17TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Cycle C)

Sunday's readings:
Genesis 18:20-32
Psalm 138:1-3, 6-8
Colossians 2:12-14
Luke 11:1-13

Abbreviations: NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation). CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

God's divine plan for mankind is revealed in the two Testaments and that is why we read and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy. The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of this Sunday's Readings: Ask and You Shall Receive
The First Reading and the Gospel Reading teach us to pray with perseverance but also to trust the Lord and to be willing to accept His divine judgment as well as His divine mercy. In the First Reading, God takes Abraham into His confidence, revealing His plan to deliver His divine judgment against the wicked citizens of the city of Sodom and her sister cities. God's purpose is to allow His trusted servant Abraham to plead for mercy for people of Sodom. Abraham's series of petitions to the LORD, as he negotiates for mercy for the Sodomites, are the first examples of intercessory prayer in the Bible.
The Responsorial Psalm is from one of the hymns the people sang as they traveled to worship at the Jerusalem Temple. The psalm begins with giving thanks to the Lord for having heard the prayers and petitions of the pilgrim. The psalmist then praises Yahweh who is exalted and yet cares for the poor and lowly, and the hymn ends with a profession of the psalmist's trust in Yahweh who has heard his prayers and whose faithful covenant love endures forever!
In the Second Reading, St. Paul uses the Sacrament of Christian Baptism in symbolic terms, comparing it to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. St. Paul writes that when we pass through the waters of baptism, we die with Christ to sin and are then, like Christ, raised up out of the baptismal waters to a resurrected new life. St. Paul teaches that the cross is not a sign of Christ being condemned by His enemies, but it is instead the sign of God's love. The bond of the old Law, with its legal claims that condemned the covenant people for all intentional sins, is nailed to the cross by God, liberating the faithful from the burden of the old Law, lifting up the people of God in the Law of the New Covenant, and opening a channel of mercy and forgiveness that is sealed in the Blood of the Savior.
In the Gospel Reading, at the request of His disciples, Jesus gives a formula for prayer known to us as both the "Lord's Prayer" and the "Our Father," a title taken from the first two words of His prayer. In His example of prayer, Jesus encourages His disciples in every generation of every age to address with humility God as "Father" when making petitions. This intimate address indicates an entirely new relationship with God based on the gift of a new and eternal covenant in His Son, Jesus the Messiah.
Today's readings encourage us to go to our heavenly Father in confidence and in Jesus' name to ask for His guidance and His mercy, remembering Jesus' promise in Matthew 7:7-8 when He said, "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find' knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened."

The First Reading Genesis 18:20-32 ~ Praying with Perseverance
20 In those days the LORD [Yahweh] said: "The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great, and their sin so grave, 21 that I must go down and see whether or not their actions fully correspond to the cry against them that comes to me. I mean to find out." 22 While Abraham's visitors walked on farther toward Sodom, the LORD [Yahweh] remained standing before Abraham. 23 Then Abraham drew nearer and said: "Will you sweep away the innocent with the guilty? 24 Suppose there were fifty innocent people in the city; would you wipe out the place, rather than spare it for the sake of the fifty innocent people within it? 25 Far be it from you to do such a thing, to make the innocent die with the guilty so that the innocent and the guilty would be treated alike! Should not the judge of all the world act with justice?" 26 The LORD [Yahweh] replied, "If I find fifty innocent people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake." 27 Abraham spoke up again: "See how I am presuming to speak to my Lord, though I am not dust and ashes! 28 What if there are five less than fifty innocent people? Will you destroy the whole city because of the five?" He answered, "I will not it, If I find forty-five there." 29 But Abraham persisted, saying, "What if only forty are found there?" He replied, "I will forbear doing it for the sake of the forty." 30 Then Abraham said, "Let not my Lord grow impatient if I go on. What if only thirty are found there?" He replied, "I will forebear doing it if I can find but thirty there." 31 Still Abraham went on, "Since I have thus dared to speak to my Lord, what if there are not more than twenty?" The LORD [Yahweh] answered, "I will not destroy it, for the sake of the twenty." 32 But he still persisted: "Please, let not my Lord grow angry if I speak up this last time. What if there are at least ten there?" He replied, "for the sake of those ten, I will not destroy it."

