In the last essay we studied the parable of the Good Samaritan found in Luke 10:25-37. In this essay we are studying Luke 10:38-11:4. In 10:38-42 we find the story of Mary and Martha. One thing of interest relating to this story is the fact that we know from John 11:1 that the “certain town” mentioned by Luke was Bethany in Judea (near Jerusalem). Yet Luke places it fairly early during Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem. This gives us some insight into Luke’s thinking. We now know that Luke’s record of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem is more theological than geographical. Geographically, during the journey Jesus moves all around southern Galilee and Samaria, and even into Judea. But theologically, he always is headed towards his death, resurrection, and ascension in Jerusalem.
Luke tells us that Martha welcomed Jesus into her home, but we know from John 11-12 that it also was the home of her sister Mary and their brother, Lazarus. What we see here of Martha and Mary is in accord with what we see in John 12. In John 12 Martha prepares a meal for Jesus, as she does here. And in John 12 Mary extravagantly anoints Jesus with perfume, as an act of worship. Here Mary sits at the feet of Jesus to learn from him. It is significant that Jesus permitted this, because most Jewish teachers would not have allowed a woman to be their pupil.
In verse 40 we see Martha express frustration to Jesus over the fact that Mary had left all the work to her. She complains about it and asks Jesus to instruct Mary to help her. But Jesus surprises her by taking Mary’s part. What Martha was doing was important, but she was doing more than was needed. Listening to Jesus, as Mary was doing, was the one thing that was needed in that situation; and Jesus would not deny her that opportunity.
The main lesson here is that priorities are important; and spiritual priorities, such as listening to Jesus, take precedence over practical priorities, such as preparing a meal, even a meal for Jesus. Does that mean one should do one’s devotions instead of taking care of guests in our homes? No, because we can do our devotions at another hour. But in this situation, the opportunity to hear Jesus would not be available later.
As Luke continues his section on living as a disciple, he turns to the subject of prayer. And he begins in 11:1-4 with the Lord’s Prayer. As you can see, this prayer differs somewhat from the version found in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. The context for the Lord’s prayer in Matthew is a general statement by Jesus: “Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” In Jewish circles during the first century, as in every age, there was a great temptation to call attention to oneself when giving alms, praying, or fasting. Jesus warned against that temptation. He considered such actions to be hypocritical.
Many Jews had become hypocritical with their praying, doing it primarily in public so that people would notice how “spiritual” they were. That certainly was easy to do. They all had to say ritual prayers at 9:00 a.m., noon, and 3:00 p.m. And it was easy to arrange to be on a busy street corner at the time of prayer, and to do the prayers with great ostentation, so that every one would notice.
But Jesus said that prayer is primarily a private matter. It is a matter between the one praying and God, not between the one praying and other people. Therefore it is to be practiced in secret, and we are to let God do the rewarding. It was in this context of the Sermon on the Mount that Jesus gave the disciples the model prayer that we today call “The Lord’s Prayer.” You will notice that Luke’s context is quite different. Luke includes it in this section about living as a disciple.
For many of us, this prayer is best known as a ritual that is prayed by the entire congregation every Sunday. I have repeated The Lord’s Prayer hundreds of times that way. And there is nothing wrong with that use of the prayer. It provides a powerful corporate reminder of our relationship with our heavenly Father.
But the truth is the Lord did not give this prayer to the Church for ritual use. As we see in both the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew and here in Luke, Jesus gave the prayer to the disciples as a model of how to pray.
As we look at the prayer, we note that it addresses God as Father. And then it contains several petitions. The address, “Father,” or “Our Father,” is more significant than it looks on the surface. To address God as “Father” is a common practice for us; but for the Jews of the first century, that was something they never did. They did not think of themselves individually as children of God. They believed it was the nation, Israel, which was God’s child. Thus the idea that God is a Father with whom we, as individuals, can have a personal relationship was a new concept that Jesus introduced.
Notice that the first two petitions concentrate on God and are characterized by the pronoun “your”: “hallowed be your name; your kingdom come. You will recall that Matthew’s version contains a third petition, “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
The first petition is extremely important. Jesus said that our first concern in prayer is to treat God as holy, to reverence him as one apart, one who is different, one who is absolutely holy.
Then we are to concern ourselves with God’s lordship, rule, and will. In other words Christian prayer is to focus on God; it is to be God-centered. We are to concern ourselves with what God wants to accomplish. Thus true prayer, as opposed to self-centered prayer, gets us into the flow of what God wants to do on the earth. Self-centered prayer seeks to get God into the flow of what we want to happen on the earth.
We must ask ourselves, what are our prayers like? Are we following Jesus’ model? Are our prayers God-centered, or self-centered? Are they concerned with what God wants, or with what we want?
Having made that important point, Jesus did allow for our own concerns. The second set of petitions turns to our needs, characterized by the pronoun “us.” But notice what type of needs Jesus suggests. “Give us … our daily bread; … forgive us our sins, and … deliver us from evil.”
The first type of thing Jesus suggests we should pray for is daily bread. Thus he allows for prayer for our material needs. But a couple of things should be noted. Daily bread is hardly “the American dream.” As you well know, bread represents the necessities of life.
The second area for which Jesus suggests prayer is forgiveness of our sins, which represents our spiritual needs. But the really important thing to notice here is that our forgiveness depends on our willingness to forgive: “forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.”
This matter of forgiving others was so important to Jesus it is the one petition in the prayer that he chose to verbally underline in Matthew’s version. In Mt. 6:14-15, Jesus, after giving the disciples the Lord’s Prayer, said: “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
This is a scary truth, because I have heard many, many Christians freely admit that they hate someone. And yet Jesus has taught us that we are to love even our enemies. Obviously we cannot do that in our own strength. We can only do it by God’s grace and an act of the will. But it is clear from this teaching that we must love our enemies and that we must forgive in order to be able to do it.
I know that many people have been mistreated in ways that are almost beyond comprehension. And again forgiveness of people who have done such things is not possible apart from God’s grace. But it is possible. Indeed, Jesus says it is necessary for our own forgiveness.
Jesus not only suggests that we pray for our material and spiritual needs. He also suggests we pray for moral needs: “do not bring us to the time of trial,” or “temptation.” In Matthew’s version, Jesus added, “but rescue [or deliver] us from the evil one,” or “from evil.”
The evil one tempts every one of us to sin. God never tempts us to sin. But God does occasionally test people, as he tested Abraham. In Genesis 22 God sent Abraham up Mount Moriah with a command to sacrifice Isaac as a test of Abraham’s faith and devotion. Abraham passed that test. And perhaps Jesus is suggesting here that we pray that we will be up to the test, should God decide to test us. One thing is certain. Every temptation to sin by the evil one becomes a test of our faith; and we must pray for deliverance from any temptation we cannot handle.