Sunday, November 2, 2008

Closer Look at Lord's Prayer


This given pericope on praying and fasting fits into the larger Sermon on the Mount which is contained in the first discourse. Matthew emphasizes that the coming of Jesus is not a peripheral event in history but the central event which determines and defines the whole of the history of humanity (not just those who claimed their Abrahamic blood line). The Lord’s prayer is the most lovely of all teachings about the kingdom of God, and relationship he invites us into. All that takes place in Jesus is shown to be the fulfillment of the prophecies laid out in the new testament. His Jewish audience would be well equipped from His narrative to connect the dots about who this Jesus is – the very fulfillment of all Scripture. He is the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel to be her messiah and redeemer.



The Lord’s prayer and admonishments to fast not for the praise of men is set forth: "Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them" (6:1). In order words, do not put on a show. This also works as a summons to be at a right relationship with God that is void of public piety and false motives. The Lord’s prayer fits within the general purpose and outline of the book as the greatest and simplest exposition of the catholic faith. It is intended for corporate worship, using the words, "our, us, and we." It can be used in private worship as well, given that one prays not by himself but with all the believers, saints, angels, and archangels in heaven. That the prayer begins with "Our Father" shows how through Jesus we are reunited in this holy union with God the Father. Jesus does not instruct the disciples to pray to "my father" as if only he could have access to the Father. He invites the disciples and therefore us into a direct communion of prayer with the God the Father.



That we can now call him Father without fear but with assurance in Christ, announces the work that Christ fulfilled on the cross. Without the cross there is no "Abba Father" for the church to say. This most intimate union has reestablished the heavens through water, body, blood and word that we might hallow His name. This is the evangelist’s simple message in his account which might be seen to be embodied in the Lord’s prayer.


The text preceding and following the Lord’s Prayer suggests the importance of rightly motivated prayer. This follows an admonishment from Jesus about the right motives of charity (6:1-4). Likewise after the Lord’s Prayer, there is an admonishment for a proper way to fast that avoids being motivated by the praise of men. Jesus makes clear that God desires the hearts of men not that he needs them but rather that we benefit eternally by rendering them to him. The surrounding context suggests the foolishness of making prayer and fasting into a public spectacle. Preceding the Lord’s prayer Jesus states there is no needed to babble on with vain repetitions as the heathen but rather to prayer earnestly, appealing to a loving Father. There is great importance here, "for your father, knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him" (v. 8). That God knows our needs before coming to him reveals his loving and eternal care. It is also a sobering reminder that our needs as he sees them are often in stark contrast to our own understanding of "needs." We might be assured our needs as He reveals them are for the assurance of heaven and His eternal kingdom. Therefore prayer, is not a series of appeals for wares and goods but rather for life itself, and the divine will of the heavenly father – that all should be saved.


The larger Sermon on the Mount and the Lord’s Prayer have historically been seen as a call to a "radical discipleship." It has been taught that if one continually seeks the will of God through these radical demands he will merit God’s grace and favor. It is therefore seen as a new and harder law to follow as compared with the Old Testament demands, or more specifically the Ten Commandments. Lutherans have long held that the content of this first discourse is an imperative to a radical discipleship to be vigorously pursued by all who claim to be followers of Christ. Though Jesus’ teachings about the conduct of one’s life are always authoritative, the essence of the first discourse (Lord’s prayer, instructions for fasting, and Sermon on the Mount) are pure gospel and not more demanding law. Jesus’ is speaking about the Kingdom of God, the church, and what He is doing to restore His people. Quite simply, the first discourse must not be separated from the death and resurrection of Christ wherein the teachings find their meaning.



The separation of the Lord’s prayer and the broader discourse from Christ atoning sacrifice leads one to pursue these texts as law statements rather than our Lord’s Gospel. The association of the Sermon with a call to a new and more impending law is shared by the church fathers, notably Augustine, as well as Thomas Aquinas who called the pericopes of the Sermon "evangelical counsels." Martin Luther viewed the Sermon, like most medieval theologians, as an impossible set of laws whereby we needed Christ all the more. Reformed theologians today see the discourse as a prescription for all the ills of society. It becomes a set of political imperatives for a utopian society. Its passages have been hijacked by every political organization under the sun to push various agendas. Only quite recently have scholars brought to light Jesus’ catechetical teachings as fundamentally Gospel oriented declarations rooted in the fulfillment of the law accomplished by Christ, whereby he offers an atonement.



Lutherans are very much accustomed to talking about daily bread (as prayed in the Lord's Prayer) for it is everything that has to do with the "support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like." Yet in Matthew, Jesus is the bread of life that has "come near." Though the Lord sustains our bodies with every physical need, his mission is not about the needs of this life but the needs of the next, which is redemption in Christ. Reading daily bread or more accurately "Our bread that is coming" as the Eucharist is offensive to most Christians. Yet, the mysteries of the Lord have always been a scandal to the world. Heaven comes to us in the body of Christ who is the bread of life.

The opening of the chapter sets forth an important theme for this given pericope: "Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven" (v. 1). Later on Jesus says your "Father knoweth what thing ye had need of" and later on to pray to God in secret. The words of the Lord do not come as condemnation but invitation into a holy and blessed relationship with the heavenly father. The Lord’s Prayer teaches and works all things for His kingdom. The Lord’s Prayer in Luke is shorter and therefore seen as more authoritative than Matthew (for higher critics). Matthew has six petitions and Mark has only five. "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven" is excluded from Luke’s version. Matthew has "debts" whereas Luke records "sins." This is not problematic for the two should be seen as synonymous.

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