Thomas and Matthew stayed the whole night talking to us about the prophet John, the maltreatment he was receiving in the prison cell of Machaerus and the lung disease he was afflicted with… We were all fuming mad at Herod, the tyrant who had had the prophet locked up for several months and who had been the people’s oppressor for many years… When it was past midnight….
Peter: Well, fellas… it’s very late… Don’t you think it’s time for us to go to sleep now?
John: Hey, Peter! Save a place for me in your house, so that Thomas and Matthew can sleep here.
Peter: Of course, John, come… There’s always a place for everyone! Shall we go, Jesus?
Jesus and I went with Peter and Andrew to spend the night in their home. Jesus did not utter a word along the way. He looked extremely worried…
Peter: Goodnight everyone! Sleep well and don’t snore a lot!
Since the house was small and there were many people inside, Jesus and I slept on a mat by the door…
John: What’s wrong, Moreno?
Jeter: Nothing, John… I just can’t sleep…
John: It must be the heat…
Jeter: Yeah, maybe. Know what? I’m gonna take in some fresh air.
Jesus went outside the house. The entire city was dark and quiet. Above him the stars were sparkling bright, like little lamps hanging from the sky… Jesus breathed deeply to take in some air, and went down the street leading to the wharf…
Only the rhythmic rushing of the waves could be heard, as well as the soft and routinary breathing of the sea, as if the Lake of Tiberias was also asleep at that moment… Jesus looked for a piece of stone to sit on. He stayed there for some time, his gaze lost in the darkness around him…
Jesus: Father, you are in heaven as well as on earth, with us. Blessed are you. In your name we rest our hope. May the day of our Liberation come soon. May your Justice from heaven be fulfilled on earth too. Provide for our food tomorrow. Give us today the hunger to struggle for tomorrow’s food. Forgive us our sins and teach us to forgive. Let not fear overcome us. Free us from our oppressors. Free the prophet John from prison. Free our people…. Make us all free, our Father!
After a while, Jesus returned to Peter’s house. He lay down on the mat, by the door and slept at once. Then it was dawn…
Rufina: Get up guys, the cocks are already crowing!… Wake up, grandmother Rufa, c’mon… hey, Peter…. it’s time to get up!… Jonas, father-in-law…. Jonas!…I know you’re awake, huh!… Little Simon, m’son… put on your sandals now… Shh! you might wake Mingo up!… Andrew, for heaven’s sake!… Hey, you two, move fast!
John: Hmmm…! Hell, I could have slept the whole morning!
Rufa: My dear, have you seen my sandals?
Mingo: Mamma, I want some milk…. I’m hungry!
Rufina: Peter, for God’s sake, get up and milk the goat!..
Peter: Right away, woman, right away…
Rufina: John, on your toes, and wake Jesus up. We can’t open the door with him lying there…
John: Leave him alone, Rufina. He spent the night outside, that’s why he’s sleeping like a log now…
Peter: Hey, you, Jesus, move over, ’cuz no one can pass through that door… Jesus!!…
Jesus: Hmmm… Leave me alone, Peter… I’m sleepy…
Rufina: Of course, after having spent the night bummin’ around the whole town of Capernaum, who would wanna get up this early…
Peter: And what the hell was this fellow doing during the night, huh? Searching for bats? ….Hey, Rupphi, get me the broom so I can hit the sleepyhead… You’ll see how fast he’ll get on his toes!
Jesus: Okay, okay, Peter, I’m gettin’ up… Hmmm…! But you’d better be ready tomorrow, for I’m gonna wake you up with a bucket of cold water in your face!
Peter: Now, may I know what you lost that you had to go out on the street at midnight?
Jesus: Nothing, Peter. I felt warm, so I went out for some fresh air. Then I prayed.
Peter: You prayed? At that time of the night?
Rufina: How’s that?… Is there anything wrong, Jesus?
Jesus: No, woman. I was just praying.
Rufina: But one prays when one has many problems, doesn’t he?
Jesus: Well, I guess it’s the prophet John who has a bigger problem in his prison cell, don’t you think so? I was praying for him, that the Lord may help him and give him strength. Haven’t you prayed for John?
Peter: Yes, yes… Well, no. The truth is, it never occurred to me…. What about you, Rupphi?
Rufina: Oh, Peter, you know I have a lot of things in my head…
Peter: The truth is…..
Rufa: The truth is, we’ve forgotten all the good customs in this house, and nobody prays anymore. I dunno why everything gets lost in this house. Look at my sandals, where the hell are they, huh?
Rufina: Here they are, Gran’ma, and stop complaining. I’m sure Mingo hid them under the stove…
As always, that was a day of hard work. When it was dark we would get together at Peter and Rufina’s house…
Peter: Say, Jesus, tell me something… are you gonna pray for the prophet John again, tonight?
