Sunday, July 17, 2022

The Pray-er and Pray-ee of Prayer

Below is a rough translation and some preliminary comments regarding Luke 11:1-13, the Revised Common Lectionary gospel reading for the 10thSunday after Pentecost. While translating the text, it occurred to me that something that might be most valuable as a next step would be to outline the text, since it seems to be moving from one idea to the other along the way. 

I am going to make a distinction, which will work a lot better writing than it would speaking, between the prayer (the actual message and/or request that one is putting out there), the pray-er (the person asking, seeking, knocking) and the pray-ee (the one who is petitioned, sought, or whose place one wants to enter.)  All of that may be rather obvious, but I want to use those terms consistently in my comments (not translation) whether the topic is ‘prayer as speaking to God’ or ‘prayer as asking someone for an egg.’ The older British use of ‘pray’ often had nothing to do with a religious exercise, but was essentially a firm, polite request (Like Sherlock Holmes saying to a distraught client who has gotten off track explaining a problem, “Pray continue your narrative.”) Sometimes I find it helpful to remember that, even in English, prayer is not necessarily just ‘talking to God’ or a ‘religious’ act. It can be something as simple as asking politely.

As usual, your comments are welcomed!  

Καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν τῷ εἶναι αὐτὸν ἐν τόπῳ τινὶ προσευχόμενον, ὡς ἐπαύσατοεἶπέν τις τῶν μαθητῶν αὐτοῦ πρὸς αὐτόν, Κύριε, δίδαξον ἡμᾶς προσεύχεσθαι, καθὼς καὶ Ἰωάννης ἐδίδαξεν τοὺς μαθητὰς αὐτοῦ. 
And it happened in his being in a certain place praying, when he finished, a certain one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as also John taught his disciples.” 
ἐγένετο: AMI 3s, γίνομαι,1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being
εἶναι: PAInf, εἰμί,1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
προσευχόμενον: PMPart asm, προσεύχομαι,1) to offer prayers, to pray 
ἐπαύσατο: AMI 3s, παύω,1) to make to cease or desist  
εἶπέν: AAI 3s, λέγω,1) to say, to speak  
δίδαξον: AAImpv 2s, διδάσκω,1) to teach  
προσεύχεσθαι: PMInf, προσεύχομαι,1) to offer prayers, to pray
ἐδίδαξεν: AAI 3s, διδάσκω,1) to teach 
1. At least in the mind of this anonymous disciple, the idea that prayer is just “talking to God” or “saying willy-nilly anything that crosses your mind to God” is incorrect. This request – and the practice of John the Baptizer that he references in the request – presupposes that there is an actual, teachable skill to praying, as well as a disposition that is appropriate to the person pray-er and a disposition that the pray-er ought to suppose about God.
2. The question I want to raise from the outset is whether the ‘teachable’ part of praying is with regard to the form or the content. What do the disciples need/want to know here? Are they asking about whether we begin with praise, confess, then request – all of which seems like the kind of strategy that one might take when asking a king for a boon? Are they asking about whether they should be focused on the day-to-day indignities of life, the pestilent problems that come with family, vocation, and so forth? Or, are they asking whether they should pray for the power to overthrow the Roman Empire v. the power to be good witnesses within the Empire? It would seem that if prayer were simply a matter of listing grievances or expressing desires no one would need to be taught how to do it. 

εἶπεν δὲ αὐτοῖς, Οταν προσεύχησθελέγετε, Πάτερ, ἁγιασθήτω τὸ ὄνομά σου: ἐλθέτωἡ βασιλεία σου: 
Then he said to them, “When you may pray, say, ‘Father, your name be hallowed; your reign come; 
εἶπέν: AAI 3s, λέγω,1) to say, to speak  
προσεύχησθε: PMSubj 2p, προσεύχομαι,1) to offer prayers, to pray
λέγετε: PAImpv 2p, λέγω,1) to say, to speak 
ἁγιασθήτω: APImpv 3s, ἁγιάζω,1) to render or acknowledge, or to be venerable or hallow 
ἐλθέτωἡ: AAImpv 3s, ἔρχομαι,1) to come 
1. There is no “our” in the address to “Father” in this version of the prayer (see v.13, n.3 below), as well as no “who is in heaven” “your will be done on earth as in heaven.”  
2. These two phrases, “Your name be hallowed” and “Your reign come” are imperatives. And ἁγιασθήτω is a passive imperative which always baffle me a bit. I think if this were a petition to a king, this voicing might be something like, "May you live forever!" That sounds like the subjunctive voice with a touch of urgency. Still, I am not sure how to navigate these third person imperatives. 

