The Revenant and The Lord’s Prayer

The Revenant was an Oscar winning ‘survival’ movie last year (2015).  Set in Montana and South Dakota, it was based on (but different from) the story of Hugh Glass in 1823.

As portrayed in this very bleak movie, Glass’ desperate journey was fueled not only by an attitude of rugged individualism, and the desire for survival but also for the desire of revenge.  As director-producer Inarritu said, surely, anyone who lives for revenge will meet not only disappointment but self injury.

Our Gospel reading today is Luke’s version of “The Lord’s Prayer” (Lk 11:1-13).  Here, there is a complete contrast in perspective from that of The Revenant.  For Jesus teaches us to seek not revenge, but forgiveness; he teaches us to pursue not rugged individualism, but community with God and God’s people.

On our TV screens, we watch destruction and terror, with extremist religion used as a tool of war.  We see men, women and children bleeding, starving, and suffering.

In Exodus 22:22-27, however, God says: “Be sure that I will listen if they appeal to me… for I am full of compassion.”  Ins Psalm 138 we read, “When I called, you answered.”

In Genesis 18:11-15, we see Abraham and Sarah learning that God’s promises are not impossible, not laughable.  They learn to converse and even negotiate with the God who is both near and yet also immense and majestic.  They learn to listen to God, to patiently expect and await God’s promised history changing action even when it seems impossible.  Prayer is about learning to listen to God.

A connecting verse between Genesis 18 and Luke 11 could be how Abraham, like Jesus, reached the point of praying that challenging prayer, “Thy will be done.”   I knew a woman whose young daughter was deathly ill with mercuric poisoning, in the mid-1950’s.

At that time, there was no cure known there in Durban, South Africa.  They sent off to London for advice.  The mother prayed on the beach, and as the Dutch people do, finished her prayer with, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, …”  But she could not say the next phrase, “Thy will be done.”  There was a great spiritual struggle there on the beach, before she eventually said, “Thy will be done.”

On her way home, she first dragged, then walked, then ran, then skipped.  Bursting into the home, she said to the nurse: “Old bananas and egg custard!”  It was a quarter teaspoon first, then a half later, until the child was eating again.

About a month later, the message returned from a London hospital: “A cure is not known.  But one nurse says that one should feed old bananas and egg custard.”  That young child is alive and well and living here in the USA today. I know her.

In Luke 11, we have Luke’s version of Jesus’ teaching on prayer.  There are the following seven important features:

[1] The intimate relationship between the disciple and God: “Father”; Aramaic “Abba”.  Prayer itself is not superficial saying of words.  Rather, prayer is our deep yearning cry to God.  And it is all about our lives becoming conformed to God’s will: “Thy will be done.”

[2] The depth of this yearning cry is reflected also in our decisions, choices, actions, and lifestyle.  The disciples are praying as they are carrying out God’s mission, in prayer and work. Admittedly, sometimes I have found that everything I tried to do came to nothing, but there is an honesty about prayer that is accompanied by action; and a divine wisdom about action that is woven with prayer.

[3] This deep yearning cry is “our” cry – rather than “my” cry, as we see in verses 11:2, 3, 4 and 5. There have been times I have worried alone and isolated, like Hugh Glass in The Revenant:  Rather, turn each concern into a prayer to God who is always listening, especially into prayer in which others share–perhaps around the meal table.  There is healing in that prayerful conversation together with God.

Notice when others around you seem to be worrying alone.  Share together the deep yearning cry to God of the heart with that person, with a friend, or with a prayer group.

[4] In our gospel passage, the health of the community and relationships appears in two ways:

  • Physical survival — in verse 3, bread [but not luxury food, cars, and housing!]
  • In verse 4, in the forgiveness of our sins as we forgive others

[5] Our deep yearning cry is persistent: “Day by day” in verse 3; and in the persistence of the friend. “Seek and ye will find; knock and the door will be opened unto you” (Lk 11:9//Mt 7:7-8).  I prayed for one person for 12 years, daily; another for 24 years so far: all these prayers being answered.  Persistence in relationships allows for adjustments, for growth, and for maturity.  Patience is one of the fruits of the spirit in Gal 5:22; and “Patience produces the proof” (Romans 5:4).   Stick to it!  The moment will come that you will again see what God has done.  Love never fails.  God never fails.

[6] Our deep yearning cry is effective: Earthly bread Luke 11:3; the friend who knocks finds the door opens; and when we ask we receive.

[7] Our deepest yearning is for The Holy Spirit; and the gift of the Holy Spirit is the Divine response to the cry of God’s children (Luke 11:13). This emphasis on prayer and on the Holy Spirit is a characteristic of Luke in his Gospel and in Acts.

Make this prayer your own: “O Holy Spirit, Lord of grace, eternal source of love: you searched for us and found us in Jesus; you unbound us and freed us; your love is all around us: inflame our hearts with love for you and for one another; inflame our hearts with faith, with hope, and with joy” (Fred Kaan in Hundred Hymns For Today #25; and C. Coffin 1676-1749, tr. J. Chandler in EH 453)

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