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Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Lord’s Prayer, the Disciples’ Prayer, Our Prayer


In Luke chapter 11 we read "Once, on a certain day, in a particular place (Luke isn’t exactly piling up the details here, is he?) Jesus was praying. And when he had finished one of the disciples (details, Luke, details! Which one?)  said to him, 'Lord, teach us to pray as John the Baptizer taught his disciples.'"

It’s a little bit disappointing that we don’t have any record of what sort of instruction John gave to his disciples.  Perhaps it was something like the Jewish prayer known as the Qaddish:

Magnified and sanctified be his great name in the world He created according to His will. May He establish His kingdom during your life and during your days, and during the life of all the house of Israel, speedily and in the near future. And say Amen.[i]

Again, it’s a little disappointing not to know what John might have taught his disciples, but Jesus took this opportunity to give to his own disciples a form and model of prayer that they  could pray.  It is often pointed out that, despite what we call it, this is not really the “Lord’s prayer”.  This is the model prayer that Jesus, our Lord, gave to his disciples, and by extension, to us.  If we want to read the “Lord’s prayer” we might look to the Gospel of John, chapter 17.

We should also note that this is not the Lord’s Prayer (by whatever name we call it) that we are immediately familiar with.  If someone should call upon us to pray – not mere to say or to repeat – the Lord’s prayer we are likely to begin:

Our Father, who is in heaven, hallowed be thy name

which is how Matthew’s version of the prayer begins.  Matthew’s version of the model prayer, which comes in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, follows a warning against wordy and verbose forms of prayer – which is a little bit ironic since Matthew’s version of this prayer seems to be an expansion of the shorter and simpler version found in Luke’s gospel.

Luke’s version begins simply, “Father.”

The longer phrase, “Our Father, who is in heaven” is appropriate for communal worship settings; praying it thusly unites us and focuses our combined attention on God who lives and reigns in heaven.  But I like the immediacy and intimacy of “Father.”  He is close, immanent – not far removed in some distant, far away heaven.  He is present in every part of creation and he is here, as close as the breath upon which those two syllables are formed, “Father.”

This is the personal relationship with God that evangelical Christians speak of so often.  This is the personal relationship that Jesus himself had with the father, whom he addressed as “abba” the Aramaic word for Father, both intimate and dignified.   He is the father of us all, collectively and individually.  Your father, my father’s father, and my father.  [ii]

Father,
hallowed be your name

Though it isn’t my favorite version of the bible, I do appreciate the way that the Living Bible (paraphrase, though it is) treats this second phrase: “may your name be honored for its holiness.”  Now in Semitic cultures, a person’s name is so closely associated with the person as to be almost the same.  That is the name IS (nearly) the person.  In fact God is, to this day, referred to as HaShem by the Jewish people – HaShem which means “The Name[iii].”   God is his name, and our prayer is that his name would be honored, that God himself would be regarded as holy. 

Our prayer is that we might understand God in his holiness.    Our prayer is that we might know God’s holy name.  Our prayer is also that others, everyone everywhere would understand and recognize God’s holiness, that we might be so awed by the presence and holiness of God that we would cease trying to use God as tool to use for our own purposes, and instead find ourselves in his will.

Father,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,

This short petition, like Matthew’s more elaborate, Your kingdom come and your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” is a prayer for the inbreaking of God’s divine rule into the present world.  This is not merely a prayer that we might see heaven someday in the future, but that God’s Kingdom would be as present in the here and now as God is himself.  It is a prayer that the grace and mercy love of God’s peaceable kingdom would be enacted in this world in this present time.

Not merely heaven when we die, but let us, we pray, see something of that kingdom now.  Let us see mercy.  Let us know justice.  Let us live in peace.  Let us be blessed as we live under the sun and upon the earth.

Father,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
Give us day by day our daily bread.

The first lines of this model prayer are focused on God and God’s activities in this world.  Our prayer now turns toward us as we live in this world.

This next petition, as simple as it sounds, has given exegetes fits for centuries.  It is a phrase that exists nowhere else in the bible (excepting the parallel passage in Matthew) and nowhere else in ancient Greek literature (as far as we know.) Even the early Church Fathers who spoke Greek as their mother tongue were not quite sure what to make of the phrase.

A completely literal translation of the term might render it as our “supersubstantial bread” but that hardly clarifies things for us.

St. John Chrysostom (he of the golden tongue) interpreted it as ordinary bread “bread for today: Just enough for one day….Here Jesus condescends to the infirmity of our nature….[which] does not permit you to go without food….I require necessary food not a complete freedom from natural necessities….It is not for wastefulness or extravagant clothing that we pray, but only for bread and only for bread on a daily basis so as not to worry about tomorrow.” [iv]

St. Jerome believed it to be bread for tomorrow:  “The word used by the Hebrews to denote supersubstantial bread… means ‘for tomorrow’ so that the meaning here is ‘give us this day our bread for tomorrow’ that is, for the future.” [v]

St. Jerome went on to say that this supersubstantial bread is “bread that is above all substances and surpasses all creatures” and connected it to thoughts of the Eucharist, the communion bread which is the mystical body of Christ.   

