"And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him. In this manner, therefore, pray:
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 forgive our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.
"For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."
- Matthew 6:7-15
We are currently reading through the Sermon on the Mount, which began with The Beatitudes, last Monday. In yesterday's reading, Jesus taught, "Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly. And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love the pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly." The lectionary skipped over what is given in today's reading, and continued with Jesus' teachings about spiritual practice: "Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly."
"And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him. In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." Jesus has just finished teaching about prayer practice: that it should be done in humility, and not to show oneself as pious to others. But He takes it another notch forward, by teaching us what we ought to pray, and giving us this gracious prayer that is at the center of all Christian worship. When He teaches not to pray in vain repetitions, the accent is on vain -- to be heard by many words. Repetition for spiritual practice is another matter. But our central focus in prayer, by Jesus' teaching, is the core relationship to God. This is the foundation of all of His teachings, the greatest commandment, on which rests everything else. My study bible tells us that the Father-Son relationship within the Trinity reveals our potential relationship with God; that is a sonship by grace of adoption, by which Christ the Son gives us the privilege of calling God Our Father (see Galatians 4:4-7). That's how strong this relationship is that we must grow within. As a "son of God," each Christian person is called to love, trust, and serve God our Father as does Christ. Fatherhood does not belong to God simply as Creator, but Father by virtue of being in a saving and personal relationship, a communion that comes by grace of adoption (see John 1:13; Romans 8:14-16).
"Give us this day our daily bread." Here is the center of the prayer. Daily doesn't really convey the true meaning of the Greek word here, in describing what kind of bread He's giving us. The Greek word here is epiousios, meaning "above the essence," or "supersubstantial." That means this isn't just daily bread for human earthly physical nourishment. It is the bread for the eternal day of the Kingdom of God, as my study bible puts it -- for the nourishment of our immortal soul. The living, supersubstantial bread is Christ Himself; in the prayer we are asking not merely for material bread, but for the spiritual bread of eternal life (see John 6:27-58). This is the bread of life in the Kingdom, even as we live in this world.
"And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." My study bible points out that in the Greek, the request to be forgiven is plural -- meaning that we pray always for the forgiveness of others. Debts here are spiritual debts, the result of offense or sin. In a spiritual sense, this is yet another way in which Christ takes us out of vengeance, and into a different and more cosmic sense of justice, in which we participate in the life of the Kingdom even as we are living worldly lives.
"And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen." Temptation to sin isn't from God (James 1:13), but from the evil one. From the evil one is an appropriate translation of the Greek τοῦ πονηροῦ. (The root of this word for evil also means "pain," suggesting laborious trouble, misery.) Temptations are often those things that sound good, promise some form of ease or pleasure, indulgence, or shortcut rather than the steady road or struggle of salvation -- playing to what are traditional called sinful passions of the flesh, which come in many forms. Going along with pleasing a crowd -- a theme in Christ's talk regarding hypocrisy -- can be a powerful one. My study bible says that no one lives without encountering temptations, but we pray that great temptations, tests beyond what we can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13), should not come to us.
"For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." We have a reciprocal kind of teaching here: mutual forgiveness as a precondition for God's forgiveness. This teaching is illustrated in the parable of the unforgiving servant (18:21-35), which also concludes with the same teaching. It's another way in which we are to be "God-like" as children by adoption.
This prayer is a great gift to us. It's a kind of blueprint of our spirituality, our relationship to God, and to one another. It teaches us about the gifts we're given that are necessary for our salvation, notably the "supersubstantial" bread for each day, forgiveness which is counterbalanced by our own active practice of forgiveness, our sincere desire for God's will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, and the manifestation of the Kingdom. The prayer gives us a sense of where we are in the universe, our relationship to God our Father, and our role in sonship by adoption. It's a way of prescribing the life of active participation in the Kingdom, even as we live our lives in this world. Repetition of the Lord's Prayer is therefore always a reminder of what we are to be about, and where we are in our spiritual lives. It teaches us of the love of "Our Father" -- it is impossible to say this prayer without understanding the true nature of our relationship to God, and that it is based in love and through adoption, an active grace for us and through God's love. When we pray, "Thy will be done," it's not an act of submission to an autocrat, but one of love and desire for the betterment of our entire world. Let us remember that when we pray the Lord's Prayer, we enter into participation in this Kingdom, through all the things it teaches us: of our need for God's love, for the Kingdom to manifest in the world (even through our own desire to follow God's will), for our daily bread which is of the eternal day of the Kingdom, our work at forgiveness, our desire to be free from temptations, and liberated from the pain of evil and its effects -- even as we walk in an imperfect world. It is the perfect prayer, the one that suits all occasions and places us where Christ teaches us to be no matter what the circumstances.