Jesus: Why not…?
Peter: I just thought, we could pray for him together… What do you say?
Rufa: That’s a good idea my son. They say that when you pray at home, God’s blessings enter…
Rufina: Hey men, all of you move over here and let’s pray!
Everyone was amenable to the idea and so, one by one we seated ourselves, forming a small circle on the earthen floor of Peter’s small house. A small lamp was burning in a hole in the wall…
Jesus: Gran’ma, we shall pray together for the prophet John, that God may release him from prison. Will you start the prayer?
Rufa: What did you say, m’son?
Jesus: That you start with a prayer that you already know.
Rufa: Oh yes, m’son, I know a lot of prayers that my mother taught me. Let me see… let me think… a prayer to release somebody from prison… I think the best will be Psalm 87. Here goes… Ehem… “Oh Lord my God, day and night I ask you to hear my prayer, incline your ear that you may hear my plea. My God, I lift up my hands to you, why do you reject me, why do you hide your face from me?
Peter: One moment, mother-in-law, one moment. Go slow, dammit, is there a fire somewhere that you have to do it that fast?
Rufa: If I don’t do it that way, I won’t remember the last part of the prayer.
John: Well, I got stuck in the first part. I don’t even remember the number of the psalm.
Rufa: It’s Psalm 87, about the prisoners. Well, if you want I can also pray Psalm 88, but that is an intense prayer. You gotta be careful.
Jesus: What do you mean, it’s an intense prayer? What’s it about, Gran’ma?
Rufa: Well, it’s really… a strong prayer. It doesn’t fail; it asks God for seven curses against the enemy. Do you see? Of the seven, if one doesn’t apply then the other one does. My mother taught me that every prayer has its own intention. If you wanna earn money, you pray Psalm 64. For a safe trip, it’s Psalm 22. For chest pains, the prayer of the four angels. When there is a storm, it’s Psalm 28. Businessmen pray Solomon’s prayer… and so forth and so on.
John: Midwives pray Psalm 126 in reverse, otherwise, the baby is a breach!
Rufa: Hey, what are you laughin’ at?
Jesus: Nothing, Gran’ma. You speak of prayers like they were kitchen recipes.
Mingo: Papa, lemme have some bread!
Peter: Again? Haven’t you eaten yet?
Mingo: But I’m still hungry…
Peter: You better shut up, we’re praying.
Rufina: C’mon, Gran’ma, continue praying.
Rufa: You continue this time. I’ve lost my concentration.
John: Go ahead, Rufina, it’s your turn.
Rufina: You see…. I don’t know any prayer by memory. I just invent my prayers.
Peter: Well, that’s better, Rufina. C’mon, begin.
Rufina: Okay, let me think… “Oh God, Oh King, Almighty and most Holy Lord, most admirable and most powerful Judge of the high heavens…!”
Peter: If you keep on going up, Rupphi, you might fall!
Rufina: Hey, Peter, be a li’l more respectful, will you? We’re talking to God.
Jesus: That’s right, Rufina, but you don’t have to exaggerate… God prefers simple things, don’t you think so? Talk to him like a friend, like you were face to face with him…
Rufa: Take care not to get burned, son. Look, God is like the sun: you can’t look at his face. One can’t see God’s face because He makes your eyes small… and you die!
Jesus: You believe that, Gran’ma?
Rufa: At least, that’s what the sacred books say…
Jesus: I dunno, but for me, whoever wrote it didn’t know God very well, because… with God, you can be trustful.
Rufina: Yeah, but neither should you abuse that trust. After all, God is God.
Jesus: After all, God is our father. You can always trust your father.
Mingo: Mamma, I’m hungry, gimme more bread…
Rufina: Quiet, Mingo!… Can’t you see we’re praying?
John: C’mon, Peter. It’s your turn now… At the rate we’re going, the next cocks will be sitting by our side…. Hmmmm…
Peter: Okay… It’s my turn now…. Ehem…
Mingo: Papa, I’m hungry…!
Peter: Quiet, I said!
John: C’mon, Peter….
Peter: Hold it, John…I dunno where to begin…I can’t think of anything…
Mingo: Papa, gimme some more bread, I’m still hungry!!
Peter: My goodness, how can you pray with these little brats around!… Go get another piece of bread, and shut up…. These kids are really getting on my nerves!
Jesus: Look Peter. I’m beginning to think that Mingo knows how to pray a lot better than all of us.
Peter: What did you say, Jesus?
Jesus: Mingo never stops asking you and Rufina for a piece of bread, and he succeeds in getting it. You have granted his wish just to get it over with. The same is true with God. If we, whose hearts are smaller than this fist, give the best to our children, how can God not grant us the best too… He whose heart is greater than the sea?