In last week's reading we were told about the promised miraculous future birth of a child for the elderly Abraham and his wife Sarah. This part of the narrative offers the contrast between the blessings of hope and life God gave Abraham and Sarah because of their faith and obedience with the judgment and curse of death for the people of Sodom and Gomorrah because of their wickedness and rebellion. We are told in Genesis 13:13 Now the inhabitants of Sodom were very wicked in the sins they committed against the LORD [Yahweh]. The prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel described the crimes of Sodom and her allied "daughter" cities on the plain of Siddim:

The dialogue between Abraham and God in Genesis 18:17-21 was for Abraham's benefit.
God took Abraham into His confidence, revealing his plan to His prophet concerning divine judgment against the city of Sodom and her sister cities in the plain in order to allow Abraham, a trusted servant, to plead for mercy for people of Sodom: No indeed, Lord Yahweh does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets (Amos 3:7 NJB)

In verse 20 God told Abraham He was sending His messengers/angels (angelos in the Greek means "messengers") to Sodom because of the cries of the innocent. It was the suffering of the weak and the blood of the innocent to which God was responding in judging the wicked cities of the plain. This was the "outcry" that God has heard-the cry of those who were suffering calling for God's justice (Gen 18:20-21).

22 While Abraham's visitors walked on farther toward Sodom, the LORD [Yahweh] remained standing before Abraham. In Genesis 19:1 we are told that God's agents who went to Sodom were "messengers" in the Hebrew text—angelos in Greek which we translate in English as "angels." That God sent His two witnesses to Sodom to observe the behavior of Sodom's citizens is consistence with the Law of the Sinai Covenant in which at least two witnesses were required to testify in a case that required capital punishment (see Dt 19:15; Mt 18:16; 26:60).

In Genesis 18:23-33 Abraham intercedes for the citizens of Sodom. This part of the narrative presents the age old dilemma: must the good suffer along with the wicked, must the innocent perish because of the guilty, and what about the question of individual responsibility versus collective responsibility? God hears the cry of innocent blood, as he heard the blood of Abel (Gen 4:10), and He hears the distress of the suffering, as He heard Hagar (Gen 16:11). He is always ready to withhold His judgment on the wicked for the sake of the righteous:

23 Then Abraham drew nearer and said: "Will you sweep away the innocent with the guilty? 24 Suppose there were fifty innocent people in the city; would you wipe out the place, rather than spare it for the sake of the fifty innocent people within it? 25 Far be it from you to do such a thing, to make the innocent die with the guilty so that the innocent and the guilty would be treated alike! Should not the judge of all the world act with justice?"
The question of individual and collective responsibility won't be addressed again in Scripture until the formation of the Sinai Covenant (see Dt 7:10; 24:16; Jer 31:29-30; Ez 14:12; etc). Genesis 18:23-32 is the longest speech Abraham makes in Scripture. He bases his argument on God's concern for justice as he petitions God to spare the city if only fifty righteous men can be found. God is always willing to temper His judgment with mercy. God told Abraham that He was willing to spare the city if He could find fifty righteous men.

Part of Abraham's concern must have been for his nephew Lot and his family who were living in Sodom (Gen 13:11-12). Encouraged by God's willingness to spare the city if He can find fifty righteous men, Abraham began to negotiate with God. Through Abraham's persistence and God's patience, Abraham successfully convinces God to reduce the number from total annihilation to a final minyan of ten righteous men? A minyan is the minimum needed for a prayer group in the Sinai Covenant. In Scripture it is the number of perfection of order. From fifty to forty-five, to forty, to thirty, to twenty, and finally ten-six times the number is reduced from the possibility of total destruction. Six is the number of man in Scripture (created on the sixth day), but it is also the number signifying man's rebellion against God. For us the story of Abraham's pleas with God concerning sparing the innocent and God's merciful response dramatically illustrate the importance of persistent intercessory prayer and the ministry of the saints.

Responsorial Psalm 138:1-3, 6-8 ~ A Psalm of Praise
The response is Lord, on the day I called for help, you answered me.
1 I will give thanks to you, O LORD [Yahweh], with all my heart, for you have heard the words of my mouth; in the presence of the angels I will sing your praise; 2 I will worship at your holy Temple and give thanks to your name. Because of your kindness and your truth; for you have made great above all things your name and your promise. 3 When I called you answered me; you built up strength within me.
6 The LORD [Yahweh] is exalted, yet the lowly he sees, and the proud he knows from afar. 7 Though I walk amid distress, you preserve me; against the anger of my enemies you raise your hand. Your right hand saves me. 8 The LORD [Yahweh] will complete what he has done for me; your kindness, O LORD [Yahweh], endures forever; forsake not the work of your hands.

Psalm 138 is the first in a group of psalms attributed to King David. Six are psalms of entreaty (Ps 139-144) set within the framework of two psalms of praise (Ps 138 and 145). Psalms 138 appears to be a song of praise to the Lord sung while processing into the Temple (138:2). The song begins with thanks to the Lord for having heard the prayers and petitions of the psalmist (verses 1-3). The psalmist praises Yahweh who is exalted and yet cares for the poor, but the proud who oppress the poor are far from Him (verse 6). The psalm ends with the psalmist asserting his trust in Yahweh whose faithful covenant love [hesed] endures forever!