Without dismissing these more esoteric interpretations, however, I tend to focus more on the ordinary bread – whether for today or for tomorrow as well.  We need bread to eat.  Granted, humankind does not live by bread alone, but also by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God, but we do need physical bread.  We have very physical nutritional needs.  And much of Jesus’ ministry was devoted to meeting the physical needs of those who came to him.  He fed their bodies. He cured their illnesses.  He provided for their needs.  The Gospel – the good news – is not merely the story of spiritual salvation, but also the meeting of physical needs.  This prayer for our “supersubstantial bread” is a prayer for social justice – for the elimination of want and poverty.  Give us the food we need; give us the things we need to sustain our bodies in this world.

Father,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
Give us day by day our daily bread;
and forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us;

After the meeting of our physical needs – the bread – comes the meeting of our spiritual needs – the words proceeding from the mouth of God.  It’s appropriate that the physical needs are met first.  Abraham Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs describes a progression of human needs beginning with the basic physical requirements of human survival – air, food, water, shelter, etc.  If these requirements are not met, the body will die.  And if a person is struggling to meet these needs they will be unlikely to be interested in other, more spiritual needs (equally necessary though they may be). William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, expressed it the simple phrase, “Soup, Soap, and Salvation.”  The physical needs must be met before the spiritual concerns can be addressed.

But after praying for our daily bread – our physical sustenance – we move to the spiritual, to forgiveness, both vertical and horizontal.  We pray that God will forgive us (the vertical between us and God) in the same way that we have forgiven those who have wronged us (forgiveness in our horizontal relationships). 

But this is a dangerous prayer.  We pray that God will forgive us in the same way that we have forgiven others.  It is reciprocity.  If we want good and right relationship with God, if we want a restored relationship with God, then we must set about restoring the broken and damaged relationships with have with our fellows.  This is community.  This is fellowship.  This is relationship.  Do we want to live in peace with God in God’s peaceable kingdom?  Then we must live in peace with our brothers and sisters. 
  
Father,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
Give us day by day our daily bread;
and forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us;
and lead us not into temptation.

Temptation here is a somewhat ambiguous word which can mean something like “trials” or “suffering” or “persecution.”[vi]  This is a prayer for protection, both from within and from without.  We know that we have enemies.  We know that there are struggles and difficulties in this life – and we pray for God to protect us from and through them.  (Though, like Daniel’s three friends said just before being thrown into the furnace, “even if he does not”[vii] we will continue to follow him). 

But never mind those difficulties that come to us in life, and never mind those enemies who might seek to do me harm, Lord, protect me from myself.  I am my own worst enemy.  My weak will and poor choices are more to blame than any persecutor or calumnious enemy.  Lord, do not let me wander away from you.  This is my prayer. Lord, protect me from myself.

And here is where the prayer ends.  That beautiful doxology, “For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever and ever. Amen” is not found in Luke’s version of Jesus’ model prayer, nor is it found in the earliest manuscripts of Matthew’s gospel.  It seems to have been added to Matthew’s gospel as part of a liturgical use in a worship setting, sometime in the 2nd century.  Not that it’s wrong; it’s a wonderful way to conclude the prayer, it just doesn’t seem to be part of Jesus’ original teaching.

Father,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
Give us day by day our daily bread;
and forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us;
and lead us not into temptation.

This model prayer is intimate and immediate; it focuses our attention on our relationship with God and on our relationship with others.  It seeks to address our physical and spiritual needs.   This prayer is, in short, a succinct summary of the Gospel itself.    We pray it, not out of rote repetition, but in sincere desire.  So perhaps, turning to Luke’s version of Jesus’ model prayer every now again will help us to focus more clearly on what we are praying.  Matthew’s liturgical worship setting prayer is wonderful and the memorization of it can only be helpful.  But to consider the shorter, blunter, more direct, more intimate version recorded in Luke’s gospel can push us deeper into prayer which is communication with the God is here among us and within us.

So let us pray:

Father,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
Give us day by day our daily bread;
and forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us;
and lead us not into temptation.



[ii] Can we conceive of God as our Mother as well?  Certainly and rightly so.
[iii] See for example Leviticus 24:11
[iv] Gospel of Matthew Homily 19.5
[v] Commentary on Matthew 1.6.11.
[vi] The Interpreter’s Bible Volume 8, Abingdon Press, New York, 1952.  Page 202
[vii][vii] Daniel 3:18

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