People often misread Matthew in these instances. To explain:
- Jesus did NOT say we should “not babble” or repeat words in prayer. What Jesus says is:
“Do not babble as the pagans do” or "do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do."
While some Protestant translations use the expression “do not say the same things over and over again,” one must not forget that Jesus is saying not to do this “as the pagans” or heathen people did.
Pagans believed that their gods would not pay attention to the prayers unless they called them by name. In some instances they also believed that a deity might be offended unless they were addressed using all their proper titles. To add to this confusion, language differences in the first-century world meant that a pagan worshipper might be pronouncing a deity’s name incorrectly. Unless the name of the god was said right and all the proper titles employed, the deity could ignore the petition.
To avoid this situation pagans devised long lists of names, titles, and even “sounds-like names” or transliterations of a pagan god’s name offered in various ways and spellings that could be said in the hopes that at least one of the pronunciations would be correct. This means the Gentile would be saying a long list of names and titles that sounded like babbling, along the lines of: “O Great god, Poseidon, caretaker of the oceans, king of the seas, mighty Poseidon, Pasiden, Passuden, Possooden, Pecidin…”
Jesus told his followers they didn’t have to do that. You see the Hebrew God of Abraham has a Name, but the Jews, due to how they treat holy things as something that should be used rarely, generally did not employ the Name in prayers or person worship, not by literally pronouncing it anyway. Apparently some Jews and proselytes were imitating the Gentiles and starting to demand that the Name be uttered as correctly lest God not pay attention and the prayer wasted.
Jesus teaches that the God of Abraham does not need to be address with such “babble,” as if unless someone uses the correct formula God will not consider a prayer acceptable. God does not go about ignore people as if one needs to get God’s attention by calling out his Name or saying just the right thing, neither can God be forced to accept a prayer by the mere utterances of a human. No, God is different than the pagan gods.
“Your Father knows what you need before you ask him,” Jesus says at Matthew 5.8. In other words God is always paying attention to you. He doesn’t need to be called in desperation or by any formulized set of names and titles. Jesus then offers a brief and simple prayer which the Church has used ever since.
Mere repetition or the use of a memorized prayer is not the issue. The Shema, which Jews pray daily (“Hear O Israel: The Lord is God, the Lord is One.”), was obviously one of the prayers Jesus said all his life. He constantly makes reference to it, and even today wherever you find a Jew you will find they know this prayer and can even say it in Hebrew. Simple prayers like the Shema, which are actually inspired words of Scripture (Deut 6.4), can be dependable words to use. Often our emotions and inner feelings speak out when we utter them, and the Spirit that inspired these words understands when our deeper feelings are saying more than just the memorized words. ( Romans 8.26-27) Both the Our Father and the Hail Mary are taken from Scripture like the Shema. They are simple, use words inspired of God, and therefore are proper prayers to use in any occasion as often as we need.
- If you are making reference to Jesus’ words at Matthew 5.17-20 you might want to relax about “breaking” laws.
Matthew’s gospel was written by and to Jewish Christians. It reflects their understanding of how to follow Jesus. In the eyes of a Jew who believe that Jesus is the Messiah, doing so in their minds fulfills the Mosaic Law. A faithful Jew obeyed their Messiah, and so Jewish Christians began to observe the Law in the light of Christ. They originally did not abandon it, even eating kosher in some cases. (Note Acts 10.13-14 and 21.17-24) Things eventually became more relaxed among Jewish Christians as the centuries passed, but at the time the Bible was written though Jesus fulfilled the Law for Jewish believers, the Jewish Christians continued to observe it in this fashion at first because simply Jews were charged with keeping it. As their understanding changed, Jewish Christians began to express their obedience to Law as obedience to the Church and to Christ.
Gentile Christians have never been obliged to observe the Mosaic Law. Since only the children of Israel were charged with its observance, only they can technically break its laws. A person who is a member of one nation cannot be charged with breaking the laws of a nation he is not a part of even in today’s modern society.
Interestingly Hebrew Catholics who observe certain aspects of the Law do so only because it preserves their heritage and culture. No Jewish Christian is obligated to do so but no person who becomes a Christian is obliged to discard their ethnic customs and replace their culture with another. Catholics of Jewish origin do not “break the Law” if they do not hold a Seder on Passover or don’t eat kosher foods, but they don’t get merits if they keep these customs upon becoming a Catholic. The reason is that they see their being Catholic as completing their charge to be obedient to the Law.
You might sin, but Gentiles who sin are not breaking the Mosaic Law. It’s still sin, but you have not broken the Law of a nation that you do not belong to.