The Second Reading Colossians 2:12-14 ~ New Life in Christ
12 You were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And even when you were dead in transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, he brought you to life along with him, having forgiven us all our transgressions; 14 obliterating the bond against us, with its legal claims, which was opposed to us, he also removed it from our midst, nailing it to the cross.

The second readings continue with St. Paul's letter to the faith community at Colossus in Asia Minor. Paul uses the Sacrament of Christian baptism in symbolic terms, comparing it to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Passing through the waters of baptism, we die with Christ to sin, and raising up out of the waters we are resurrected to new life in Christ Jesus (verse 12).

13 And even when you were dead in transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, he brought you to life along with him, having forgiven us all our transgressions;
The Old Covenant Law was powerless to save the people from their sins-the Law could only condemn the people in their sins. Christ paid the debt for our sins with His Blood on the altar of the Cross, forgiving us for our sins by taking the debt of sin upon Himself. Circumcision was the sign of incorporation into Abraham's descendants as the people of the covenant, and in the Sinai Covenant it was also a sign of submission to the Law while being uncircumcised meant that one was separated from a covenant relationship with God. The sign of circumcision prefigured the "circumcision of Christ" which is Christian Baptism.

<...14 obliterating the bond against us, with its legal claims, which was opposed to us, he also removed it from our midst, nailing it to the cross.
It was Jesus' work of redemption that cancelled out the debt of sin imposed by the Law. Paul uses the cross as a metaphor in how God canceled the legal claims against us under the old Law through Christ's atonement for our sins—the cross does not depict Christ nailed to the cross by His enemies; instead it depicts the bond of the old Law with its legal claims that indicted us for our sins being nailed to the cross by God.

The Gospel of Luke 11:1-13 ~ The Power of Prayer
1 He was praying in a certain place, and when he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples." 2 He said to them, "When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. 3 Give us each day our daily bread 4 and forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us, and do not subject us to the final test." 5 And he said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend to whom he goes at midnight and says, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, 6 for a friend of mine has arrived at my house from a journey and I have nothing to offer him,' 7 and he says in reply from within, 'Do not bother me; the door has already been locked and my children and I are already in bed. I cannot get up to give you anything.' 8 I tell you, if he does not get up to give him the loaves because of their friendship, he will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence.
9 "And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who asks, finds; and the one who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? 12 Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? 13 If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?

Today's Gospel reading Jesus gives three lessons on prayer. The first is called the "Lord's Prayer."
Luke 11:1-4 ~ The Lord's Prayer
1 He was praying in a certain place, and when he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples." 2 He said to them, "When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. 3 Give us each day our daily bread 4 and forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us, and do not subject us to the final test."

Jesus probably taught the people how to pray many times during His ministry. We have two examples of Jesus teaching His disciples how to pray in Luke 11:1-4 and in Matthew 6:9-15 (see the study on the Gospel of Matthew Lessons 10 - 11). The version of this prayer in the Gospel of Matthew has an invocation and seven petitions while this version has an invocation and five petitions. There are actually 3 versions of the Lord's Prayer: the short version is in the Gospel of Luke 11:1-4, a longer version is in the Gospel of Matthew 6:9-13, and longest is a third version found in the Church's first catechetical instruction known as the "Teaching of the Twelve Apostles," also called the "Didache" (c. 50/120 AD; Greek word for instruction/teaching). The version from the Didache, which contains a doxology at the end of the prayer, is not found in Scripture (see Didache 8.2). It is the same as the version of the Lord's Prayer found in Matthew's Gospel with the exception of the addition of the doxology at the end and it is the version that is prayed in the Catholic Mass and in most Protestant Churches.

2 He said to them, "When you pray, say: Father.."
The invocation of the Lord's Prayer is a single word-"Father." The word "Father" refers to the one, holy and eternal God-the God of Adam, the God of Abraham, the God of Israel-"our" God and Father who is "Father" because His relationship with the Son (Jn 1:14, 18; 1 Jn 4:9 KJV). God the Father did not become "Father" only after the Incarnation of the Son. He has been "Father" for all eternity because the Most Holy Trinity has always lived in perfect communion through all eternity-Three in One- God the Father with His Son and united with the Holy Spirit. It is what we profess in the creed: I believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God eternally begotten of the Father ... God the Father is Father because He has eternally "fathered" the Son. He was a "father" before there were human fathers. St. Ephraim noted that earthly men are called fathers, but He is the true Father. He also wrote of the earthly relationship of "fathers" and their "sons": The terms 'father' and 'son' by which they have been called are borrowed names that through grace have taught us that there is a Single True Father and that He has a Single True Son."

