Jesus Teaches about Prayer

John W. Welch

Jesus recommended personal, individual prayer in these Sermons. He suggested that we go into our closets to pray alone. The Greek uses the second person singular “you”(“thou”)in “when you pray.” He adds that we should not use vain repetitions or pray just to be heard.

In Luke 18:9–14, we read of Jesus telling a parable to “certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others,” about a Pharisee and a publican [tax collector], both of whom went to the temple to pray. The Pharisee, stood and uttered words such as, “God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican,” and proceeded to list his qualities. The publican, meanwhile, smote upon his breast, saying, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” Jesus was teaching us in Luke, as here in 3 Nephi 13:7, to be humble in our prayers, approaching God sincerely. We shall not be heard for “our much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them, for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of before ye ask him.”

Joachim Jeremias, a German theologian (1900–1979) drew attention to the following prayer that is recorded in the Talmud, a prayer that was much like what Jesus is suggesting in the Sermon that we should avoid. It was recorded as Rabbi Nehunia’s prayer of thanks that followed his rather effusive first prayer of praise. The example Jesus gave, then, was taken from a real prayer, or as Jeremias put it, “The prayer was taken from life” (Joachim Jeremias, Parables of Jesus, New York, NY, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1972, 143):

I give thanks to Thee, O Lord my God, that Thou hast set my portion with those who sit in the Beth ha-Midrash (house of learning) and Thou hast not set my portion with those who sit in [street] corners, for I rise early and they rise early, but I rise early for words of Torah and they rise early for frivolous talk; I labour and they labour, but I labour and receive a reward and they labour and do not receive a reward; I run and they run, but I run to the life of the future world and they run to the pit of destruction (Berakoth 28b, in Babylonian Talmud).

John W. Welch Notes