In thinking about last weekend’s Gospel from the Catholic Mass, our minds might still be swirling a bit. How are we to understand that interesting fight between the two sisters? Martha was active and trying to take care of the details surrounding hospitality to a guest, while Mary was sitting at the guest’s feet and soaking in his wisdom.
The two battle and the guest, Jesus Christ, sides with the sister sitting with him. It’s an odd twist, full of inconsistent details. As such, the debate over the meaning of this interesting account will continue until the Lord Jesus returns in glory.
Of the many interpretations, however, there is one that explores the Biblical narrative as a whole. In Saint Luke’s gospel, which is the only one of the four gospel books to tell us about Martha and Mary, the evangelist places the Martha and Mary account between the Parable of the Good Samaritan (which is also only told in Luke’s gospel) and Jesus’ giving of the Lord’s Prayer. At face value, the Good Samaritan Parable is a call to service, while the giving of the Lord’s Prayer is a call to contemplation.
As such, the story of Martha and Mary is put right between both and is put in a different light. Is the account of the two sisters given as a type of buffer, a balance, between the two calls of service and prayer?
If so, then while stressing service, Luke’s gospel is emphasizing the priority of prayer. With this deeper understanding, let’s look at the Lord’s call to prayer.
This weekend in the gospel reading, we hear the apostles ask: “Lord, teach us to pray.” It’s a sincere request because they have witnessed the Lord’s own intense prayer life and have seen Saint John the Baptist instruct his disciples in prayer. The Lord Jesus welcomes the request. We can only imagine him thinking, “Finally! I was wondering when they were going to ask!”
In his response, the Lord gives a beautiful prayer that has come to be called “the Lord’s Prayer.” While Saint Luke gives us an abbreviated version, Saint Matthew provides us with the full prayer. Why did the Lord give us this prayer? How is this prayer significant in our own discipleship?
The Lord’s Prayer contains a spiritual portrait of Jesus’ entire life. In his prayer, he reveals to us how we are called to live as a son or daughter of God. Whenever we pray his prayer, therefore, we should always remember that we pray it through, with, and in Jesus.
In Jesus Christ, the prayer provides us with an interior path for us to follow in our love of God. Such a path is broken down into seven tenets, or signposts, within the prayer itself.
The prayer begins with the earth-shaking salutation, “Our Father…”. The Lord Jesus uses the plural pronoun and includes us in his greeting to the Father. Jesus does not distinguish us from himself in this prayer. He says with us, “our” Father.
After the salutation, the Lord’s Prayer moves into a three-fold declaration of praise and a four-fold series of petitions. These two portions of the prayer reflect the two tablets of the Ten Commandments: the first pertains to our adoration of God, while the second pertains to what we need from God and how we are to interact with our neighbor.
The first portion of the Lord’s Prayer consists of his glory: “Thy Name,” “Thy Kingdom,” and “Thy Will.”
The second portion of the Lord’s Prayer consists of our poverty: “Give us,” “Forgive us,” “Lead us,” and “Deliver us.”
Within the Christian spiritual tradition, these seven tenets are seen as forming a matrix alongside the Beatitudes, the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the seven Christian virtues. As a whole, these various portions of divine wisdom form a school of discipleship. They are meant to guide us in our love for God and neighbor as we seek to follow the Lord Jesus and his way of love.
The Lord’s Prayer is the contemplative portion of these teachings. The Lord, as an Older Brother, is slowly revealing the Father to us, teaching us how to speak and listen to him, and showing us how to live as the children of such a loving Father.
This is the essential role of the Lord’s Prayer in our lives as believers. Through its wisdom, we can see why it would follow after the Lord’s affirmation to Mary, “Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”
In our lives, we are invited to take this rest and be in the Lord’s company.
Follow Father Jeffrey Kirby on Twitter: @fatherkirby
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