In teaching us to pray, Jesus encourages us to humbly address God as "Father." This intimate address indicates an entirely new relationship with God based on the gift of a new and eternal covenant in His Son, Jesus the Messiah (see CCC 2786-87). The first words of the prayer teach us that we should express our adoration before we express our supplication. It is by the grace of God that we can recognize Him as "Father." This recognition is a gift and we should give Him thanks and praise for having revealed the intimacy of His name as "Father." We are blessed to address God as "Father" in three ways:

  1. We give thanks to God for having revealed His name to us.
  2. We give thanks for the gift of believing in His divine Fatherhood.
  3. We give thanks for the indwelling of His divine Presence in us that makes us His children.

St. Paul wrote: But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption. As proof that you are children, God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, "Abba, Father!" So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God (Gal 4:4-7). We adore the Father because, through the sacrifice of our Savior Jesus Christ, He has caused us to be reborn into His life by adopting us as His children, and He has incorporated us into the unity of the Church, the Body of Christ (CCC 2782). We've been adopted into the family of God, and the free gift of our adoption that gives us the right to call God "Father" requires continual action on our part (see CCC 2782-84):

  1. We have been created in His image but we are restored to His likeness by the grace imparted to us by the Holy Spirit through our Christian baptism (Jn 3:3-5).
  2. Therefore, we must respond to His grace by continual conversion in living our new "life in the Spirit" and continually turning away from sin.
  3. As children in the family of God, we must continue to behave as sons and daughters of our heavenly Father by showing mercy to others as He has shown mercy to us and by dying to self in order to live in Christ.

That Jesus should directly address God as "Father" was shocking to 1st century AD Jews. Sacred Scripture called angels, Davidic kings, prophets and the children of Israel collectively as "sons of God," but never had anyone dared to address Yahweh publically as "Father." For the 1st century Jewish authorities, this was blasphemy, an accusation leveled against Jesus and one of the reasons His enemies sought to kill Him: But Jesus answered them, "My Father is at work until now, so I am at work." For this reason the Jews tried all the more to kill him, because he not only broke the Sabbath but he also called God his own father, making himself equal to God (Jn 5:17-18). Tertullian, the 3rd century Roman jurist who surrendered his life to Christ to become a priest and Christian apologist, wrote that before Jesus ... the expression 'God the Father' had never been revealed to anyone. When Moses himself asked God who He was, he heard another name. The Father's name has been revealed to us in the Son, for the name 'Son' implies the new name 'Father.'

It is not God who has changed, but through our baptism we have changed and as a result our relationship with God has changed. God is Father to Jesus, and it is Jesus who shares His divine Sonship with us. It is through Jesus that we are made "sons in the Son" through our baptism as we become partakers of the divine nature, no longer to be called the sons and daughters of Adam but the sons and daughters of God. St. Peter wrote: Through these, he has bestowed on us the precious and very great promises, so that through them you may come to share in the divine nature, after escaping from the corruption that is in the world because of evil desire. And St. Cyprian wrote, The new man, reborn and restored to his God by grace, says first of all, "Father!" because he has now begun to be a son (2 Pt 1:4; also see CCC 2782). God is our Father because He has gathered us together in one family in Christ- established in a universal human family in the Catholic [catholic means universal] Church. It is our shared sonship with Jesus that gives us the right to address God as "Father" because through the Son we are indeed His children.

The words of the invocation express this unique relationship which we can only claim through the Son. Before we make this first exclamation we must repent our sins, cleanse our hearts and with humility recognize that no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him (Lk 10:22). Each of us becomes the 'little child' that Jesus spoke of in Matthew 18:3-5: Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, and whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me. Before repeating the prayer Jesus taught us we must step forward in the humility of childlike faith to address God as "Father."

There are the five petitions in Luke's version of the Lord's Prayer:

  1. "may your name be held holy"
  2. "may your kingdom come"
  3. "give us each day our daily bread"
  4. "forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us"
  5. "do not subject us to the final test"

hallowed be your name ... The first petition is that God's name be held holy or sanctified. The Old Testament instructs the faithful: You shall not misuse the name of Yahweh your God, for Yahweh will not leave unpunished anyone who misuses His name (Ex 20:7 NJB; also see Dt 5:11); and You will not swear by my name with intent to deceive and thus profane the name of your God. I am Yahweh (Lev 19:12 NJB).

The Greek word for hallowed or holy is hagiastheto. It is the aorist passive imperative of hagiazo, the verb meaning "sanctify." So this prayer literally reads: Let Your name be sanctified. It is significant that this is the first petition of the Lord's Prayer. This petition is the primary petition of all petitions. We should first pray that God's holy name will be sanctified everywhere-on earth, in the heavens, throughout creation in both time and space. But we also need to make it personal and relevant. Our cry should be: "Let Your name be sanctified in my life today, Father!"