τὸν ἄρτον ἡμῶν τὸν ἐπιούσιον δίδου ἡμῖν τὸ καθ' ἡμέραν:
Our appointed bread give to us each day; 
δίδου: PAImpv 2s, δίδωμι, to give, present (with implied notion of giving freely unforced; opposed to ἀποδίδωμι
1. The word typically translated as “daily bread” (ἐπιούσιον) is only used here and in the parallel prayer of Matthew 6. In its explanation of the word, Bullinger’s lexicon begins with this parenthetical note: "(a word coined by our Lord, and found only as below).  It is not the same word as in the phrase translated as “each day” (καθ' ἡμέραν)." Taken apart, it seems to be the prefix  with the root , which is a form of the verb 'to be.' Bullinger ends by offering these possibilities: "Literally 'our bread, coming upon us, give us this day” or “our bread for our going upon (or journeying), give us this day.” My guess at it follows Young's Literal Translation, " our appointed bread be giving us daily."  

καὶ ἄφες ἡμῖν τὰς ἁμαρτίας ἡμῶν, καὶ γὰρ αὐτοὶ ἀφίομεν παντὶ ὀφείλοντιἡμῖν: καὶ μὴ εἰσενέγκῃς ἡμᾶς εἰς πειρασμόν. 
And forgive to us our sins, for also we forgive all who are indebted to us; and do not lead us into temptation. 
ἄφες: AAImpv 2s, ἀφίημι,1) to send away  ...  1a1) of a husband divorcing his wife  1b) to send forth, yield up, to expire  1c) to let go, let alone, let be  1c1) to disregard  1c2) to leave, not to discuss now, (a topic)  … 1d) to let go, give up a debt, forgive, to remit 
ἀφίομεν: PAI 1p, ἀφίημι,1) to send away  ...  1a1) of a husband divorcing his wife  1b) to send forth, yield up, to expire  1c) to let go, let alone, let be  1c1) to disregard  1c2) to leave, not to discuss now, (a topic)  … 1d) to let go, give up a debt, forgive, to remit 
ὀφείλοντι: PAPart dsm, ὀφείλω,1) to owe  1a) to owe money, be in debt for  1a1) that which is due, the debt  2) metaph. the goodwill due 
 εἰσενέγκῃς: AASubj 2p, εἰσφέρω,1) to bring into, in or to  2) to lead into
1. The word translated as “forgive” has a very wide set of meanings. It is typically translated as “forgive” when associated with “sins,” but it could easily be “release,” particularly in ‘releasing’ debts. 
2. I’ve always wondered why we pray for God not to lead us into temptation (or ‘test’), since one does not typically imagine God leading us into temptation. I don’t, anyway. 
3. On a side note: The phrase “Lord, we just …” is not found in this model prayer. 
4. And there's no concluding "Amen," so how do we know when we can open our eyes? 

Καὶ εἶπεν πρὸς αὐτούς, Τίς ἐξ ὑμῶν ἕξει φίλον καὶ πορεύσεται πρὸς αὐτὸν μεσονυκτίου καὶ εἴπῃ αὐτῷ,Φίλε, χρῆσόν μοι τρεῖς ἄρτους, 
And he said to them, “Who out of you will have a friend and will go to him in the middle of the night and would say to him, ‘Friend, furnish to me three loaves,
εἶπέν: AAI 3s, λέγω,1) to say, to speak  
ἕξει: FAI 3s, ἔχω,1) to have, i.e. to hold 
πορεύσεται: FMI 3s, πορεύομαι,1) to lead over, carry over, transfer 
εἴπῃ: AASubj 3s, λέγω,1) to say, to speak
χρῆσόν: AAImpv 2s, χράωto furnish what is needful;
1. I am using “furnish” for χράω instead of “give” in order to distinguish it from other words the mean something like “give” (παρέχω and δίδωμι) throughout this text.
2. Immediately following the content of the prayer, Jesus turns to addressing the disposition of the pray-er, the praying one. The pray-er is like this friend of a friend who shows up unannounced and in need and asking for the pray-ee to supply what is lacking. That disposition would take the edge off of the imperatives that could otherwise appear very sharp and demanding. The oft-used phrase “asking for a friend” would actually work here. 
3. The Lord's Prayer has been a central part of the Christian tradition throughout its entire history, used liturgically in worship and educationally in catechisms and so forth. This part of Jesus' teaching, his response to the disciple's initial request, is rarely included. That may be fine if one is reading Matthew, but it does seem to violate Luke's intention. Perhaps preachers who follow the lectionary can help to restore Luke's inclusion of these teaching, and not just the words of the prayer itself. 