Jesus: So we can pray with all confidence and say to him: Our Father, in heaven, holy be your name, your kingdom come…
That night, by the Lake of Galilee, Jesus taught us how to pray….
Sleeping on a bed was a luxury in Israel. Only the rich had beds, but these were not exactly like the ones we have at present. On some occasions, these beds served as dining tables during the day. The country folk slept on mats or straw mattresses which were laid on the ground and people covered themselves with blankets.
On several occasions, the gospel refers to Jesus’ custom of praying in silence at night (Lk 5:l6). In all probability, Jesus complied with the traditional prayers of his town: At dawn, at dusk, before meals, in the synagogue on Saturdays, and so forth. But he did not confine himself to “what was mandated.” He talked to God in a personal manner, outside the bounds of liturgical laws, when he felt the need, when he was confronted with a problem, when he had to make a decision. He did not pray out of obligation, but simply because his relationship with God was such that he had to talk to him as if he were a father.
In teaching the Lord’s prayer to his disciples, Jesus veers away from the customary. The prayers of the Israelites were in Hebrew. The Lord’s prayer, on the other hand, is an Aramaic prayer, the common language spoken by the people. Jesus calls God “Abba,” an informal word in Aramaic. This shows that Jesus prayed to God in his mother tongue. And when he taught his friends how to pray, he taught them a community prayer in Aramaic. With this, Jesus took the prayer from the sacred and liturgical milieu, and situated it within the familiar and daily life of the people.
In Jesus’ mother tongue, the Lord’s prayer sounds like this: “Abba, yitqaddas semaj, tete maljutaj….” Jesus teaches his friends to invoke God as “Abba,” as “Papa,” “Daddy.” He uses the same words that children used to refer to their father. “Abba” by its origin, is a typical first utterance of an infant. In Aramaic, the baby begins to speak by saying “Abba,” “Imma” (Papa, Mamma). In Jesus’ time this word was used not only by little children but by grown-ups also as a sign of their close affinity to their parents. For Jesus’ contemporaries, it was inconceivable to address God in such a familiar manner. For them it was impolite. We must not think, therefore, that for Jesus, “Abba” was a vulgar word. On the contrary, it was a very significant word. When he tells his disciples not to call anyone Father (Mt 23:9), he is not referring to the carnal father, but that he tells us not to abuse such an important word. “Father” “Abba,” must be reserved only for God.
The Lord’s prayer, more than a fixed formula, includes all that speaks of an attitude of life. From the two versions of the gospel (Mt 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4), that of Luke is an older version and retains the more original words of Jesus. The Lord’s prayer underscores the attitude of complete trust in the Lord: We can call God “Abba” because we are certain we are his children and that he loves us. (Rom 8:l5; Gal 4:6).
The idea of forgiveness is foremost in the Lord’s prayer, because the entire prayer leads the heart toward the future: toward the Kingdom that is to come, toward God’s justice on the last day of judgment, toward that final bread of life that will satisfy all forms of hunger. At that time, only God and his forgiveness could save people. By forgiving one another, we move forward to that day. By sharing our food as well. All prayers seek the coming of the kingdom of equality, justice and freedom, the Kingdom of God. A mere repetiton of the Lord’s prayer without undergoing a profound change in attitude distorts the very message of Jesus, which is so opposed to the routinary prayers uttered by the lips but not by the heart.
In this episode Jesus prays for the release of John the Baptist. Praying for others was very important in this prayer of Jesus. This appears on several occasions in the gospel (Lk 22:31-32; Jn 14:15-16). Although it may not seem so at first, it is very significant. In Israel, praying for others was not a common practice. Interceding for others was typical of the prophet, of the man who, in a special way, felt he had the responsibility for and the concern for the problems of his people. Jesus’ manner of praying shows the awareness that was gradually developing within, that he was getting closer to the legacy of the Jewish prophets. In this episode, the way Rufa and Rufina prayed and Peter’s vacillation reflect the praying customs of the simple folks of Israel. In general, God was viewed in their prayer as a remote king. Praying was considered a manner of rendering homage. As if everything must be done like a ceremony, like what customarily was done in the presence of kings. Thus, the tendency to employ fixed and solemn formulas, set forth by ancient traditions. Naturally, prayer was also associated with the idea of merit. It was believed that prayers helped in obtaining favors from God. If community prayers were at all recommended, it was because they reached heaven with greater impact. When Jesus looks into the child’s spontaneity, his simplicity and his trusting insistence to serve as our model for prayer, he is in fact revolutionizing prayer for Israel and for the religions of other nations.
(Mt 6:5-l5; Lk 11:1-4)