Archive for April, 2018

Lord’s Prayer (Mt. 6.5-15) – A Prayer of Empowerment

April 23, 2018

Message on 15th & 22nd April 2018

Duvvuru Kamalakar

 

I. Context

Prayer is a pillar of spiritual life. That’s why we find “prayer” in almost all religions.

Prayer empowers Christians. That’s why “Lord’s Prayer” is found in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount. After listening to Jesus’ sermon on the vision of the life of the kingdom of God, the disciples must have wondered how on earth can they, who are weak and vulnerable, participate in this vision of the kingdom of God (cf. I Cor. 1. 26). The Lord’s Prayer is an answer to their fears and inhibitions. It empowers them to participate in the radical vision of righteousness or justice (Greek word is same for both righteousness and justice) of God’s kingdom.

Prayer is a communication with God. However, this communication depends on one’s commitment to God or one’s understanding of God. Jesus mentions two groups: Jewish hypocrites and Gentiles (Mt. 6.5; 6.7).

Jewish hypocrites use prayer, which is supposed to be a communication with God, for self aggrandizement. For them prayer is putting on a show, or a religious performance in order to win the applause of people. They give an impression that their commitment to God is deep, but in fact it is shallow and not sincere. Prayer concerns God alone and is not intended for public display.

On the other hand, Gentiles chant holy names of their god and a list of what their god did, in order to get their god’s attention. It is like using flattery to get the hearing of a higher official! Eg. Baal prophets (I Kings 18.26-29). They follow the saying: “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”

It is in this context that Jesus is teaching them a model prayer.

II.  Lord’s Prayer  

A. “Our Father” 

The Lord’s Prayer teaches us how we are to address God.

  1. God is Fathe
  2. God is OUR Father

 

  1. God is Father

For a Christian God is “Father”. As a child approaches his/her father, a Christian can approach God with a spirit of confidence that the Father will respond.

What does Jesus say about the heavenly Father?

  • Our heavenly Father’s love is perfect (Mt. 5.48)
  • Our heavenly Father cares (Mt. 6. 26). “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him” (Mt. 7. 11).
  • Our heavenly Father knows (Mt. 6.8; 6.31-32). A caring parent knows the needs of his/her children.

 

We pray to a loving Father who is caring and kind.

 

  1. God is OUR Father

God is “our Father” to whom we pray. The Lord’s Prayer teaches us that we all belong to God’s family. We are not saved in isolation. We are born into God’s family. It is an acknowledgement of ownership and belonging. This is the privilege a Christian has.

Because we belong to God’s family, we also have responsibilities. We pray for “OUR daily bread”. Instead of thinking only about the things I need, we should pray for the daily needs of the children of God worldwide. Instead of thinking only about the things we want to receive from God, this prayer challenges us to consider what we should be giving and sharing so that we all have our daily bread.

Likewise “our trespasses” are not simply the things I do wrong, but our failures as a Christian community to be faithful to God, our Father, and to fellow Christians as brothers and sisters.

If we all live out the Lord’s Prayer, there is a possibility of removing hunger, homelessness and suffering to a certain extent.

In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, both the priest and the Levite thought, “If I stop here, what would happen to me?” Because the road between Jerusalem and Jericho is dangerous. Whereas the Samaritan thought, “If I don’t stop here, what would happen to the wounded man?” This is, as Martin Luther King says, dangerous unselfishness. This is what is required of those who belong to God’s family or the kingdom of God! God’s children can not be cold and insensitive in the face of suffering and injustice. God keeps calling us to open our hearts to compassion and kindness.

Pope Francis says, “You pray for the hungry. Then you feed them. That’s how prayer works.” We pray for the hungry and suffering, NOT with the intention of reminding God of his responsibility towards them. When we pray for the hungry and the suffering, we not only pray to God to help them and meet their needs, but also remind ourselves of our responsibility towards them.

In this sense, prayer is not only a communication with God, but also a reminder that we are keepers of one another. God asked Cain, “Where is your brother, Abel?” Cain answered, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen. 4.9). Similar question God asks us, “How is your brother or sister?” When we pray for someone, it is a reminder for us that we are keepers of that person.

 

B. Six Petitions of Lord’s Prayer  

The Lord’s Prayer consists of six petitions. These six petitions can be divided into two groups of three petitions each.

  1. The first group of three petitions focuses on something that belongs to God: “Your name”, “Your kingdom”, and “Your will”.
  2. The second group of three petitions concerns three specific needs of those praying: “our daily bread”, “our trespasses”, and “temptations”

 

  1. The First Group of Three Petitions

 

a. “Hallowed be your name”

“Name” denotes the totality of God’s character.

It is a petition for God to act, “Father, you sanctify your name.” The Greek word for “holy” means “separate”, “different”.

So this is a prayer to God to show Himself separate or different from the other gods. In the Old Testament, God shows himself to be holy before all the people (Lev. 10.3; Num 20.13). The prophet Ezekiel emphasizes God’s promises to sanctify his name: “I will vindicate the holiness of my great name which has been profaned among the nations and which you have profaned among them” (Ezek 36.23). “I will show my greatness and my holiness and myself known in the eyes of many nations. Then they will know that I am the Lord” (Ezek 38.23; 20.41; 28.22, 25; 38.16; 39.27).