The Greek word onoma (name) corresponds to the Hebrew word shem. In common use today a "name" is simply a label to differentiate one person from another. However, in the Bible and in other cultures in ancient times and in some other cultures today, the "name" of a person encompassed everything that the named individual represented-his entire character and personality, including his work, power, authority and moral essence or reputation. This petition for the sanctification of God's "holy name" can be expressed in two ways:

  1. We sanctify His holy name by His command to us to live holy lives through obedience to His will (Lev 11:44-45; Mt 5:48) and by our offering of reverence and praise. If our lives are not holy, we desecrate that sacred family name by which we are called. We remind ourselves that we are called by our Father's most holy name every time we make the sign of the cross: In the Name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. His Name is our name because He is our Father.
  2. But also included is this petition is that God make holy His own name by manifesting His power and glory in our lives and in the lives of all members of the family of man by establishing the fullness of His Kingdom.

It was mentioned above that for ancient peoples one's "name" encompassed everything there was to know about a person: what that person stood for and what that person believed. Jesus' name in Hebrew, Yahshua (ancient Hebrew) or Yehoshua (in Jesus' time) means "Yahweh saves" or "Yahweh is salvation." The "name" of Jesus signifies the very "name" of God who is united with and present in the person of the Son. Belief in the "name," meaning the whole of Jesus Christ-everything He taught and everything He did-is the only path to salvation: Only in Him is there salvation; for of all the names in the world given to men, this is the only one by which we can be saved (Acts 4:12; also see CCC 432). In Romans 10:12-13 St. Paul wrote: The same Lord is the Lord of all, and His generosity is offered to all who appeal to Him, for all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved. "Calling on the name" means all those who claim Jesus as Lord and Savior by accepting everything Jesus taught and believing in everything that He did for man's salvation will be saved.

The second petition is ... your kingdom come. This petition requests that the Father's kingdom be manifested in our lives and among mankind. One aspect of God's kingdom is heaven, but the kingdom of God is also linked to the "good news" which is the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Lk 4:43). It is His "good news" that announces the establishment Jesus' Kingdom of Heaven on earth-the universal Catholic Church that is an everlasting kingdom of the holy people of the Most High God (Dan 7:27).

The Kingdom of God is so identified with the life and work of Jesus Christ that the Gospel or "good news" of the Kingdom of God promised in Isaiah 40:9-11 is in the New Testament referred to as the "Gospel of Jesus Christ": Go up onto a high mountain, Zion, herald of glad tidings [good news]; cry out at the top of your voice, Jerusalem, herald of good news! Fear not to cry out and say to the cities of Judah: Here is your God! Here comes with power the Lord God, who rules by his strong arm; here is his reward with him, his recompense before him. Like a shepherd he feeds his block; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom and leading the ewes with care. It is St. John the Baptist who first links this Isaiah passage to the coming of the Messiah and God's Kingdom in Luke 3:4-6 when he claimed to be the "prophetic voice" of Isaiah 40:3-5.

The kingdom of God has a present as well as a future reality. That present and future reality is expressed in Jesus' Beatitudes teaching found in His Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:1-12. That teaching begins and ends with a present tense verb in the promise of the Kingdom while all other blessings and promises were expressed in the simple future tense (see the study on the Beatitudes or Matthew Lessons 5-9). The coming of the Kingdom of God is the realization of God's plan of salvation in the world. The Kingdom establishes itself in the core of our being, raising us up to share in God's own inner life. This elevation has two stages:

For our part we need to respond to God with humility, love, trust, and obedience and service to His Church. The Church (the Kingdom of Heaven on earth) is His vehicle to help advance the faithful to that state of grace that will make entrance into the heavenly kingdom possible.

3 Give us each day [or this day] our daily bread... is the third petition.
This is the turning point in the prayer. The first two petitions were addressed to God: "hollowed be your name"; "your Kingdom come..." The second series of petitions concern us: "give us," "forgive us," and "do not subject us".

In the third petition, the Greek word, which in most Bibles is translated as "daily," is the Greek word epiousios. This word is a grammatical anomaly and the derivation and meaning of epiousios is one of the great unresolved puzzles of New Testament lexicography. In Scripture the word epiousios is only found here in Luke 11:3 and in Matthew's rendering of the Lord's Prayer in Matthew 6:11. This Greek word does not occur anywhere else in Greek literature except in Christian documents related to this prayer or the subject of the Holy Eucharist. The word is so unique that it was unknown in other literature even in the times of the early Church Fathers. Origen of Alexandria, considered by Christian historians to be one the greatest biblical scholars of antiquity, suggested that epiousios is a word invented by Matthew and adopted by Luke since there was no Greek word in existence that would adequately described the supernatural character of the "heavenly bread" (Origen, De orat. 27.7). Nor does there seem to be any link in the Hebrew of the Exodus passages referring to the manna from heaven: lehem minhassamayim = "bread rain down from heaven for you" or debar yom beyomo = "a daily portion" or the Aramaic translation pitgam yom beyomeh.

