In the Gospels of Matthew and Luke Jesus teaches us The Lord’s Prayer. (Matt 6:9-15; Luke 11:1-4) The words Jesus gave us are universally accepted by Christians as the perfect prayer, but if we read Matthew closely, we discover more about not only the words that Jesus taught us, but also how he prayed. In particular, we look at how Jesus prayed before three significant events in the Gospel of Matthew.
Feeding of the 5,000: “Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself.” (Matt 14:13)
Walking on the Sea of Galilee: “And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone….” (Matt 14:23)
Christ’s Passion and Crucifixion: “Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane and said to his disciples, “‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’” (Matt 26:36)
1. Pray Beautifully
In all instances Jesus prays outside in what were probably very beautiful places. Before feeding the 5,000 Jesus prayed in a boat on the Sea of Galilee. Before walking on the Sea of Galilee Jesus prayed on a mountain near the sea. Before his Passion and Crucifixion Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane (the Gospel of Luke identifies the place as the Mount of Olives).
God reveals himself to us in his Creation. Beautiful places immerse us in God’s Creation and remind us of his love and glory.
2. Pray Physically
Jesus exerted himself not only to travel to his prayer locations, but also in the act of prayer itself. It takes physical work to get a boat out onto water. It also takes effort to walk up a mountain. The first two readings do not tell us how far off the shore Jesus took his boat or how high Jesus walked up the mountain to pray, but he clearly chose challenging locations even though there were easier options nearby.
In Gethsemane, though Jesus does not travel to a remote location, he exerts himself in the act of prayer itself. Matthew tells us that Jesus was “grieved and agitated” in Gethsemane and that he “threw himself on the ground and prayed.” Luke tells us that Jesus actually sweat drops of blood on the night before his Passion. (Luke 22:44) In her book Interior Castle St. Teresa of Avila says that prayer is the “struggle and work to conform our will to God’s will.”
Prayer is a physical activity. At Mass we pray while standing and while kneeling and at other times we bow our heads in prayer. We “incarnate” our prayers when we exert ourselves to make a journey to pray in special places, e.g., a pilgrimage, and also in the physical acts of prayer.
3. Pray Devotedly
Healing and preaching were part of Jesus’ ministry, but he took time away from those activities to pray. In fact, we can infer from Matthew 14:23-25 that Jesus spent a lot of time praying. The NABRE translation says that Jesus was alone by the evening and that it was not until “the fourth hour,” between 3:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m., that he reached the disciples’ boat on the Sea of Galilee. If Jesus started praying in the evening and lifted Peter out of the water during the fourth hour, then he must have spent somewhere between nine and twelve hours praying before performing this miracle. In Gethsemane Jesus prays three separate times throughout the night.
Without a dynamic prayer life our ministry activities are in vain. Therefore, we must devote time for prayer.
4. Pray Alone and in Community
Some of the places where Jesus went to pray were completely deserted. Jesus was completely alone on the boat before feeding the 5,000 and before walking on the Sea of Galilee. In the Garden, Jesus chose only three disciples to accompany him, but they fell asleep and Jesus was unable to wake them, so he prayed by himself. (Matt 26:37)
However, Jesus also tells us “Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (Matt 18:19-20)
It may not be easy for us to pray alone, especially for those of us with young families, but the Scriptures tell us that Jesus valued praying alone and knew that it was important to get away from the crowds and even his own disciples to be alone with his Father from time to time. Like Jesus we must pray in community, but we must also withdraw to walk alone with God from time to time.
5. Pray Persistently
In Gethsemane Jesus prays to his Father three separate times. He also tells us a stroy about the persistent neighbor (Luke 11:5-8) and a parable about the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8).
“And I tell you, ask and you will receive; 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. What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? 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.” (Luke 11:9-13, NABRE)
As Saint Paul tells us, “pray without ceasing.” (1 Thess 5:17)
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Notes and Bibliography:
Unless otherwise indicated, all biblical citations and quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).
Casciaro, Jose Maria., ed. The Navarre Bible: New Testament, Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2008.
Harrelson, Walter J., ed. The New Interpreter’s Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version With the Apocrypha. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003.
Senior, Donald, John J. Collins, and Mary Ann Getty, eds. The Catholic Study Bible. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.