Teach Us to Pray – Part 2
Last week we finished Part 1 of our deep dive into Luke’s version of The Lord’s Prayer with the petition Your kindom come. As I said last week, a literal translation would be “Let it come, the reign of you,” or “Let your reign begin.” I also pointed out that this petition, “let your reign begin” is where this prayer stops being a nice religious sentiment or litany of devotion and becomes an endorsement of a better reality.
Your kingdom come, or Let your reign begin is a declaration that we are in favor of radical changes in the way the world operates. When we pray your kingdom come, we are asking God to work through us to make significant changes in economics, politics, religion and society in order to bring the justice and shalom of God to our everyday lives. When we pray your kingdom come, let your reign begin, we are volunteering to live here and now God’s shalom and also to do whatever we can to bring God’s shalom to others and to all creation.
Shalom is what the Lord’s Prayer is all about. Shalom is a Hebrew word that means peace. But it’s not merely a peace based on the absence or suppression of hostility. The word Shalom comes from the Hebrew root shalam which literally means “make it good.” It is a word used to describe completeness and wholeness. And, while it’s good for us to seek our own inner shalom, the real shalom of God’s reign happens in community. The Shalom of the kin-dom is a peace that recognizes that we are all interconnected and interdependent. Shalom desires the peace and well-being of others, which means that it requires justice and fairness.
Cherokee theologian Randy S. Woodley describes it this way: “Shalom is communal, holistic, and tangible. There is no private or partial shalom. The whole community must have shalom or no one has shalom. As long as there are hungry people in a community that is well fed, there can be no shalom. . . . Shalom is not for the many, while a few suffer; nor is it for the few while many suffer. It must be available for everyone.”
When we pray Your kingdom come, we are praying for shalom in our homes, in our towns, in our churches, in our nation and throughout the whole world. We are praying for peace and justice and fairness for everyone. And that brings us naturally to Give us each day our daily bread, because in God’s shalom everyone is fed and no one goes hungry.
Give us each day our daily bread. There is some ambiguity in the Greek wording here, and it can be translated in two ways. The first way, of course, is the way we’re used to hearing it or saying it: give us today our daily bread. Amy-Jill Levine points out, though, that this is not only redundant but rather odd. She suggests that a better translation would be give us tomorrow’s bread today.
Give us tomorrow’s bread today is a valid translation from a linguistic standpoint, but it may also give us both a more practical and a more wholistic way to think about what we’re asking. In most households in Jesus’ day, the dough for the next day’s bread was prepared the evening before and allowed to rise during the night. If you were going to have bread tomorrow, you needed to have the ingredients today. Understood this way, this petition is a way of asking for something very practical. We’re asking God to save us from at least a little anxiety by ensuring that we have today what we will need tomorrow.
But this petition of the prayer reaches beyond our family table. It is reminiscent of a traditional Jewish table prayer called the motzi: “Blessed are you, Lord our God, ruler of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.” It reminds us that God doesn’t just magically put bread on the table, God uses the generosity of the earth and the labor of the whole community to put bread on the table.
Last week I told the story of the little boy who was saying his bedtime prayers and prayed very loudly, “AND GOD, PLEASE GIVE ME A NEW BICYCLE!” When his mother reminded him that he didn’t need to say it so loudly because God isn’t hard of hearing, he said “I know, but Grandma is.” As I said last week, this little guy was onto something—God often uses others to answer our prayers, in fact, that’s how it works most of the time.
When we pray give us tomorrow’s bread today, we are asking God to care for the land where the wheat grows. We’re asking for clean and gentle rains so the crops can grow. We are asking God to guard and protect the farmers who plant and care for and harvest the crops. We are asking God to care for those who transport the wheat and mill it into flour. We are asking God to care for the hands that make the dough and knead it and bake it. We are asking for fuel for the fire in the ovens.
Bread on the table depends entirely on the well-being of the community and on our relationships within the community. God brings forth bread from the earth, but it is a team effort. When we pray for both today’s bread and tomorrow’s we are once again praying for the shalom of God’s kin-dom. The next time you hold a piece of bread in your hand, or any piece of food for that matter, think of all the hands that labored to bring it to your hand.
