Jesus uses the term pagan to describe both a category of people devoted to the worship of false gods as well as an extremely dangerous mental and spiritual attitude that anyone can have in his/her relationship with God. Jesus indicates that using prayer to advise God about our needs is extremely ineffective, a useless waste of words, and even worse, a lack of respect for God. Jesus reminds us that God the Father knows all our needs and expectations, and all our desires even before we know them ourselves and before we can convey a single thought or word to express them to Him. Jesus points out to his disciples that this obtuse, widespread attitude with regard to prayer is a useless waste of words revealing a poor and limited understanding of God's heart, a reckless spiritual shallowness that does not lead to any benefit or generate well-being in one’s life. This is a form of prayer that affirms itself by the sum of its words; it lingers in the stillness of the suggestive sounds of its invocation depriving prayer of its real power.
Ambition and stupidity urgently need to manifest themselves through floods of words because it is in their very nature; they need to use insistent words and they support themselves using an emotional outburst of opinion through an exhausting repetition of the most delirious lies, until, for the most imprudent people, they begin to sound true and certain. This foolish habit can lead to the insidious reasoning according to which this is how we should behave with God. We think that the Lord needs our mountains of insistent, provocative words to know and to meet our needs. This reasoning assumes that the God to whom we are praying does not know us at all, does not love us, does not take us into consideration, and is not our loving and caring Father. If the aim of our prayer is to convince God by our verbal haranguing, this can only mean that we think God is distant and deaf, listless, indifferent, darkly aloof and lunatic. According to this conviction, God is avid to hear the verbal ardor of his children and He needs ever larger doses of bombastic, aggressive words to be convinced, in His divine laziness, to come to our rescue and to take care of us. This thinking process is outrageous and stupid, and stupidity is never, ever harmless.
It is for this reason that Jesus, before teaching the Lord's Prayer, draws our attention on the futility of the spiritual attitude of the pagans, whose prayer is ineffective and pretentious; Jesus says in fact: Do not be like them. They, the pagans, are accustomed to prostrating themselves at the feet of the powerful for a loaf of bread, but the powerful are deaf and unjust, insensitive; the powerful are careful and diligent only with regard to their own interests and benefits. They, the pagans, submissive and resigned, are used to shouting their needs and exposing their poverty to ears and hearts made of stone, they are used to empty, false answers, they are accustomed to the perverse injustice of the powerful and they are convinced that God is unfair and likewise perverse.
The first luminous revelation that Jesus offers us in The Our Father to help us to pray it with love and efficaciously, is to never, under any circumstances, give space in our minds or words to curse life or to think ill of God,
This is revealed both in the introductory part of the prayer, in which the terms and words used to address God are all marked by praise and blessing of His name and His will, as well as in the end of the prayer, which excludes absolutely and definitively the idea that God could procure damage or to be the cause of our evil and temptation; instead He is the only One who can free us from the jaws of evil and temptation.
Only if the mind is free from thinking ill of God can the heart effectively ask for today's bread, bread intended as the sum of all that we need to live in the present.
The second luminous revelation on how to pray with love and efficacy Jesus offers us in the terminology itself of the prayer which he is teaching us; it is, in fact, a prayer that is entirely and always in the present. According to Jesus there are only two days in life in which it is impossible to do anything and they are yesterday and tomorrow. This is why the Lord's Prayer is entirely presented in the present tense. Here the Greek text uses the imperative which belongs to the verbal system of the aorist, used to indicate an action in a timeless time, an action which has already been accomplished the moment it is pronounced. The Our Father - Avùn in Aramaic - affirms only what the Father has already established and willed, what he carries out and has carried out for us in every moment.
The third luminous revelation is to pray with love and efficacy; Jesus shows it to us by revealing to us finally the core of the prayer, of every prayer, of every bond of love: forgiveness, forgiveness that is received from God at the very time we offer it to our brothers.
The very heart of prayer, the power of prayer, the very meaning of prayer, just as of praise - Jesus points out, as a final consideration - is forgiveness to ask of God and to offer our brothers. The true prayer of love is precisely this, all the rest is likely to be an unnecessary, disrespectful, muddled repetition of words that neither changes life nor warms the heart.
Note to the reader
More about the prayer Our Father - Avùn in Aramaic - can be found in the work Shiloh, by Paolo Spoladore, Usiogope ed., Venice, 2007.