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Look it up: Situating the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew and Luke

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Catholic News Service

In the Lord’s Prayer (commonly called the “Our Father,” from the first two words of the prayer) Jesus gave us what St. Thomas Aquinas called “the most perfect of prayers” because it teaches us to ask for what we need and the order in which to ask.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church declares (quoting Tertullian, a theologian of the early church) that the entire message of the Gospel is summarized in this prayer (No. 2761).

There are two versions of the Lord’s Prayer found in the New Testament. The first is found in Matthew, Chapter 6, while the second is found in Luke, Chapter 11. While the two versions are similar in the words they use, there are differences in how they are presented. The Our Father used today is most similar to Matthew’s account, although not identical.

Matthew situates the prayer as part of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5-7). As the new lawgiver, Jesus tells his disciples to pray quietly in private because the “Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Mt 6:8).

In Luke, Chapter 10, Jesus lays out the meaning of discipleship, ending with the story of Mary having “chosen the better part” because she focused on the Lord (Lk 10:42). Immediately in the next chapter Jesus is asked by a follower to “teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples” (Lk 11:1).

In both Matthew’s and Luke’s versions we pray to Our Father in heaven; Luke simply begins “Father.” Both versions acknowledge the holiness of God’s name (“hallowed”) and ask for the kingdom to come. Matthew adds “your will be done, on earth as in heaven.” In both we are told to ask for our daily bread.

In Matthew we ask God to forgive us our debts while in Luke we ask that our sins be forgiven. Both versions ask that we not be subjected to the final test. Only Matthew’s version includes the request that we be delivered from evil.

Both versions tie our forgiveness to our willingness to forgive others, although with different wording. Immediately following the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus explicitly tells his followers: “If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions” (Mt 6:14-15).

Where Jesus in Matthew encourages us to pray quietly, in Luke Jesus tells us to pound unceasingly at the doors of heaven (Lk 11:5-8), illustrating this with the story of the man who, late at night, knocks on his neighbor’s door seeking food. Jesus says that the neighbor eventually will give the man what he wants if for no other reason than to stop the clamor.

So too, he tells us, will God reply to our persistent prayer. “For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Lk 11:10).