ἐπειδὴ φίλος μου παρεγένετο ἐξ ὁδοῦ πρός με καὶ οὐκ ἔχω ὃ παραθήσω αὐτῷ: 
for my friend arrived out of a journey to me and I do not have what I shall set before him’? 
παρεγένετο: AMI 3s, παραγίνομαι,1) to be present, to come near, approach
ἔχω: PAI 1s,ἔχω,1) to have, i.e. to hold
παραθήσω: FAI 1s, παρατίθημι,1) to place beside or near or set before 
1. With this explanation, with the conjunction ἐπειδὴ (“for” or “because”) introducing a cause, the pray-er is indeed asking a favor at an inconvenient time, but only because s/he was put upon in an equally inconvenient way. The supposition is that the pray-er and the pray-ee both understand the value of hospitality, so that the pray-er needs supplies is not in question. 
2. It seems important that the pray-er is not asking for her/his own sake, but in order to serve another well. The pray-er’s need is grounded in the need of another. 
3. To circle back to my questions in v.1, n.2, it would seem – with the immediate turn this illustration – that Jesus is not addressing the form or the content of praying, per se, but is speaking to the disposition of persistence, even if praying is something of an inconvenient ask. 

κἀκεῖνος ἔσωθεν ἀποκριθεὶς εἴπῃ, Μή μοι κόπους πάρεχε: ἤδη ἡ θύρα κέκλεισται, καὶ τὰ παιδία μου μετ' ἐμοῦ εἰς τὴν κοίτην εἰσίν: οὐ δύναμαι ἀναστὰς δοῦναί σοι. 
And he from within having answered would say, ‘Do not offer me trouble; already the door has been shut, and my children are with me in the bed; I am not able having risen to give to you.’ 
ἀποκριθεὶς: APPart nsm, ἀποκρίνομαι, 1) to give an answer to a question proposed, to answer 
εἴπῃ: AASubj 3s, λέγω,1) to say, to speak 
πάρεχε: PAImpv 2s, παρέχω,1) to reach forth, offer  2) to show, afford, supply
κέκλεισται: PerfPI 3s, κλείω,1) to shut, shut up 
εἰσίν: PAI 3p, εἰμί,1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
δύναμαι: PMI 1s, δύναμαι,1) to be able, have power
ἀναστὰς: AAPart nsm, ἀνίστημι,1) to cause to rise up, raise up  1a) raise up from laying down
δοῦναί: AAInf, δίδωμι,1) to give  2) to give something to someone
1. The word παρέχω (offer) is now the fourth variation of words for ‘to give.’ We saw δίδωμι in v.3 (give), χράω (furnish) in v.5, and παρατίθημι (set before) in v.6. We see δίδωμι again in this verse. My word choices are selected in order to keep the verbs distinct and because I think the word δίδωμι would be the most commonly used in the NT. 