Scholars have proposed four different meanings for the word epiousios:

  1. daily
  2. necessary for existence
  3. for the following day
  4. for the future.

St. Jerome's definition was "super-substantial" or "necessary for existence." In any case, from the times of the Fathers of the Church it has always been taught that this word is a reference to the Holy Eucharist:

The miracle of the manna from heaven prefigures the first promise of our super-substantial bread: Yahweh then said to Moses, 'Look, I shall rain down bread for you from the heavens. Each day the people must go out and collect their ration for the day... (Ex 16:4, NJB). In the New Testament Jesus promise "bread from heaven" in John chapter 6:28-59 ~ So Jesus said to them, "Amen, amen, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world" (Jn 6:32-35).

Jesus fulfills this promise at the Last Supper in Jesus' statement, "This is my Body..." and it is fulfilled at every Mass when the priest stands in the person of Christ (Persona Christi) and says the words of consecration which begins the transformation by God the Holy Spirit of our gifts of bread and wine into the very Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Savior, Jesus! This is our heavenly bread that our heavenly Father provides to nourish us on our spiritual journey to the promised land of heaven, just as He gave manna to the Children of Israel on their physical journey to the Promised Land of Canaan.

Do we interpret this petition as the daily nourishment that we need to survive physically or spiritually? The Church Fathers do acknowledge that all bread, heavenly and materially, does indeed come from God, and we do provide in cooperation with God's creation the bread that is supernaturally transformed into the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ. However, the Church Fathers warn this interpretation of bread for our physical nourishment must also include the acknowledgement that this petition also refers to the heavenly bread that is Christ our Savior. In sacred Scripture, "table bread" is always an anticipation of the heavenly banquet (Mt 26:26; Mk 14:22; Lk 22:19; Lk 24:30-31). Every meal over which Jesus presided in the New Testament had deep eschatological significance-every meal was a salvation meal which looked forward to the "final feast." The material bread that God provides for us daily on our own tables symbolizes and foreshadows the heavenly reality that we see in the Real Presence of Christ in the holy Eucharist, which is the visible reality of a heavenly promise when we are called bodily to the heavenly Communion of Saints.

The next petition is "forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us..." Jesus makes forgiveness the cornerstone of one's relationship with God. In God's mercy He has forgiven us our sins and therefore we must show the same mercy to those who have wronged us and seeks our mercy.

This petition also refers to:

  1. Our continual repentance and conversion as we seek forgiveness for our sins on our journey toward salvation.
  2. Our plea for God's mercy and forgiveness when we face our Individual (or particular) Judgment after physical death (Rom 14:10; 2 Cor 5:10; Heb 9:37; CCC 2846-49).

The Greek word opheilema, which can be translated "trespass" or "debt," is found in Matthew 6:12 (plural) and in Romans 4:4 (singular) in the New Testament. However, St. Luke uses a form of this word meaning "indebted" in 11:4. The transliteration of this Greek word is "what is due" or "an obligation, a debt owed." But here it clearly has a moral connotation meaning "the debt of sin." This interpretation is supported by Luke's use the Greek word hamartias which means sins in the sense of "missing the (moral) mark." Jesus was probably speaking in Aramaic, the common tongue of the region, and in Aramaic the word hobha means debt or sin. In the Old as well as in New Testament times, sin was conceived of in terms of a debt owed to God. Since for his Greek readers Luke translated the Aramaic word into the Greek word hamartias, meaning "sins," we should obviously understand it in that sense.

According to the Law, the only way in which a "debt of sin" can be paid is with the blood of an unblemished victim (Lev 4:28, 32; Heb 9:22). In the Old Testament animal sacrifice was the temporary remedy for sin. The animal died in place of the sinner whose confessed sins were forgiven (i.e. Lev 4:27-31; 5:17-19; Lev 17:11-12; etc.). Jesus was the perfect, unblemished sacrificial victim for the forgiveness of the sins of man:

In the ceremonial ritual of the Passover meal, after drinking from the communal 4th cup that closed the meal, it is interesting that the last words the host spoke before dismissing the participants were "It is finished" or "It is fulfilled," referring to the fulfillment of the covenant obligation to eat the Passover sacrifice in a sacred meal. These were the same words (recorded in the Gospel of John as teltelestai in Greek) that Jesus cried out on the cross before He gave up His spirit (Jn 19:30). In the time that Jesus lived, the word teltelestai was also an accounting term that was announced or written across a ledger when a debt was paid. Jesus paid our debt of sin when He gave up His life on the Cross and fulfilled all the commands of the Old Covenant Law.

