The inescapable social, political and economic implications of the Lord’s Prayer
“The Lord’s Prayer is Christianity’s greatest prayer. It is also Christianity’s strangest prayer. It is prayed by all Christians, but it never mentions Christ. It is prayed in all churches, but it never mentions church.
It is prayed on all Sundays, but it never mentions Sunday. It is called the “Lord’s Prayer,” but it never mentions “Lord.” It is prayed by fundamentalist Christians, but it never mentions the inspired inerrancy of the Bible, the virgin birth, the miracles, the atoning death, or bodily resurrection of Christ. It is prayed by evangelical Christians, but it never mentions the evangelium, or gospel.
It is prayed by Pentecostal Christians, but it never mentions ecstasy or the Holy Spirit. It is prayed by Congregational, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, and Roman Catholic Christians, but it never mentions congregation, priest, bishop, or pope. It is prayed by Christians who split from one another over this or that doctrine, but it never mentions a single one of those doctrines.
It is prayed by Christians who focus on Christ’s substitutionary sacrificial atonement for human sin, but it never mentions Christ, substitution, sacrifice, atonement, or sin. It is prayed by Christians who focus on the next life in heaven or in hell, but it never mentions the next life, heaven, or hell. It is prayed by Christians who emphasize what it never mentions and also prayed by Christians who ignore what it does.
You could respond, of course, that there is nothing strange there at all. It is, you might say, a Jewish prayer from the Jewish Jesus; hence nothing Christian or even Jewish Christian is present. But that only invites us to start the question of strangeness all over again. It does not mention covenant or law, Temple or Torah, circumcision or purity, and so on.
What if the Lord’s Prayer is neither a Jewish prayer for Jews nor yet a Christian prayer for Christians? What if it is—as this book suggests—a prayer from the heart of Judaism on the lips of Christianity for the conscience of the world? What if it is—as this book suggests—a radical manifesto and a hymn of hope for all humanity in language addressed to all the earth?“
Crossan, who is a Jesus scholar, did an excellent job in deconstructing the Lord’s prayer in his book cited above. What I propose to do here is to go further and prove that this prayer is fundamentally the most elegant and beautiful framework of human understanding of all time, which was very much relevant then and is very much relevant now for our time.
If we look at the machinations in the social, economic and political spheres over the years, and especially in our world of today, we see that violence abound. Crossan, in his writings, distinguishes between 3 forms of violence, which he calls ideological, rhetorical and physical violence, which correlates to three forms of communication or interactions which are our thoughts, words and deeds, respectively. It is using these prisms to separate the social, economic and political implications of ideological, rhetorical and physical violence, that I hope you would begin to see the Lord’s prayer in a new light.
The “radical manifesto and a hymn of hope for all humanity in language addressed to all the earth” has to do with the universal nature of our daily needs, our capacity to err and hurt ourselves and others, and our capacity to be led astray and be sincerely misguided. Let us take each one in turn this time informed by the prisms mentioned above.
“Give us this day our daily bread”
For me, this is interpreted as the provision of our daily nourishment, in terms of structure: ideas/worldview, process: dialogue/dialectic, and outcome: actions, be it with respect to food, water, clothing, scaffolding and shelter of our mind, soul and body, respectively. Although mind and body is self evident, the soul is taken to represent the rules of engagement enshrined in our laws and trade agreements, be it in our families, communities, and by extension the family and community of nations.
“And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”
Since we all err, it behooves us to ask for forgiveness when this happens and to forgive those who in error hurt themselves, others and other sentient beings on the planet, including Mother Earth. This trespassing error could be in thought in terms of worldview or model of how the world really functions, could be words as it pertains to unjust laws and rules of engagement, and in actions in terms of physical violence when we do harm to others and other nations and the planet. If we endeavor to learn from the mistakes of the past in terms of the errors of our worldviews, laws and policies, then we would see the wisdom of turning over a new leaf which is the sincere manifestation of forgiveness for our errors of the past.
It is noteworthy to note that in some translations, trespass is interpreted as debt, with a literal economic interpretation. Given the fact that there is mounting debt in terms of personal, family, cooperation and sovereign states, forgiveness of debts may be an alternative to austerity measures where both creditors and debtors assume equal responsibility, and not just the debtors alone, so that debts can be forgiven with the intention of maintaining social, economic and political harmony and stability.
“And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil”
This was the most difficult for me to interpret, and was the most confusing, as it appears we are praying to our Father not to lead us into temptation. I penned my thoughts this way some time ago:
“In the Lord’s prayer, who was Jesus referring to when he instructed us to pray, “and lead us not into temptation?” Who is not to lead us into temptation? God? Was something lost in translation? Or is there a synthesis that is to be arrived at by combing this anti-thesis with the thesis of the Lord’s prayer – the dialectical method par excellence? I am still trying to figure this one out. Wouldn’t it have been better said or written, “and do not allow us to be lead into temptation.”