λέγω ὑμῖν, εἰ καὶ οὐ δώσει αὐτῷ ἀναστὰς διὰ τὸ εἶναι φίλον αὐτοῦ, διά γε τὴν ἀναίδειαν αὐτοῦ ἐγερθεὶς δώσει αὐτῷ ὅσων χρῄζει
I say to you, even if he will not give to him having risen because of the being his friend, still because of his impudence having risen he will give to him whatever he needs.  
λέγω: PAI 1s, λέγω,1) to say, to speak 
δώσει: FAI 3s, δίδωμι,1) to give  2) to give something to someone
ἀναστὰς: AAPart nsm, ἀνίστημι,1) to cause to rise up, raise up
εἶναι: PAInf,  εἰμί,1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
ἐγερθεὶς: APPart nsm, ἐγείρω,1) to arouse, cause to rise 
δώσει: FAI 3s, δίδωμι,1) to give  2) to give something to someone
χρῄζει: PAI 3s, χρῄζω,1) to have need of, to be in want of
1. There is surely some etymological connection between χρῄζ ωhere and χράω in v.5. I’ll need to consult resources in my office to check up on that, but I am officially on vacation at the moment. Perhaps someone out there is a friend who will supply what I need. J
2.The NIV translates all of these pronouns in the second person, as “you” and “your.” I suppose they are trying to keep consistent with the second person language of v.7 and with the premise of the story, which began with “Who out of you…” in v.5. 
3. Capturing the flavor of the word ἀναίδειαν (impudence) here seems a bit tricky. This is the only use of it in the NT and it carries a tone of shamelessness as well as persistence. “Impudence” may sound too strong and judgmental, but the point is that it is not simply out of kindness and friendship that the pray-ee gives in to the pray-er. 
4. I just need to put it out there that this is a curious picture of God. Is Jesus relying on us knowing the claim in Psalm 121:4 that “He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep”? Or, is he sympathizing with the psalmists, whose experience is that God might be sleeping and needs to be awakened (Ps.44:23, 78:65)? And this is one of two teachings of Jesus when it seems that pestering God with repetitive prayers is efficacious, the other being the parable of the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8). 

κἀγὼ ὑμῖν λέγω, αἰτεῖτε, καὶ δοθήσεταιὑμῖν: ζητεῖτε, καὶ εὑρήσετεκρούετε, καὶ ἀνοιγήσεταιὑμῖν. 
And I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; Seek, and you will find; knock, and it shall be opened to you. 
λέγω: PAI 1s, λέγω,1) to say, to speak 
αἰτεῖτε: PAImpv 2p, αἰτέω,1) to ask, beg, call for, crave, desire, require
δοθήσεται: FPI 3s, δίδωμι,1) to give  2) to give something to someone
ζητεῖτε: PAImpv 2p, ζητέω,1) to seek in order to find
εὑρήσετε: FAI 2p, εὑρίσκω,1) to come upon, hit upon, to meet with  1a) after searching, to find a thing sought
κρούετε: PAImpv 2p, κρούω,1) to knock: at the door
ἀνοιγήσεται: FPI 3s, ἀνοίγω,1) to open 
1. Perhaps the impudence of prayer is what this story is all about. Remembering that the request was rooted in a need that arose because the pray-er needed to serve another, praying may be the holy and effective impudence of asking, seeking, and knocking, letting nothing stop us from serving one who has come to us requiring hospitality. 

10 πᾶς γὰρ ὁαἰτῶν λαμβάνει, καὶ ὁ ζητῶν εὑρίσκει, καὶ τῷ κρούοντι ἀνοιγ[ής]εται
For everyone who asks receives, and who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will open. 
αἰτῶν: PAPart nsm, αἰτέω,1) to ask, beg, call for, crave, desire, require
λαμβάνει: PAI 3s, λαμβάνω,1) to take  
ζητῶν: PAPart nsm, ζητέω,1) to seek in order to find
εὑρίσκει: PAI 3s, εὑρίσκω,1) to come upon, hit upon, to meet with  1a) after searching, to find a thing sought
κρούοντι: PAPart dsm, κρούω,1) to knock: at the door
ἀνοιγ[ής]εται: FPI 3s, ἀνοίγω,1) to open 
1. What keeps me asking for protection of black lives and police lives and for a modicum of sanity in our civil discourse in days as challenging as these past few years is this declaration that persistent, impudent praying will not go unanswered. 

11 τίνα δὲ ἐξ ὑμῶν τὸν πατέρα αἰτήσει ὁ υἱὸς ἰχθύν, καὶ ἀντὶ ἰχθύος ὄφιν αὐτῷἐπιδώσει
Yet which father out of you the son will ask for a fish, and instead of a fish will give to him serpent? 
αἰτήσει: FAI 3s, αἰτέω,1) to ask, beg, call for, crave, desire, require
ἐπιδώσει: FAI 3s, ἐπιδίδωμι,1) to hand, give by hand 
1. The rough translation here reads very woodenly and need refining in later stages. Still, the point is easy to apprehend.
2. Speaking of the point, the perspective now shifts from the pray-er to the pray-ee, from the permission for impudence to the disposition of the one who loves and therefore will grant what is asked instead of pulling a deadly switch. 

