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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Lord's Prayer

A couple of days ago, I shared that at our convention, a version of the Lord's Prayer was used with which I had some concerns. However, I also shared that the familiar version we use in our church has its own issues. Raymond Brown wrote an article on the prayer, which I am unable to find. I will share what I do know, you can research more if it interests you.

There are three versions of the Lord's prayer found in ancient literature: Mathew 6:9ff and a shorter version in Luke 11:2ff are the ones we know best. Although I think most Christians are unaware of Luke's version being different. A third one, found in the Didache, is unknown to most everyone. The Didache (or Teaching of the Twelves Apostles) is an ancient text which outlines "the way" of Christian life, including ethics and worship. Arguments about dates go from around the time of Paul all the way to 150. It is an interesting read.

One thing I noted years ago was all three versions had some slight modifications. Apparently, there was not an effort to create 'in stone" one authentic version. This may be because of Jesus, or it could be inadvertant, or maybe the church intentionally made edits. I do not know why, but I do know that the differences exist. Having said that, the differences are not such that the prayer is not recognizable as the same prayer. What this means, to me, is that the Lord's Prayer is both a prayer to be said and a model for prayers which we create. However, Brown has led me to understand it in a different way than I grew up believing.

Obviously, calling God "Father" is to share in Jesus' understanding of God. It is a privileged place. Many of the blogs I read from young, struggling Christians seem to be generated by the disconnect between life as we live it and the idea that God is a loving Father. I think that, if we take Jesus seriously, we see a man who struggles in a hostile world, yet believes in His Father. Jesus seems to see His mission as combat, a battle with people, institutions and demonic entities which produce great suffering. Jesus also seemed willing to submit to torture and death as the means of victory. MYSTERY!

Brown points out that the verbs in the Lord's prayer are in a Greek tense which indicates a "once and for all" action (aortist tense). In other words, it is not the tense of ongoing actions. It is definitve. He says that this prayer of Jesus is asking God to end the world as we know it and establish His Kingdom as He promised. I like that.

"Hallowed be thy name" is passive voice. I always thought it meant we should treat God's name as holy. In the Bible, passive voice implies Divine action. Remember, the Jewish awe of God's Holy Name led them to avoid using it. So, for example, in Matthew, the Kingdom of God is called the Kingdom of Heaven. Brown says that this is actually a request for God to make His own name holy, i.e., glorify your name. This is a short hand way of saying "establish your kingdom." The next two verses are quite overt: "Thy kingdom come" and "Thy will be done" mean just that. However, it means "NOW." This insight has changed my prayer. The tension I feel in my life, those experiences of sin, evil and 'the absence of God' are real. We do live in a 'not yet' time. Praying this prayer means asking God to estblish His kingdom.

"Give (once and for all) the bread ??" There is much discussion about what exactly the Greek word means which we transalte "daily." Brown makes a good case that it literally means the bread of tomorrow, i.e., the bread of the great Messianic feast. In other words, establish the kingdom and feed us at the great table! The number of parables which Jesus preached about tables seems to reinforce this idea.

We pray "forgive us our trespasses" in my church. Matthew and Didache have "debts" while Luke has "sins" and then "debts." I like debts better than trespasses, for the simple reason that my debts to God are not simply sins. I also have the debt of all I have received from God. Every blessing is a gift. To forgive a debt is to not demand it be paid back. Once more, this is a common theme of Jesus' parables. At the final judgment, it is our prayer that God will write off all our debts, everything we owe. This is forgiveness of sins, but it is so much more!

The Greek word for 'temptation' is the same word for 'test.' It can mean either. In the last days, Jesus says, it will be so severe that no one would survive without God's grace. I think Jesus is reminding us that as we pray for the Kingdom to come, we are also in need of protection in the time of great testing. Deliver us from "evil" can also be translated from "the evil one." I think there is a great battle and Jesus told Peter to pray because Satan intended to sift him. So it is true of us. Satan is real and he is dangerous.

So when I pray, by myself, I often times make a conscious decision to ask God to establish His kingdom and protect us. I beg Him to bring us to the table of the wedding feast. I use different terms and images, but all are focused on God, the King, coming to the world, once and for all, and setting things right. Because of the struggles I see around me, it is easy to make such a prayer. God is not (fully) reigning right now. This is why it is hard for us to believe. Yet, He is coming. Perhaps when enough of us pray for the kingdom to come He will come? I do not know. I do know Jesus told us to pray for it. So I do.

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