Old Testament also teaches that human beings should also hallow God’s name (Lev 22.32; Is 29.23). In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus has instructed his disciples to live in such a way that others may see their good works and glorify the Father in heaven (Mt. 5.16). The name of the heavenly Father can only be honoured by right life of his children, or by living out the righteousness of the kingdom of God.

 

b. “Your kingdom come”

God’s kingdom has already come onto this earth through Jesus. The manifestation of God’s kingly rule is seen in the words and works of Jesus Christ. Jesus preached, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Mt. 4.17). Jesus healed those who are sick and liberated those who are possessed by evil spirits (Mt. 4.23-24). Jesus made it clear that he is here on this earth to bind the strongman and release those who are under his bondage (Mt. 12.22-29).

Recently we celebrated the Good Friday and the Easter. They point out:

  1. Victory of God’s kingdom over the kingdom of Satan and its evil forces.
  2. Victory of nonviolence over violence
  3. Victory of life over death
  4. Victory of truth over falsehood.
  5. Victory of love over hatred
  6. Victory of good over evil

 

If there is victory of God’s rule of love, life, truth, goodness and nonviolence, why is there still hatred, death, violence, hunger and evil on this earth? In the present day India the situation is worse. There is state-sponsored hatred and violence against the minority communities such as Muslims and Dalits. The attacks on Christians and churches have increased. The violence against peace-loving Christians has increased. Why?

Recently I was reading an article on Martin Luther King Jr, American Civil Rights leader, who was assassinated by a combined force of US government, the rich and the mafia. Martin Luther King fought for the dignity and equal rights of African Americans through nonviolent means. He fought for economic justice. He spoke against US wars against other countries. He fought for social, political and economic reconstruction of the US.

The author of the article writes, “Martin Luther King was a transmitter of a non-violent spiritual and political energy…(and) his very existence was a threat to an established order based on violence, racism and economic exploitation. He was a dangerous man… Revolutionaries are, of course, anathema to the power elites who, with all their might, resist such rebels’ efforts to transform society. If they can’t buy them off, they knock them off.”

A nonviolent revolutionary is a dangerous person to people and systems that perpetuate violence, inequality, oppression and exploitation. Evil forces try to silence such people by killing them.

The combined force of the Jewish religious leaders and the Roman Empire tried to silence Jesus by crucifying him on the cross, in order to put a stop to the onward march of the kingdom of God. Saul, who became Paul, tried the same thing: “Meanwhile, Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem” (Acts 9.1-2). Paul confesses, “You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it” (Gal. 1.13). Saul used his religion to justify his violence against the nonviolent Christians (Gal. 1.14). To his surprise, Saul realized through his encounter with God and the resurrected Jesus on the Damascus road that God is with Jesus, who was the victim of the religious and political violence.

Easter declares that the kingdom of evil, hatred, violence and falsehood can not contain or defeat the kingdom of God of truth, love and nonviolence. One day the kingdom of evil will be fully defeated. The holy city, New Jerusalem, will come down from heaven onto this earth. Heaven and earth will become one, and God becomes the king of this transformed earth.

This is what we pray for when we pray “Thy kingdom come.”

So, as we pray this, for the world, we also pray for the church: make us kingdom-bearers; make us a community of healed healers; make us servants of the Lord.

 

c. “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”

God’s will is done when his name is hallowed and his kingdom comes. It is not a request for a modest improvement of conditions on earth. It is a plea for a total transformation of the world order and to bring about a whole new world order – Garden of Eden restored, a New Jerusalem descending from heaven, kingdom of God on earth where there will be justice, peace, joy and love (Is. 11. 6-9; 65.25).

 

  1. Second Group of Petitions

The second group of three petitions concerns three specific needs of those praying: “our daily bread”, “our trespasses”, and “temptations”. In these petitions those who pray the prayer ask God for the deliverance from the troubles that beset and threaten Christians – physical concerns, guilt, temptation and the power of evil.

In each case, the second set of petitions employs a first person plural pronoun: “give us” “forgive us” and “do not bring us, but deliver us”.

 

a. “Give us this day our daily bread”

The Greek text of this petition may be translated as “Our bread for the coming day, give us today.” “The coming day” does not mean tomorrow or the next day. Most probably this is an early morning prayer, where Christians ask God to provide provisions for the day ahead, with little thought of provisions for tomorrow and the days to come.

This petition reminds of God’s provision of manna to the people of Israel in the wilderness (Ex. 16). Manna was given to people every day and the people were asked to take the amount required for that day, except on the sixth day where they had to collect manna for the Sabbath day also. The people believed God and God provided for them food sufficient for that day.

With the same confidence the Psalmist prays, “The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season” (Ps. 145.15).

