‘Beware of practising your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.
‘So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
‘And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6 But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
‘When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
‘Pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.
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.
Being a Roman Catholic I am used to prayers with a communal response. We use them all the time in Mass, it’s almost automatic – I rarely think about the words. And not just short responses – the Nicene Creed has more than a few lines; thank goodness I don’t have to do it in Latin any more, at least I (mostly) understand what I’m saying.
But it’s always seemed odd that the one communal prayer we all say, irrespective of our tradition, is the one that Jesus said we shouldn’t.
“But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret”
There’s something comforting about joining in with what everyone else is doing or saying – it lets us feel as though we belong, that we are part of something bigger. When you are the only young person in a church it can remind you that there are other young people in other churches saying the same thing – it can give hope, succour (and I’m only using that word because I’ve already used ‘comforting’, I’m not trying to show off.)
I wonder if Jesus knew when he said it that for two millennia people would be ignoring what he told them to do? I wonder if he cared… there were many other things he told us about how to live our lives: caring for the sick, loving our neighbours and so on, that we try to maintain. Perhaps how we pray isn’t *that* important in the big scheme of things. Or perhaps it is. I wonder if Jesus is disappointed? “If they can’t even do the easy things…”
Lord, please just let me off this one and forgive me my trespasses. Amen.
Leo Roberts, Children and Youth Development Officer, North Western Synod