The really weird and interesting stuff going on in the Lord’s Prayer
November 12, 2017
One of the really weird lines, if you ask me, not only in the Lord’s Prayer, but in all of the Bible is where Jesus says that when we pray we should ask God to not lead us into temptation. Think about that. Is that a request we should really have to make? Is leading us into temptation something God does by default unless we ask God not to do that?
Many of us here are old enough to remember the comedian Flip Wilson whose go to line, when he alluded to something he had said or done that was naughty, was ‘the devil made me do it.’ But is Jesus saying that it’s really God who made us do it unless we are prayerful enough to convince God otherwise. I think the mental gymnastics we do when we say this line is really think we are asking God to help us not be tempted to do something wrong. But that is not what Jesus said. He said ask God to not tempt you to do something wrong. What do you think about that? I would love to hear your speculations on what Jesus is getting at here. [Sing the Lord’s Prayer hymn on p. 310 and note how they cleanse the idea of God leading us into temptation].
We are going to get back to that later, I hope. But there are other weird things going on in this prayer that I want us to get into. As you have heard me say many times before, there is something very significant about that fact that the word ‘we,’ ‘us,’ and ‘our’ comes up in this prayer, in both the debts and trespasses versions, nine times. The words, ‘I,’ ‘me,’ and, ‘my’ come up zero times. That’s not weird. But it sure seems to me that most of the time I hear this prayer being offered, it feels very first person singular. I don’t get the sense that when we pray this prayer, many of us are asking God to forgive our debts, but rather my debts. We are praying, it seems, for God to shield us as individuals from temptation not us from temptation. We sort of kick it back to the individual, but Jesus is talking about a corporate thing here. If this really were just about God hearing the prayers of each of us individually, Jesus would have said pray “My Father who art in heaven…give me this day my daily bread, forgive me my debts as I forgive my debtors, lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from evil.”
So one of the interesting questions this prayer raises for me is who is the “us?” What do you think? Is it the disciples. The people who are praying it together? The church in general? Is everybody ‘us.’ It reminds me of the Parable of the Good Samaritan which Jesus tells when the man asks Jesus who his neighbor is. The point is, of course, is that everybody is the neighbor, or maybe nobody is not the neighbor.
The same thing goes on in the Beatitudes. It’s not blessed is the peacemaker for she will be called a child of God, or blessed is the merciful for he shall receive mercy. It’s ‘they’ who will be blessed
This prayer is so obviously about relationships with each other, but the weird thing is that we don’t usually get that, even though we almost always pray it with others. Think about the word ‘Father’ at the beginning of the prayer. It’s a relational word. It’s not about the genitalia of God. If we didn’t have this legacy of patriarchy continuing to rule us, we could easily substitute the word Mother without anybody noticing because, again, it’s about a relationship that not I have with God, not Mary has with God, not Linda has with God, but the relationship we have together with God who is our Mother.
Here is something else of note in this prayer. There are couplets here, like your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. And tucked between the two is this, ‘Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.’ Is our daily bread forgiveness? God forgiving us and we forgive each other? And who are our debtors? Not my debtors, but our debtors? What sins are we asking God to forgive, whoever the we are/is? What are the sins of others that we are forgiving? Jesus does end this discourse on prayer by saying…For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father [or Mother, remember it’s about relationship] will also forgive you; 15 but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Mother forgive your trespasses. I’m pretty sure that the you here is also plural. For if you all forgive…
I think there is something to also note about how Jesus is reported to have closed this prayer. It’s not in the earliest manuscripts, but it still has become a part of the prayer for most of us who aren’t Catholics. For yours is the kingdom, the power, the glory forever and ever. What is weird about this is Jesus had such a different understanding of what he was saying here than we tend to realize.
I want to start with the word power. What does God’s power look like? Is it the ability to hurt, kill, and destroy? Is it predicated on violence? Is our view of the power of God a general surrounded by armies or a broken man hanging on a cross? There is that wonderful thing that happens toward the beginning of the Book of Revelations where John sees this vision of the Elders announcing the arrival of the Lion of Judah. But the lion turns out to be a lamb, and one who has been killed at that. The lamb is the lion. What does this all say about how we understand the power of God?
For a long time, people have been trying to answer the question if God is all powerful and all loving, then why do bad things happen to the people? I think that whole question is based on a limited understanding of what power really means, particularly when you apply it to God. If God is all powerful and all loving, then what if the power of God is love? The Apostle Paul wrote that there in nothing, not life nor death, powers nor principalities, things past nor things to come, not rulers nor angels, nor height nor depth nor anything else in all of creation that can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Listen to the power of that. You begin to understand why Jesus said you can sum up everything in the Law of God with the word love.
Yours is the Kingdom the power and the glory forever and ever. And at the beginning of the prayer Jesus says, your kingdom come your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. For Jesus, that the place where God rules is in the Realm of Love. And we find it in our midst. That’s why for Jesus the point wasn’t simply getting us to heaven, but getting heaven to us. The Realm of God is nothing like the Realms of this world, so that’s another reason to not assume the way power is understood in this world is the way God understands power.
As important as the point Jesus is making with the words ‘us,’ ‘we,’ and ‘our,’ maybe the thing about God not leading us into temptation is a warning about how community can go wrong. We can be exclusive, claim superiority, ignore others we don’t think as a part of us. All kinds of evil come from that, both the evil we perpetrate, and the evil perpetrated against us. Especially if we think God has made us a special community. Plenty of evil has been done against others because people thought that was what God wanted. Nationalism, patriarchy, white supremacy, theocracy, sexism all have religious components to them. We have seen how easily some have yielded to that temptation.
That’s also why it is not enough to simply dismiss the things that others are doing as not having anything to do with us. It’s not enough to say, “I am not a racist like other white people are.” “I am not that kind of Christian.” “I don’t act like that around women.” “I’m not like my brother.” There are some us and wes, communities we are part of, whether we like it or not. It goes so much deeper than who we are as individuals.
In Luke’s version this whole thing got started because the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray. Like many things with Jesus, he took them to a different place than they were expecting. And all these centuries later, we are still discovering the depths of the well from which Jesus drank.
In closing, I want to share an image, a thought that occurred to me as I was thinking about this prayer. These past few days, President Trump has been with several world leaders. What if these leaders understood the particular community they are, coming together with not only the agendas for their individual countries, but aware that they have a responsibility to each others’ nations and, indeed, the whole world. What if they were keenly aware of the temptation facing them to simply get out of their relationship whatever they could get for themselves, without acknowledging the usness they are a part of? What forgiveness do they need to ask of each other and this whole world? What if they tried to figure out what the daily bread was they all needed as this particular group that has an us and we to it? And what if they started understanding power in the way Jesus understood it?
Is this the kind of thing Jesus had in mind when he used the words, ‘we,’ ‘us,’ and ‘ours?’ What temptations do we struggle with in our own places of we and us? Maybe we can’t get world leaders to think in ways Jesus was pushing us toward, but maybe we can.
For thine is the kingdom, the power, the glory, forever and ever. Even if these words weren’t in the earliest manuscripts, Jesus was always looking at the big picture. That’s why he could so steadfastly stay the course he was on, even though he knew the authorities were going to want to hang him on a cross. But he saw so much more than that cross. He trusted that if he walked this way of life that God revealed that death would not be the final word in this world. What he taught the disciples about prayer that day was another invitation to discover the life that sustained him.