The Pater Noster, Our Father or Lord’s Prayer is a foundational prayer and is the prototypical model upon which almost all subsequent Christian prayer is based. In the New Testament, the Lord’s Prayer appears in the Gospel of Matthew as Jesus’ instruction against ostentatious prayer (presumably in response against the public piety practiced by the Pharisees and the verbose formulas used by Hellenized Jews and Greek colonists) whereby it offers a succinct model for his followers to pray without seeking to attract attention. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus explains the Lord’s Prayer as a method of prayer in line with how John the Baptist taught his disciples. Regardless of what order or exact context Jesus taught the prayer, it remains the oldest, continually practiced prayer for Christians the world over.
As I mentioned in my previous entry, the Lord’s Prayer was the second prayer I learned. I can only presume it was because of my father’s reluctance to burden me with the verbose “thee’s” and “thou’s” common in most churches, both Protestant and Catholic, until fairly recently when contemporary language became more and more normalized. As most people growing up learning this prayer and reciting it regularly or semi-regularly, I never gave much thought to the prayer until college when I started reading the Bible in earnest as well as challenging myself to make sense of it critically. I remember one point where I mused to myself how funny it was that the very prayer Christ taught as a remedy against ostentatiousness, itself had become ostentatious. This all changed when I went to confession one summer with the chaplain of my college and he prescribed that my only act of penance was to recite the Lord’s Prayer, “slowly and thinking about each word.” No ten Hail Mary’s, rosary, just the Lord’s Prayer. It was at that point that I realized the awe-inspiring power of this fifty-five word prayer.
“Our Father who art in heaven,”
At the time that the Lord’s Prayer was first given to the disciples, it would have been largely unheard of and, indeed, a radical statement to refer to God in such a familiar term as “Father”. According to linguistic scholarship, if Aramaic was in fact the language in which Jesus first taught this prayer, the word he would have used, “abba” (corresponding to the emphatic or definite form of אב, ‘av) would have been shocking to the religious ruling elite. At the time, I had a professor who also taught that the same word would have been tantamount to using the English word, “daddy” – later I would learn that this is not the case, but nonetheless is an interesting way to think about the form of address and, in a way, contemplate on familiarity with God.
Theologically, “Our Father” in Heaven is consistent with Semitic-derived theologies placing “god” in “heaven” while in pre-monotheistic times having a mother-goddess being more accessible upon the earthly plane. Once the Hebrew peoples moved away from their henotheistic roots and developed a radical monotheism, God still remained on his “Holy Mountain” and, by the time of Jesus, was only accessible in Holy of Holies of the Second Temple. Jesus, drawing upon his vast knowledge of scripture and prayer, reminds the apostles that God is “Our Father” who cannot be limited by temples or shines (contemporaneously, I would suggest even churches”, but is in Heaven and cannot be put into a box.
“hallowed be thy name.”
At the time of the Second Temple and even today among contemporary Jews, there has always been a mystical component or series of taboos relating to the name of God, which was presumably only able to be pronounced by the High Priest of the temple complex during the sacrifices at the temple. Continued to this day, the name of God is oftentimes written using diacritical or abbreviated standards, in English some people even using a hyphen in place of the “o” to avoid writing out the name of God unless it becomes defaced. While we cannot be entirely certain of the order in which these proscriptions came about, the second article of the prayer is a reminder of the commandment against “taking the Lord’s name in vain” as well as an injunction to praise God from whom all things have and will come into being.
“Thy kingdom come.”
By the time of Jesus’ ministry in the region of Palestine in the first century, there were many religious movements calling for radical political and societal change. Among these, one of the most radical examples was the Qumran community which developed a very complex and apocalyptic fervor in response to perceived ritual neglect in the Temple as well as against the Roman colonization and interference with the Temple complex. While it cannot be proven, some scholars suggest that John the Baptist would have been a member or at least familiar with these communities and had a likewise apocalyptic (prophetic would be putting it politely) view of the coming messiah.
After Jesus’ baptism and throughout his ministry, the apostles and followers were hoping for a radical and possibly violent change to take place in Jerusalem with the Jesus leading the way as messiah. As we know now, things didn’t exactly work out this way. Even after his ascension into Heaven, the earthly community expected that the world would end shortly and became very active in evangelism as well as recording the messages which would eventually comprise the New Testament. To me, “Thy kingdom come” is both an affirmation that with Christ the Kingdom of God has been established upon earth (in the present tense) as well as a joyful hope for my own earthly pilgrimage toward the heavenly city.
“Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
As maker, sustainer and redeemer of all things; there is nothing that God does not know that exists throughout all Creation. Far from being a tyrant, God has likewise endowed us as part of His creation, “made in his image and likeness” with free-will to choose to participate with or against Him. It is taught that “sin” occurs when we choose to do our will against the commandments of God as we know Him, therefore this article should serve as a point of reflection whenever we as believers choose to participate against, as opposed to with God’s plans as we know it within our hearts.
“Give us this day our daily bread,”
To cite Luther’s Small Catechism, “God gives daily bread; even without our prayer, to all wicked men; but we pray in this way the He would lead us to know it, and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.” Personally, while sound, I tend to interpret this particular passage a little more broadly: yes, God provides everything that we need and we should pray and receive what we have with thanksgiving but this goes beyond food, shelter and basic environmental needs. Transcendentally, we recognize God as the sole-provider of all things and in praying for “our daily bread” what we are likewise praying for is communion with God externally in the form of the eucharist (from L.L. eucharistia, from Greek. eukharistia “thanksgiving, gratitude,”) but internally through His grace which is boundless.
“and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us,”
Departing from the “standard wording” of the English Lord’s prayer, I would like to look at this from a perspective illustrated in the contemporary language: “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” As created beings we are fallible and frequently fail in our duties to ourselves, to others and to God. Sin not only affects our relationships with other people, but by extension affects our personal relationship with God whom we are called to emulate and practice radical forgiveness. This is interestingly enough in line with the what is taught in the Babylonian Talmud, God is said to have thirteen attributes of mercy, of which the most important in this case is: “God is the God of truth, thus we can count on God’s promises to forgive repentant sinners.” Likewise, kataphatically, we are urged by Jesus to, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Love him with all your strength and with all your mind and, ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ ”
“and lead us not into temptation,”
Being omnibenevolent, God does not induce us to sinful action rather in choosing to do wrong, we are lead astray and should pray for direction on the off-chance that we might be lead astray or turn away from God.
“but deliver us from evil.”
As also attested in the Babylonian Talmud:
“God forgives a deliberate angering of Him if the sinner repents.
God forgives sins that are committed in error.
God wipes away the sins from those who repent.”
Through the healing grace of God we may be brought back into good-actions if we likewise sincerely repent of our actions immediately and seek reparation, thereby closing the occasion for future sins to take place.