Those who trust God to supply them with their daily needs need not be anxious. In Mt. 6.25-34 Jesus seeks to calm the fears of those who are consumed with worries about what they shall eat or drink (Mt. 6.25,31) or over an uncertain future (Mt. 6.34). In order to alleviate their anxiety, Jesus tells his disciples to look at the birds and flowers and how God cares for them. If God cares for the grass of the field and the birds of the air, how much more will God care for His children (Mt. 6:30)! And if evil parents know how to give good gifts to their children, how much more will God give good gifts to those who ask (Mt. 7:11). He encourages them by saying, “Your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things” (Mt. 6.32).

God is mindful of our physical needs. When Jesus saw that the crowds had nothing to eat after being with him in the wilderness for three days, he fed them bread (Mt. 15:32-38; 14:13-21).

The prayer “Give us this day our daily bread” not only makes us recognise that God is the source of our sustenance, but also a critique of the current materialism. Jesus asks us to pray only for necessity, not for abundance.

The writer of Proverbs 30 prays, ““Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that I need, or I shall be full, and deny you, and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ or I shall be poor, and steal, and profane the name of my God” (Pro. 30. 8-9).

Is our anxiety and worry more about our need or greed, necessity or abundance? What is obstructing us from seeking the kingdom of God and its righteousness (Mt. 6.33)?

 

 b. “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors”

Forgiveness plays an important role in relationships, and is necessary for reconciliation between two persons. That is why forgiveness and reconciliation are emphasized by Jesus. The altar may be the place where one goes to receive forgiveness and become reconciled to God. But Jesus says, “If you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister and then come and offer your gift” (Mt. 5.23-24).

Christians should not expect to receive from God what they are not prepared to bestow on others. The axiom at the end of the Lord’s Prayer, if you are not forgiving, you will not be forgiven (Mt. 6.14-15), underscores this point.

The parable of the unmerciful servant reinforces the necessity of a merciful spirit (Mt. 18.23-35). Peter’s query about how many times he must forgive another who sins against him elicits the parable (Mt. 18.21-22). The magnitude of God’s mercy is illustrated by the king’s forgiveness of a monumental debt of a servant (Mt. 18.24). When the king is informed of the callous actions of this servant immediately after receiving such overwhelming grace, he is moved to anger. He declares, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?” (Mt. 18.32-33).

Jesus insists that mercy that has already been received from God requires us to be merciful. We who profess that our infinite debt to God has been forgiven can no longer insist that others must repay in full their debts to us. Those who live by God’s mercy must, therefore, be merciful to others, forgiving others. The debt may be sin or money.

 

c. “Do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one”

As Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, disciples can expect the same onslaught from the evil one, Satan. They will be tempted to exalt their own names rather than God’s, to have their own will done rather than God’s, and to establish their own kingdoms rather than the kingdom of God. The Gospel of Matthew makes it clear that disciples will face persecution (Mt. 5.11-12) and will be tempted either to resist the evil one with violence (Mt. 5.39) or to fall away (Mt. 13.21; 24.9-10). Disciples will encounter the lure of mammon (Mt. 6.24).

Two of the temptations we get are despair and pride. Despair is the opposite of hope. It is the belief that no one, not even God, can help me. No one would want to be tempted to lose hope.

Pride, on the other hand, is the belief that I can do it all on my own even without the help of God.

With either despair or pride, what is at stake is our relationship with God.

The third common temptation most of us yield to is “control”. Jesus faced this temptation in the wilderness. “The devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me” (Mt. 4.8-9). The temptation to Jesus was that all the kingdoms would be given to his control, if he worships the devil. Therefore, pursuit of control is the worship of Satan.

Control is different from empowerment. Being in control signifies that I have all the power, whereas being empowered can mean that I share power with others and that I use power I have to give power to others.

The gospel of the kingdom of God is to empower those who are denied the experience of abundant life by various bondages. That’s why Jesus said, “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Mt. 12.28). The gospel of the kingdom of God and the deeds of the kingdom of God are the divine acts of empowerment. Jesus’ healing miracles freed the sick from the diseases that contained them. By casting out the evil spirits from the people, Jesus unshackled them from the control of the evil spirits. By forgiving the sins of people, Jesus set them free from guilt and sin.

So the ministry of Jesus and the ministry to which we are called is the ministry of empowerment, not the ministry of control.  That’s why Jesus did not yield to the temptation of the devil.

However, many Christian leaders have yielded themselves to this temptation of control. They use their power to control others and keep them under their clutches.

The temptations will come! But the final petition makes us aware that we are unable to withstand the assaults of the Evil One without God’s help. Jesus tells his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane to pray that they may not enter into temptation (Mt. 26.41).

The final petition is the prayer of the poor in spirit, the meek. It is a prayer of those who long to live out the righteousness of the kingdom of God, and desires that they may not be led into any situation that jeopardizes their relationship with their heavenly Father and with their brothers and sisters!

 

Conclusion

The Lord’s Prayer is a prayer of empowerment.

Because:

  1. It gives us hope: One day the kingdom of God will come fully and Satan and his followers will be defeated completely. God’s name will be sanctified and His will will be done completely.
  2. It gives us confidence: We have a loving, kind and caring Father.
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