'Lord, teach us to pray...'
Hosea writes from Israel about 200 years after the division of the kingdoms - Israel in the north and Judah in the south.
This is a difficult passage for its treatment of women. The portrayal of Israel as a wandering wife and God as a justifiably strong and punishing husband creates tension for modern readers, particularly those of us whose work involves a Christ-centred approach to eradicating gender violence.
There is robust academic disagreement about the literal or metaphorical nature of Hosea’s marriage and subsequent unfortunately-named children. However, the importance of this text is not in whether these are literal elements. Instead, the focus is on how they illustrate the relationship between God and God’s people, which is in danger because of Israel’s forsaking of the covenant and “unfaithfulness to the Lord” (v 2).
The heartbreak and betrayal of an unfaithful spouse is an emotional trope used by storytellers across millennia – from ancient Greek tragedy to today’s chart-topping pop singles. Hosea’s marriage illustration takes God’s displeasure at Israel’s unrighteousness and unfaithfulness out of the realm of theoretical faraway Holiness and puts it squarely into terms of relatable human experience.
There are elements of hope hinted at the end of the passage, which are picked up later in the book, but these should not be rushed to at the expense of pondering the warnings in the earlier verses. In these hopeful verses, it is worth noting that it is not any action by the Israelites that saves them, but instead the restorative power of God’s being that reinstates the relationship - “...but I, the Lord their God, will save them” (v 7).
How often do we expect God to have a human reaction to our human sin (as the angry wronged husband is expected to leave the adulterous wife)? This passage, while harsh, ultimately leads to God showing divine mercy upon God’s people, restoring the broken relationship despite Israel’s grave shortcomings.
We begin yet another chapter or episode in the life of Jesus where Luke describes Jesus in prayer. (see 3:21, 5:16, 6:12, 9:18, 9:28, 10:21-22, 11:1, 22:41-4, 23:46). In response to the Disciples’ request to be taught how to pray Jesus shares what we have come to know as ‘the Lord's prayer’, a briefer and simpler version than the version we find in Matthew that most of the versions we pray is based on. He also teaches them how to pray by sharing a parable and several sayings about prayer.
The version of the Lord’s Prayer that Luke shares is much more down to earth than the version in Matthew, leaving out ‘your will be done on earth as in heaven’ and the ‘deliverance from the evil one’. This version is more present to the daily needs and practices of having bread to eat and forgiving each other. The invitation to address God as ‘Father’ conveys something of how to pray, that is to approach God as you would a parent to ask for what you need without inhibition.
The story of someone approaching a friend to provide the bread that they need in order to provide hospitality for an unexpected guest is an example of how prayer is something to be done confidently and boldly. The one doing the asking does not go apologetically or grovelling but clearly asks for what they need. There is a familiarity in the friendship and the friend is honest in their response. However obligated by friendship and not letting the friend who is asking down by leaving them shamed by not fulfilling the codes of hospitality the request is reluctantly answered. This is not to suggest God is reluctant to answer prayer but teaches the disciples to be bold and confident in their approach to God.
The threefold command to ask, search and knock invites an understanding of prayer based on trusting God to answer, providing what we need as a good, divine parent.
Prayer is first and foremost about relationship with God before it is about getting things from God.
All three elements of this passage, the Lord’s prayer, the parable and the sayings could be the focus of three different sermons in and of themselves. The emphasis that Jesus is making in his teaching on prayer is to approach God with confidence and trust and familiarity. And provides a way into a sermon that might focus on the challenges and questions about prayer when there may not be scorpions or snakes but neither is there the answer that has been longed for or desired.
Who is in us here on earth
Holy is your name
In the hungry who share their bread and their song.
Your Kingdom come,
A generous land where confidence and truth reign.
Let us do your will.
Bring a cool breeze for those who sweat.
You are giving us our daily bread
When we manage to get back our lands
Or to get a fairer wage.
For keeping silent in the face of injustice
And for burying our dreams.
Don’t let us fall into the temptation
Of taking up the same arms as the enemy,
But deliver us from evil which disunites us.
And we shall have believed in humanity and in life
And we shall have known your Kingdom
Which is being built for ever and ever.
Lament that the request for daily bread is a prayer that too many still have to make around the world, not knowing where their daily nutritious food will come from.
Despite being considered a middle-income country, and the fifth largest exporter of coffee and sugar in the world, half of all children under five are malnourished in Guatemala.
Mourn with God that this permanently affects their physical and mental development. Give thanks for the work of our partner, Betania who are working to change this reality.
More points for prayer are included in our weekly prayer diary
Published on 11 July 2019