October 5, 2011 - Wednesday of the Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

The Gospel today raises the question of what Jesus really said. You surely noticed that the Our Father in the Gospel today is rather different from the Our Father that we usually pray. The difference between the Our Father that we usually pray, from Matthew, and the prayer from Luke that we read today are more than just translation issues. This prayer is not even the “Our Father”, it just starts “Father”.

It is not uncommon for Matthew and Luke to relate different versions of events. This can often be explained by saying that both versions occurred. It should not surprise us that Jesus preached two similar but not identical sermons. The differences in the beatitudes, for instance, can be explained in this way. However, it hard to believe that the disciples asked Jesus how to pray more than once and he gave them two versions of the Our Father.

So what are we to think about the faithfulness of the Gospels? The shorter version of the Our Father makes sense if we just assume that Luke got it from someone with a rather poor memory, but if we begin assuming that bad memories are at play in the Gospels, what can we trust? Scholars are far more likely to assume that Luke’s version is original and that Matthew expanded his version, and it is true that there is nothing in Matthew’s version that is not implied in Luke’s, but the devotion of Christians to the Our Father, to the Lord’s Prayer, is precisely because it was written by Jesus Christ, the Son of God, God himself. We want the original!

If we relied on ourselves to reinterpret Christianity with each passing generation, some of us would switch to this Our Father, some of us would stay with Matthew’s version, and some of us would throw up our hands and say, “Let’s forget the whole thing, if we can’t even get the Our Father right.”

It is good to read the Scriptures and seek wisdom from them, but while the Scriptures are the revelation of God to us, our individual interpretation cannot be the final authority, lest the 2 billion Christians have 2 billion Christianities. Nowhere in the Bible does it tell us which Our Father to pray. We must rely on Tradition. The Church has prayed Matthew’s version for thousands of years. This Tradition is more convincing than any scholarly argument or personal feeling. Tradition is also divine revelation.