Column: Prayer proves pivotal in Luke’s Gospel

Father Mike Stubbs is the pastor of Holy Cross Parish in Overland Park and has a degree in Scripture from Harvard University.
Father Mike Stubbs is the pastor of Holy Cross Parish in Overland Park and has a degree in Scripture from Harvard University.

by Father Mike Stubbs

All birds look about the same to me. It’s hard for me to tell the difference between a robin and a sparrow. I have never paid that much attention to them.

On the other hand, a bird watcher will be able to differentiate between the countless species of birds that grace our world, will notice their specific features. We pay attention to that which matters to us.

For several weeks now, since the beginning of Advent, we have been listening to the Gospel of Luke at Mass. Throughout this next year, the Gospel readings will ordinarily come from Luke, since we are in Cycle C of the Lectionary.

We pay attention to that which matters to us. Evidently, prayer must have mattered a great deal to Luke. Now, I do not mean to imply that prayer did not matter to the other Gospel writers — Matthew, Mark and John. But it is a fact that Luke’s Gospel mentions that activity more often.

Some form of the verb “to pray” appears 19 times in Luke’s Gospel. Matthew’s Gospel follows as a close second, with 14 times. Mark trails behind with only 7 times. John makes an embarrassing showing of only 4 times.

A good example of Luke’s emphasis occurs in this Sunday’s Gospel reading for the feast of the Baptism of the Lord — Lk 3:15-16, 21-22. Matthew’s and Mark’s Gospels also describe the baptism of Jesus, and John’s Gospel refers to it. But only Luke’s Gospel inserts the detail about Jesus praying: “After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.”

Why does Luke single out prayer in the life of Jesus? Possibly, the Christian community to which Luke belonged especially placed a stress upon prayer in their life, and Luke reflected that emphasis in his Gospel. Or perhaps, Luke noticed a deficiency in that regard and sought to correct it. Or maybe the two motives are working together.

We might note that only the Gospels of Luke and Matthew include a version of the Lord’s prayer, the Our Father, in their texts. Did Matthew’s community share a similar concern with Luke’s? It appears that the focus upon prayer in the life of Jesus appears at least in part as an example to encourage his followers to also pray themselves.

It only makes sense, then, that at Jesus’ first public appearance — namely, his baptism — Luke should also have Jesus pray. We ordinarily think of baptism as a way to make a new beginning. That is also true for Jesus.

Throughout his life, Jesus will periodically devote time to prayer. Luke wishes to draw our attention to that pattern, so that we might follow suit. Luke wants prayer to also matter a lot to us.

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