12 ἢ καὶ αἰτήσει ᾠόν, ἐπιδώσει αὐτῷ σκορπίον; 
And if he will ask for an egg, will give to him a scorpion? 
αἰτήσει: FAI 3s, αἰτέω,1) to ask, beg, call for, crave, desire, require
ἐπιδώσει: FAI 3s, ἐπιδίδωμι,1) to hand, give by hand 
1. These rhetorical questions seem to assume that God gives out of love and care, like a loving parent. That's a little different than the point of v.8 where God answers prayer not because of friendship but because of impudence. Hmm... If we're looking for greater insight to God, whom I am calling the pray-ee, this may be confusing. If we're looking at the experience of those of us who are pray-ers, there may be some more resonance here. Some of our experiences of prayer seem to be God lovingly providing everything that we need. Some of them feel like we are knocking over and over, with very little response. Our prayers vacillate between expressions of confidence and of persistence. Taken together, these teachings cover quite a spectrum of prayer experiences. 

13 εἰ οὖν ὑμεῖς πονηροὶ ὑπάρχοντες οἴδατε δόματα ἀγαθὰ διδόναι τοῖς τέκνοις ὑμῶν, πόσῳ μᾶλλον ὁ πατὴρ [ὁ] ἐξ οὐρανοῦ δώσει πνεῦμα ἅγιον τοῖς αἰτοῦσιν αὐτόν.
Therefore if you being evil have known to give good gifts to your children, how much more the father out of heaven will give a holy spirit to the ones who ask him. 
ὑπάρχοντες: PAPart npm, ὑπάρχω,1) to begin below, to make a beginning 
οἴδατε: PerfAI 2p,ἴδω, to see, to know.
διδόναι: PAInf, δίδωμι,1) to give
δώσει: FAI 3s, δίδωμι,1) to give
αἰτοῦσιν: PAPart dpm, αἰτέω,1) to ask, beg, call for, crave, desire, require
1. Well, pairing this verse with Luke 18:19 (“there is none good but God”) perhaps we can now quit pretending that Paul’s insistence on the breadth and depth of sinfulness is different from Jesus’ view of “I’m okay; you’re okay.” Particularly when considering the human life and love against the life and love of God, Luke’s Jesus has no qualms simply saying, “If you being evil …”  Of course there is more to the human story – a lot more – but both Jesus and Paul give us ample reasons for exploring both the sinfulness and the more. Still, analogy is how we think, so Jesus is comparing us (evil though we may be, yet also capable of loving our offspring and giving them life-sustaining needs as opposed to deadly things) to God, who love for us is “much more.” (In this, Luke’s Jesus also sounds quite similar to Paul, whose language of “much more surely” in Romans 4-5 is worth a lifetime of contemplation.) 
2. The reference to God as a father and we God’s children hearkens back to the language of the prayer itself. 
3. But, notice that in the oldest manuscripts – reflected in my translation but see the KJV for what other manuscripts contain – in v. 2 there is no reference to “Father in heaven” or “may your will be done on earth as in heaven,” or a conclusion of the “kingdom, the power, and the glory forever.” So, the reference to “father out of heaven” here is a new twist to the text. 
4. The referent to ‘a holy spirit’ (there is no definite article in the text, so I am hesitant to impose what sounds like a fully developed Trinitarian assumption on it) seems to arise out of nowhere. The asking, seeking, and knocking is about bread, fish, and eggs, but not about bread, fish, and eggs. It is about a receiving a badly needed holy spirit. 

If we were to outline this text, I would suggest the following. 