Since Adam and Eve's fall from grace through sin, death has reigned over man's life ever since and has been measured by the passing of time in the limit placed on life by death. But, Christ has claimed victory over sin and death and has shared that victory with those who believe in Him. All those who die in Christ's grace become participants in the death of the Savior with the promise that they can also share in His Resurrection and live eternally in defiance of "time" in the heavenly Kingdom (see Rom 6:3-9; 6:22-23; Phil 3:10-11; CCC 1006).

4b and do not subject us to the final test."
This is the 4th petition in St. Luke's rendering of the way Jesus taught His disciples to pray. Other translations read: "Lead us not into temptation," but this is in fact a poor translation. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains the better understanding of this phrase in CCC 2846-49 and notes that the original Greek in both Matthew 6:13 and Luke 11:5 can mean either: "Do not let us yield to temptation" or "do not allow us to enter into temptation," as it is translated in most other languages. The Catechism explains: This petition goes to the root of the preceding one, for our sins result from our consenting to temptation... God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one; on the contrary, he wants to set us free from evil. We ask him not to allow us to take the way that leads to sin... (CCC 2846).

In this petition we recognize that human efforts alone are not enough to help us cope with temptation. We must turn to God to get the strength we need. St John of Avila wrote: God is strong enough to free you from everything and can do you more good than all the devils can do you harm (Sermons, 9, First Sunday of Lent).

The "final test" can mean:

  1. The final temptation to sin just prior to one's death before one has the opportunity to repent.
  2. The final period of tribulation prior to the return of the Messiah.
  3. The Last Judgment at the end of the Age (CCC 1038-41).

But all the same, we should expect trials because of the evil that is in the world; however, God does not send us into evil to test us. God wants only what is good for us. It is our own concupiscence-our human tendency to be attracted to sin-that entices us to sin (see Sir 15:11-20; Mt 5:10-12; Jam 1:12-15 and CCC 1264, 1426, 2515). But, if God does not tempt us, then why do we even pray And do not subject us to the final test or as this petition is badly translated, And lead us not into temptation; but in a better translation And let us not be led into temptation? See Wis 3:1-9 and Ps 37:23-24. God would never tempt us to do evil, but He will allow Satan to tempt us and when we rise above that temptation we are strengthened and purified by the experience: But the souls of the upright are in the hands of God, and no torment can touch them. [...]. God was putting them to the test and has proved them worthy to be with him; he has tested them like gold in a furnace... Wisdom 3:1a, 5.

Temptation is part of this world and we must face it every day, but it is God's solemn promise that He will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it (1 Cor 10:13). The Catechism explains that rejecting the temptation to sin is part of our growth toward spiritual maturity (CCC 2847). We must discern between being tempted and consenting to that temptation by our action. We must guard ourselves against temptation in two ways:

  1. By recognizing the sin and willfully turning away from the temptation to sin.
  2. By refusing to be a source of temptation to others.

St. James, first Christian Bishop of Jerusalem and kinsman of Jesus wrote: Blessed is the man who perseveres in temptation, for when he has been proved he will receive the crown of life that he promised to those who love him. No one experiencing temptation should say, "I am being tempted by God"; for God is not subject to temptation to evil, and he himself tempts no one. Rather, each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire conceives and brings forth sin, and when sin reaches maturity it gives birth to death (Jam 1:12-15). And St. John of Avila wrote: Lean upon Him, because if the Lord is not your support and your strength, then you will fall and you will be afraid of everything (Sermons, 9, First Sunday of Lent).

We must turn to God to get the strength we need to resist the temptation to sin, and through the work of the Holy Spirit to fight the battle against sin in order to live the victory of a holy life. Such a battle and such a victory are only possible if we remain vigilant, if we remain obedient, and if we are strengthened through prayer and the sacraments Jesus gave to His Church. Our petition is really that God will give us the grace to discern what is evil and the strength to resist the temptation to do what is evil. When we pray this petition, it is also good to follow Jesus' example when He was tested by Satan-He quoted Sacred Scripture. We should recall the words of Sacred Scripture that promise us victory if we persevere in faith. Take courage when you are tested and remember: The steps of the godly are directed by the Lord. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will not fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand (Ps 37:323-24), and St. Paul's words of encouragement: I can do all things in him who strengthens me (Phil 4:13).

Luke 11:5-8 ~ The Parable of the Persistent Neighbor
5 And he said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend to whom he goes at midnight and says, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, 6 for a friend of mine has arrived at my house from a journey and I have nothing to offer him,' 7 and he says in reply from within, 'Do not bother me; the door has already been locked and my children and I are already in bed. I cannot get up to give you anything.' 8 I tell you, if he does not get up to give him the loaves because of their friendship, he will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence.

