Narrative Lectionary Reflection
February 3, 2019
Would you like to close us with prayer?
Whenever a pastor utters those words to a crowd of people in a church meeting or a Sunday School, it is followed by total silence. People start having a strange fascination with looking at their feet. Many people don’t like to pray because they fear they don’t have the right words to say. It doesn’t matter if they come from churches where there are written prayers or those where pastors pray extemporaneously; the average person hates to pray.
People feel that they need to have the right words to talk to God, it’s God after all. I tend to think this is part of the reason Jesus talks about prayer in Matthew 6. Maybe in Jesus’ day like in our day, people were afraid to pray. “When you pray, don’t be like hypocrites,” Jesus said. “They love to pray to stand in the synagogues and on the street corners so that people will see them.” He knew that the religious leaders of his day were ones that loved to stand out in public and give incredibly flowery prayers, that was probably quite intimidating to others.
Prayer can be used by people like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day along with the Gentiles in order to show off or even doing this in order to get God’s attention. Through all of this passage, Jesus tells the people that faith is not about us. When people make a big noise praying or giving alms, they make the faith about themselves and not about God. Jesus is calling people to see that the faith is about a relationship. That leads to Jesus teaching people how to pray. He previews the prayer by saying prayer is not as much about getting God to hear you. Jesus even says God knows what you need. Instead, it is about establishing a relationship with God and with others.
If you step back for a moment, the prayer found in Matthew 6:10-13 is explained in the surrounding verses of 16-20. Forgiving with abandon, not making a big deal of fasting and not to put faith in things show that faith and action are linked. If one prays flowery prayers, but then goes and treat their sister or brother like crap, as Jesus says earlier in chapter 6, they have received their reward.
So, to those that are studying their shoes when someone asks you to pray, remember that this is not about saying the right words or saying flowery words that impress people. Instead, it is about a continuing relationship with God and with others around us. God doesn’t need our fine words, but hearts attuned to God and neighbor.
Dennis Sanders is the Pastor at First Christian Church of St. Paul in Mahtomedi, Minnesota. He’s written for various outlets including Christian Century.