I. The Request                                               v.1
II. The Response – a Model Prayer           vv. 2-4
III. The Disposition of the Pray-er                        vv. 5-6
IV. The Disposition of the Pray-ee (1)      vv. 7-8
V. The Promise of Prayer                            vv.9-10
VI. The Disposition of the Pray-ee (2)      vv.11-13


  1. Why do you think in v. 4 Luke has Jesus ask God to forgive our sins, while Matthew uses debts? Is this a theological statement? Or just a variation in translation from the Aramaic? (This bugs me.)
    Thanks for your work and blog! It is my starting point every week.

    1. I think that it has more to do with variation in translation. Either way, we must forgive others of anything that they may have done to offend or hurt us if we wish God to forgive our wrongdoings.

    2. Debts, trespasses, sins... All three seem to be indications of our profound brokenness and separation.

    3. There are two words, which apparently can be used interchangeably in some of their various shades of meaning. In fact, Luke uses both of them here in v.4. Initially he says, "forgive us our "sins" (ἁμαρτίας), but then he follows, "as we forgive all who are indebted (ὀφείλοντι) to us." His participle for "indebted" (ὀφείλοντι) is the same root of Matthew's noun, "Forgive us our debts (ὀφείλημα).
      Again, I think the interchangeability is indicative of the fullness of the word "forgive" (ἀφίημι). I think that term has been reduced to meaning "forgive our sins, so we can be saved from the punishment of them." If we think of the term "divorce" or "deliver" or something less judgmental, we might see sin as a power from which we need to be delivered, rather than the bad things we did so now we're trying to be delivered from the resulting punishment.
      The joy of preaching is that we get to revel in the fullness of these words in front of people!

    4. I have meditated on this and Matthews versions for years finding occasional insights that have gradually changed my reading of the prayer. My final and most recent was that eastern orthodox read the final line as protect us from coming to trial and save us from the accuser ( Matthews version) which doubles down on all the other parts of the second half of the prayer that we in the west have tended to spiritualise our reading of. The second part is deeply grounded in the material life and needs of Jewish people - freedom from hunger or physical hardship, freedom from debt and freedom from injustice at the hands of enemies. I think changes our perspective.

  2. Thank you for the first laugh of the day! "Lord we just..."

  3. When I read, "impudent praying will not go unanswered," what came to mind were your comments about "need" in the commentary on the verses just prior, with Martha and Mary. The needfull-ness of which Martha is aware, will not go "unanswered." That connection moves me. Thank you for every Sunday, btw.

  4. confused on the absence of 'hemon' - our - in your Gk version? (of course, I'm still using Textus Receptus 1894 - which version are you in?

    1. Bill,
      I pull the Greek text from, which has the following information:
      Novum Testamentum Graece, Nestle-Aland 26th edition
      © 1979, Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, Stuttgart

  5. Maybe the verbs in vv 10-11 are not imperatives but statements of how things are in your friends/obligation/hospitality culture? You ask, and you will receive etc. In other words, the ask etc is not directed to God at all?? v 12 would flow quite naturally then? Just a thought...

    1. Hi Rick,
      Indeed they are indicative and not imperative verbs. Just like the word "pray" can mean a religious form of encountering God, these two verses seem to make an analogy between how we approach God and the kind of expectations we have in typical discourse in the world.

  6. Would the old word “importuning” work in verse 8? I suppose I am focusing on the action/behavior. An “I need your help” expressed vigorously, but not inappropriately, given how you have invited us to see the “disposition of persistence” in the pray-er.

    1. I think "importuning" works for those who know the term. Yes.

  7. Thank you, Mark! I have missed your insights.
    This has given me so much - I've always had trouble connecting the three sections of this pericope. I think I've got my sermon for tomorrow!

  8. I am intrigued by Kenneth Bailey's approach to the word translated as impudence / persistence placed within the context of the parable "can you imagine." 1) the friend who arrives at night would be a guest to the entire community 2) the answer to the request is "no!" 3) the one being asked gives lame excuses and is no friend of the one asking 3) the request is minimal 3 loaves of bread many other things would need to be supplied...probably by others in the community 4) he gets up and gives more than what was asked. This deals with the nature of God "When you go to this kind of a neighbor everything is against you. It is night. He is asleep in bed. The door is locked. His children are asleep. He does not like you and yet you will receive even more than you ask. This is is because your neighbor is a man of integrity and will not violate that quality. The God to whom you pray also has an integrity that he will not violate; and beyond this, he loves you." Bailey, Poet and Peasant


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