Lent, Day 18 — Prayer

Jesus’s Manifesto: The Sermon on the Mount

When you pray, don’t be like hypocrites. They love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners so that people will see them. I assure you, that’s the only reward they’ll get. But when you pray, go to your room, shut the door, and pray to your Father who is present in that secret place. Your Father who sees what you do in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:5-6)

  1. Public prayer. Hoo, boy. Prayer in schools. Before football games. Before legislative sessions. In restaurants. At protests. In hospital waiting rooms. Which of these are acceptable? I get this question all the time.
  2. Some people use this verse as a proof-text to bash ALL forms of public prayer.
  3. In the gospel of John, when Jesus prays for Lazarus, he says this: “Father, thank you for hearing me. I know you always hear me. I say this for the benefit of the crowd standing here so that they will believe that you sent me” (John 11:41-42). Jesus explicitly says he is praying so that others will overhear him. Is Jesus a hypocrite for praying in public? Is he twice a hypocrite because, in Matthew’s gospel, he says not to pray in public? This is why I believe we cannot use these verses to disallow all forms of public prayer.
  4. As with Jesus’s words on giving, the question is, “What’s going on under your persona, your mask?” Are you an actor, performing for others so that you will be thought of as an upstanding citizen? Or are you actually speaking to God and helping others relate to God?
  5. Again, Jesus switches between singular and plural forms of you. This is addressed to individuals and our need for social approval.
  6. But there are times when it is appropriate for the community to pray, as a gathered body. At those times we may appoint a spokesperson to express the needs of a community to God.
  7. The ethical question of public prayer for a legislative body, or a sporting event, is not about an individual seeking praise, or of a community of faith speaking with one voice. It’s about imposing certain beliefs on minorities. I’ve been in public spaces where the person who prayed used language I could never say “amen” to.
  8. An often-overlooked part of these verses is that God is present everywhere, even in your secret place. “Your Father who sees what you do in secret” is repeated three times in this section. This secret seeing is not like police-surveillance. It is benevolent and sympathetic. God already loves us. We don’t have to earn it.
There is a different way to follow Jesus. We’re trying to live it and teach it. Support Saint Junia financially so we can keep it up!