Over the last few weeks, I’ve been writing on the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13). Today’s article is the last of three. (Find the first article here and the second article here.)
The first article noted that Jesus’ prayer finds a home squarely in Jewish liturgy of the first century. It is not unlike other rabbinic prayers of old, but it does stand out in its emphasis on God’s kingdom. Those who read Jesus’ prayer cannot fail to notice that God’s coming kingdom will not just affect Israel, but all creation.
Six petitions make up the Lord’s Prayer. The first three petitions focus on God. This week we look at the next three petitions, which focus on kingdom living.
The first of those petitions is the request for “our daily bread.” Although bread may seem mundane, it is a profoundly symbolic request.
Bread invokes the daily manna that God gave Israel shortly after God rescued them from the death-grip of Egypt. If God provided for Israel in the wilderness, then you God will provide for one’s daily needs as they suffer under the oppression of the Roman government (often cited as the “new Egypt” in ancient Jewish literature).
Rome promised everyone “bread and circuses” based on a political notion that the more you entertained and satisfied the people, the more compliant and docile they would be. Rome, which had a false sense of “pax Romana,” or “Roman peace,” could not provide the real nourishment that only God provides.
A request for bread, therefore, was political as much as it was pragmatic. I can’t help but think that Jesus and his disciples had Isaiah 25 in mind when they prayed this prayer: A day will come when God returns to earth, gathers all people to Zion, and throws a great banquet for those who are redeemed. This banquet was so important in the life of Jesus’ community, Jesus acted it out the day before he was executed.
The next petition is that of receiving and giving forgiveness. I heard it once said that it is hard to receive what we have not given. If we expect God to forgive us, then we need to practice forgiveness of others–even our enemies.
And just as bread invoked God’s leadership in every area of a disciple’s life, so too does forgiveness point to a political reality in which war, violence, and militarism are abandoned for an agenda of reconciliation and God’s justice.
We may not feel it at the time, but when we forgive and receive forgiveness, we are choosing to live into God’s power and Spirit. If you are compelled to seek revenge on someone who has wronged or hurt you, but you don’t act on it, it is not a sign of weakness. Quite the contrary.
This is the overarching theme of the book of Revelation. God’s community, pitted in a place of persecution and weakness was actually in a position of power and God’s providence because they–unlike their enemies and oppressors–had the power to forgive and anticipate God’s justice. God never asked Christ’s disciples to take up arms even to defend themselves, but to trust in the Lord and follow the way of peace-making.
The last petition asks God to keep us from temptation. Many people think that this verse implies that God is the one who tempts us. According to the book of James, that is not true (James 1:12-14).
God does not tempt us, but we can ask God to help us avoid those places in which we are most vulnerable. Even Jesus, as perfect as he was, was tempted.
One of the goals of praying for this petition is to realize that we must do our part in staying away from temptation. Scholar A. J. Disasa asks, “How can we ask for protection while remaining blind to the temptation that we willfully invite?”*
The Lord’s Prayer, as we have stated in previous articles, is comforting but full of challenge and conviction. It is concerned as much about sin as it is about God’s provision and grace.
The final words of the prayer return to God. It is a doxological affirmation in God’s power and glory forever. God’s holiness provided the bookends for the Lord’s Prayer, and it should serve as bookends for all that we do, for it is God’s kingdom, not our own, that we must seek in every aspect of our life.
*”Matthew 6:7-14,” in Feasting on the Gospels: Matthew, Volume 1; Louisville: John Knox Press, 2013, p. 124.