Here is what Crossan wrote:
“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Matthew 6:13, KJV
And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one. Matthew 6:13, NRSV”
Crossan, John Dominic (2010-09-07). The Greatest Prayer: Rediscovering the Revolutionary Message of the Lord’s Prayer (Kindle Locations 2812-2815). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
“Look once more at how the Abba Prayer concludes with this classic and climactic example of synonymous parallelism in negative/positive format:
And do not bring us to the time of trial
But rescue us from the evil one
Those two lines are mutually interpretive, so that God both leads us into and rescues us from test/trial/temptation by the evil one. But that still does not tell us the precise content of that test or trial or temptation (peirasmos in Greek). Is it general or specific?
My proposal for this chapter is that “temptation” in the Lord’s Prayer has a very specific meaning, not just a general one. There are certainly multiple types and degrees of temptation all around us every day-political, economic, and religious, local, national, and international. Who could name them all? But my suggestion is that the “temptation” that climaxes the Abba Prayer is quite specific in intention, quite precise in content, and quite deeply embedded in the concrete historical situation of first-century Israel’s confrontation with the Roman Empire.
That content presumes those just-mentioned options of nonviolent or violent resistance before, during, and after the life of Jesus. It specifically asks God not to “lead us into”-yes, lead us into-the temptation of violent resistance to Rome’s violent domination. Instead, it asks God to deliver us from that evil action or that evil one. It is, in other words, about avoiding violence even or especially when undertaken to hallow God’s name, to establish God’s kingdom, and thereby to fulfill God’s will “as in heaven so on earth.”
Crossan, John Dominic (2010-09-07). The Greatest Prayer: Rediscovering the Revolutionary Message of the Lord’s Prayer (Kindle Locations 2882-2898). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
This puts everything we have been taught in a (w)holy new light. We begin to wonder why it is that if this is what Jesus taught us, there have been the Crusades, Inquisitions, and genocides of many populations in the name of God? Why do many nations, who claim to be Christian in origin, spend most of their resources in making war, be it ideological (using their financial, economic and political industrial-complexes), rhetorical (using their educational and media-industrial-complexes) and physical (using their military-industrial-complexes), in the name of their interpretation of “God” rather than the provision of daily needs of the other and forgiveness of trespasses/debts in all of their manifestations?
Why is it we have been praying for peace on Earth for over two millennia and our prayers seem to be falling on deaf ears? Is it because as Christians, we have failed to appreciate the Lord’s prayer as a social, political and economic manifesto, of helping to create heaven here on Earth? Is it possible that Jesus’ birth and his instructions on how and what to pray for was actually a potential fresh start for humanity, a prosperity agenda where unity and a fair share for all, was his intention? Why hasn’t the church, which claims to be the repository of wisdom and understanding of Jesus’ message, helped to actualize this message of its founder? It also boggles my mind why the wisdom of this Jewish rabbi was not accepted by his people and why he was executed for challenging the political, economic and religious establishments of his time? And why as a church our doctrines and dogmas have been used to cause more division than unity among us (just count the number of denominations of Christianity which keeps growing).
A colleague two days ago asked me why do I go to church given that I do not agree with or endorse the dogmas and doctrines of the church? My simple answer is that I focus less and less on the trespasses of the church and forgive them of their less than (w)holy ways, and I focus more and more on the instructions of its founder Jesus from where all of the insights began. I hope that our churches will come together once more, put aside their divisive ways, and be true to the words and teachings of Jesus, and challenge the establishments, be they economic, political and religious, and take up their own cross, if needs be, to help create heaven on earth. This has to be totally non-violent in nature, but be able to use all the tools of humanity, our culture and our technology, to help create ideological, rhetorical/dialectical, and physical infrastructures, so as to provide for daily needs, forgiveness of debts, and to refrain from using violent means to impose our philosophies, worldviews, models, visions, and rules of engagement on others.
We should be guided by Pope Francis, in all these things when we come up against the failings of our own church and say likewise, “Who am I to judge?” Instead of being judgmental, let us come to accept that by not helping to provide for daily needs of others, by not forgiving others of their debts and trespasses, if we go to war, be as military personnel, or as financial and economic hit men, the root causes of war are of our own making, and we have no one to blame but ourselves. It is very hypocritical to say that we are one nation under God while contravening the dictates and instructions of the founder of our faith.
Maybe Jesus knew we would not get it initially, symbolized by the betrayal of Peter, who was the rock of our church. Maybe when we finally get it, as a collective, this would be the symbolic second coming here in earth where peace and good tidings to all men will reign supreme.
We can only pray that our leaders will be moved to action, as we celebrate the gift of life of the one who taught us how to pray:
The prayer as it occurs in Matthew 6:9–13
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.