Shalom is what makes it possible for us to have our daily bread. But sometimes things we do or say disrupt the cooperation and mutuality that make shalom possible. Sometimes our sins or the sins of others rupture relationships, and forgiveness is needed to restore those relationships. And that’s why Jesus taught us to pray And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
Luke says “forgive us our sins.” Matthew says, “forgive us our debts.” In both Aramaic and Hebrew, “debt” was another way to talk about sin. In the version we pray in our congregation, we usually say “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” That’s a perfectly fine way to pray this petition. It reminds us that we do sin against God and against each other. We do need forgiveness from God and from each other. This petition reminds us that there is a reciprocity involved in forgiveness. As Jesus said in Luke 6:37, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” Once again it’s about relationships all the way down, which means that this petition, too, is also about God’s shalom.
But let’s go back to the language about debts and forgiving debts. Remember that Jesus was a Jew and he was teaching this prayer to his Jewish disciples. This language about debts would have been a reminder to them of everything the Torah has to say about economic justice. Jesus is telling them and us to live in an economically just way.
In Hebrew, the word for charity, tzedakah, is from the same root as the word for righteousness, tzedek. Torah says in Deuteronomy 15:11, “Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.’” Deuteronomy 24:14 tells us, “You shall not withhold the wages of the poor and needy laborers, whether Israelites or aliens who reside in your land in one of your towns.”
In this petition, Jesus reminds us to think of our spiritual indebtedness—we are all indebted to God’s grace—but we are reminded to consider the economic implications of the way we live. Are the products and services we buy produced in a way that’s economically fair to the workers who produce them? Does my lifestyle depend on or contribute to some economic injustice? What can I do to change that?
Living a life of faith as a follower of Jesus means that sometimes we face difficult questions. Sometimes it feels almost as if we’re being tested.
And do not bring us to the time of trial. When the Book of Common Prayer was revised in 1604, the phrase “and lead us not into temptation” in The Lord’s Prayer caused a huge controversy. The Puritans were quick to point out that the Book of James says, “No one, when tempted, should say, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one.” (James 1:13) This was only one of several complaints they had about the Book of Common Prayer, but it was one they were not willing to compromise.
They had a point. What the Greek says in both Luke and Matthew is “do not bring us into a peirasmon. Peirasmon is a time or place of testing, trial or examination. Temptation may be a kind of test, but not every test is a temptation. In this petition, you are asking to be spared from any kind of catastrophe or stress, any situation that would put your faith to the test.
As I said in Part 1, The Lord’s Prayer, this prayer that Jesus gave his disciples is not only one of the great treasures of our faith, it’s also, in its way, a radical call to a discipleship. In this prayer we are asking God to empower us, guide us, and walk with us as we embrace a new way of life with new values and a new vision of what the world can be. It really is, in six simple lines, a kind of manifesto for life as a follower of Jesus. In this prayer we are asking for peace, health, and wholeness for ourselves and for our community. We are asking God to help us live in the shalom of the kin-dom here and now. We are asking God to help us live in the Way of Love.
“Shalom,” writes Jamie Arpin-Ricci, “is what love looks like in the flesh. The embodiment of love in the context of a broken creation, shalom is a hint at what was, what should be, and what will one day be again. Where sin disintegrates and isolates, shalom brings together and restores. Where fear and shame throw up walls and put on masks, shalom breaks down barriers and frees us from the pretense of our false selves.”
When we pray for God’s name not to be profaned, when we pray for God’s reign to begin in earnest, when we pray for a healthy community and world so that everyone may have tomorrow’s bread today, when we pray for forgiveness and the power to forgive, we are praying for God’s vision of a healthy world. When we say “Amen,” we are not only saying “Make it so,” we are saying we will do what we can to live in that vision and make it a reality for others. In Jesus’ name.
 Shalom and the Community of Creation; Randy S. Woodley
 Jamie Arpin-Ricci, Vulnerable Faith: Missional Living in the Radical Way of St. Patrick