This is Jesus' second teaching on how to pray and the Christian's attitude toward prayer. This time He presents a parable that emphasizes the importance of being persistent in prayer. The comparison Jesus makes is between a neighbor who is relentless in his request to borrow some food and the friend who fulfills his request to get rid of him compared to the person who is persistent in petitioning God for an answer to prayer. The point is that our persistence and urgency in prayer will get results. It doesn't change God's intentions toward us; instead our persistence changes us to recognize God's work in us and His will for our lives.

Luke 11:9-13 ~ Effective prayer
9 "And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who asks, finds; and the one who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? 12 Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? 13 If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?

In the third teaching, Jesus is addressing the effectiveness of prayer to the Father. Jesus does not put any restrictions on prayer. Commenting on this passage St. Jerome notes: It is written, to everyone who asks it will be given; so, if it is not given to you, it is not given to you because you do not ask; so, ask and you will receive (Jerome, Commentary of Matthew, 7). Even though prayer is infallible, we are not infallible. If Jesus says prayer is as easy as asking and "it will be given to you," why is it that sometimes God's answer to our prayers is "no" or "be patient," which is often wrongly interpreted as the absence of an answer? Our petition may be delayed or denied because:

  1. Our personal dispositions are not righteous because of personal sin.
  2. What we have asked for is not a righteous and unselfish request.
  3. Now is not the time to receive such a petition in God's plan for our lives.

Jesus has already given us His own model prayer in the Lord's Prayer/Our Father. Now He encourages His disciples to pray by giving several commands and promises. In verses 9-10 Jesus gives three direct commands and three promises if one follows these commands in connection to how we should pray. The commands are expressed in three words and are linked to the promises that are expressed in three statements:

COMMAND: PROMISE:
Ask everyone who asks receives
Seek the one who seeks finds
Knock to the one who knocks, the door will be opened

The door that will be opened to those who persist in prayer is the door to heaven and eternal life that had been closed since the Fall of man and had not been opened until the coming of the Christ (CCC 536, 1026):

Jesus illustrates His promise in a series of sayings that use the example of a child coming to a father with a request, something with which everyone hearing Jesus can relate-everyone having been either a child or a parent themselves. Jesus makes four contrasts in this teaching. The kind of fish named in the passage is a barbut; it is found in the Sea of Galilee and its appearance is smooth and without scales, somewhat like a snake. The scorpion probably refers to one at rest with its tail relaxed instead of curved above its body and the legs beneath its body, looking somewhat like a brown egg. Therefore, the contrasts are between a snake and the fish without scales, between a scorpion and an egg, between the unrighteous father and the heavenly Father and between a child asking an unrighteous father as opposed to a believer making a petition to God the Father:

Contrasts in Luke 11:9-12
Fish without scales Snake
Scorpion Egg
Wicked father Heavenly Father
A child making a request of an unrighteous father A child of God making a petition in prayer

The fish without scales and the snake look somewhat alike but they are not the same, and a stinging scorpion is certainly different from an egg. It is not difficult for even a wicked father to determine that one choice is definitely better for a child than the other. The point is that even the unrighteous know the difference between what is good parenting and what is not good; therefore, can you trust your heavenly Father to give you the best gift when you pray, even if you don't know yourself which gift is best. It is interesting that the force of this parable lies in the contrast rather than in the comparison between the Father who is God and the human father. Jesus acknowledges that even the unrighteous can perform good acts when He says in in verse 13: If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the holy Spirit to those who ask him?

Notice that Jesus calls His listeners "wicked" in verse 13. Ever since the Fall of our original parents and the curse of the inherited tendency to sin (concupiscence), men and women were in the family of Adam-the "wicked" lost in original sin and with the inherited tendency to sin (see Rom 3:23). Because of the human condition, even when humans are doing good and following nobler instincts like good parenting, they cannot escape the designation "wicked." It is only when we are reborn as God's children through the sanctifying grace of Jesus' sacrifice that we can live as the "righteous" sons and daughters of God. The best "gift" our heavenly Father has given His children is the gift of sanctifying grace through the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit (see Jn 15:26 and Acts 2:1-4), a precious gift available to all who have faith in Jesus Christ and accept Him as Lord and Savior!

Catechism References:
Genesis 18:20-32 (CCC 1867)
Psalm 138 (CCC 403)
Colossians 2:12-14 (CCC 527)
Luke 11:1-13
   -11:1 (CCC 520, 2601, 2759, 2773)
   -11:2-4 (CCC 2759)
   -11:2 (CCC 2632)
   -11:5-13 (CCC 2613)
   -11:9 (CCC 2761)
   -11:13 (CCC 443, 728, 2623, 2671)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2013