Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Lord's Prayer [part 1]

There are 18 Benedictions in Judaism, recited 3x daily. These blessings/prayers were developed between 5th century BC and the 2nd century AD, strangely straddling the life of Jesus. They are also known as the Amidah and/or the Shmonah Esreh. Listen carefully to several of them.

#1 is a prayer/praise for YHWH being the Father of the biblical patriarchs [Abe, Isaac, Jake].

#3 ascribes worth to God because of His holiness.

#5 is a petition for God to guide His people in the ways of Torah.

#6 is a petition/praise concerning forgiveness.

#7 pleads for God to "look upon our affliction; fight our fight; redeem us speedily."

#10 asks God to restore the exiles back to the land.

#12 desires for God to execute justice on the enemies of His people.

#14 asks God to restore Jerusalem.

#15 cries out for God to usher in a Davidic/Kingly Messiah.

#17 asks God to restore Temple services and sacrifices. 

#18 requests that God would grant peace, mercy, and covenant love to His people, Israel.

Now remember, Jesus was a good Jew. He likely knew all of these and so did the people to whom he preached. So, when he says,
Our Father in heaven
Hallowed be your name
Your kingdom come
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven
Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive us our debts
As we also have forgiven our debtors
And lead us not into temptation
But deliver us from evil
When he said this, those listening had a specific frame of reference. But what Jesus does is odd. It is especially odd if you read the whole sermon [the one on the mount in Mt 5-7]. He has already spoken poignantly about Torah and he just dished out some painful blows to the super-spiritual regarding their gaudy prayer lives. He now arrives at the "how to" of sincerity in prayer. Kenneth Bailey describes it vividly.
Jesus de-Zionizes the tradition. The Lord's Prayer contains no references to Jerusalem or the Temple, and the disciples are taught to pray for the Kingdom to come on earth, which reflects a global concern for all people. Forgiveness is tied to forgiving others. No attack on outsiders is voiced. And there is no request for God to look on the suffering of His people or for God to fight for them.
Jesus changes it up because he is now the faithful Servant of YHWH who will be a light to the nations [Is 49.6]. He is the Davidic/Kingly Messiah [Mt 1.1, 1.18-23, 4.17]. He is Temple of God [Jn 2, Rev 21]. He is the peace, mercy, and covenant love of YHWH come to His people. He is the only satisfactory sacrifice [Heb 10]. Prayer is now about what God is doing through Jesus.

This angle on the Lord's Prayer is far more potent because it sits comfortably in its own context. Yet, its potency carries with it a kind of contrition that should be evident as well.
For THiNE is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever and ever. Amen.

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