He reminds us that according to the gospel, “Jesus was led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.”

The 14th-century mystic and theologian Johannes Tauler, a Dominican, wrote: “He who has not yet been tempted, knows nothing, nor lives as yet, say the wiseman Solomon and the holy teacher St Bernard. We find more than a thousand testimonies in Scripture to the great profit of temptation; for it is the special sign of the love of God towards a man for him to be tempted and yet kept from falling; for thus he must and shall of a certainty receive the crown.”

St Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians wrote: “And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”

There is an important discussion to be had here but the value of an ecumenically agreed text should not be overlooked because the traditional words create a sense of solidarity in knowing that, despite our other differences, Christians around the globe can and do pray together.

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