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God’s Men and Women: Called to Pray and Live the Lord’s Prayer
[SCM, India], Vol. 20, No. 12, December, 1974 (“corrected”)

James M. Gibbs

We approach our daily work to begin another day of service in Christ to the glory of God. What shall be our guidelines? Let us follow Matthew’s presentation of Jesus and of the Lord’s Prayer to see if this will help us.

Jesus: Man as God intends him to be

Genesis 5.1 begins, “The Book of the generations of Adam”, and Matt. 1.1 echoes this: “The Book of the generations of Jesus”. Do you want to see a real human being, the God-intended man, the true Adam? Then look to Jesus. And what is it that God requires of us as human beings? As the prophet Micah has said, “He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6.8). It is these same three things in Matthew that Jesus speaks of as being the deep things of God’s law: “justice, mercy and faith” (Matt. 23.23). This is why in Matt. 1.1 the evangelist gives to Jesus three titles: “Christ, Son of David, Son of Abraham”, for he wishes to proclaim to us that in Jesus we see the man of justice, mercy and faith.

As the Christ, God’s anointed one, the one anointed with God’s Spirit, he is the one of whom the second Isaiah spoke:

Behold my servant whom I have chosen,
My beloved in whom my soul is well pleased,
I will set my spirit upon him,
And he shall declare justice to the Gentiles.
He shall not strive, nor cry aloud,
Neither shall any one hear his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed shall he not break,
And smoking flax shall he not quench,
Till he sends forth justice into victory [meaning completely]
And in his name shall the Gentiles hope.

This passage is Isa. 42.1-3 as quoted in Matt. 12.18-21. Thus in Jesus as the Christ, Christ crucified, is the real justice, the power of God embodied in deed. We see in Jesus that God’s justice requires that we absorb all hurts and hatred in the cross, turning the other cheek (Matt. 5.39) and going the second mile (Matt. 5.41). We are not to nurse grudges or to seek a mere ‘eye for an eye’ type of justice, for in Jesus this has been set aside as being less than the depth of the Father’s will (Matt. 5.38-39).

It is as the Son of David that Jesus is repeatedly called on for mercy in Matthew, and he gives it to those who seek it (Matt. 9.27; 15.22; 20.30, 31; see also 17.15). He gives it in action, not just in attitude. He does not stop short with, “I am sorry, but I cannot do a thing for you”. As Son of David, Jesus shows forth the real wisdom of God, the wisdom of mercy, forgiveness and healing, the wisdom that builds up others rather than tearing them down. [And this Wisdom is enfleshed in Christ crucified; cf. 1 Cor. 1.24: “Christ crucified ... the power of God, the wisdom of God”.]

As the Son of Abraham, Jesus is the man who lives by faith in God. He does not seek his own well-being, not even to satisfy his own hunger by changing stones to bread (Matt. 4-2-4), but instead he trusts God’s word to give him well-being (Matt. 4.4) just as Abraham did (Gen. 15.6). Thus as Son of Abraham, Jesus is the truly well-born one, for he lives by faith in God (Matt. 3.9). Abraham was known in Jewish tradition as ‘the hallower of the name’, the one who caused God’s name to be called ‘Holy’ by others because of his life of faith, so Jesus likewise is the one who causes others to glorify the God of Israel (Matt. 15.31).

Thus in Jesus, the Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham, we see the true man, the man of justice, of mercy, and of faith, the man who truly shows forth the power, the wisdom, and the well-being that come from dependence upon God alone, and which are the gifts that mark the real human being, the person who is truly human.

The Lord’s Prayer

With all this in mind, let us now turn to the pattern prayer of our discipleship, the prayer of our true humanity, the Lord’s Prayer as given in Matt. 6.9-13.

“Our Father in heaven”, not simply ‘Father’ or ‘My Father’, but ‘Our Father’. We do not come to him by ourselves or simply for ourselves. All who come to us this day are those whom God would have know him as his beloved children. May we remember this as we work with and for them.

“Hallowed be thy name”. As sons [and daughters] of Abraham, trusting God for our well-being, may we so serve others this day without thought for ourselves, that they may have cause to glorify God for our selfless service that seeks not our own welfare but that of others.

“Thy kingdom come.” As sons [and daughters] of David, who have been brought into the Kingdom of God, into his gracious and merciful rule, let us live as members of the Kingdom. We do not make and we do not build the Kingdom of God. We can only enter into it as God’s gracious gift, and then we are to give expression to God’s rule in our life in such a way that men and women can see that he reigns over us and not we ourselves.

“Thy will be done”. Jesus’ great prayer of ‘thy will be done’ is in Gethsemane (Matt.26.42) and the result is the cross. So, too, as we pray theses words, we indicate our willingness to go in the way of dying to ourselves, to our position, even, if necessary, to our good name, for the sake of those whom in Christ we are called not to be served by, but to serve (Matt. 20.28).

“In heaven and on earth”, or “As it is in heaven and on earth”. Our conventional translation, “On earth as it is in heaven”, does not accurately reflect Matthew’s Greek words. The phrase “heaven and earth” is the normal biblical phrase meaning the whole creation, and this is how it is used in Matt. 5.18 and 24.35. If, following many manuscripts of Matthew, we take it as being “in heaven and on earth”, then we are to will that God’s name be hallowed, his kingdom come, his will be done ‘in heaven and on earth’, that is, in the whole creation, beginning with us. If we take it as it is given in other good manuscripts, “as [it is] in heaven and on earth”, then we are praying that God’s name may be hallowed in us, his kingdom come in us, his will be done in us, as it is already done in all the rest of his creation apart from man, for, as we see in our society, and in all the societies of the world, the real problem lies within man, not outside him. If we take it this second way, then it is man who needs to be straightened out, starting with us. If we take it the first way, then it is only as man goes in the right way that he will so use God’s creation that it too will be conformed to God’s will. Perhaps it is this first understanding that speaks to us more clearly and meaningfully in this land [i.e. India] which is struggling to develop its great potential resources in the midst of almost overwhelming human need. The task begins anew each day with the response that we make.

If in the first half of the prayer we have made our Father the goal of all our aspirations, in the second half we address him as the source of our whole being.

“Give us this day our daily bread”. From God alone we receive that which holds us in our well-being. We do not need to grasp for more. We are freed from grabbing at the bread of others, which is what bribe-taking amounts to. We are free to deal with the cases that come to us on their merits rather than on how much is in it for us. We are freed from playing favourites so that we can deal impartially with all who come to us without regard to family, caste, creed, connections or money, for we trust God to ‘give us this day our daily bread’, and an honest wage for honest labour. If Abraham left his country, his kindred and his father’s house in obedience to the Lord, trusting God to bless him and to make him a blessing for all people (Gen. 12.1-2), then in Christ we, too, can dare to look beyond our region, our language group and our kith and kin to the larger welfare of all those with whom we are called to deal, indeed, to the welfare of all the peoples of India.

“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”. Here is mercy as forgiveness and acceptance. And here is both truth and judgement. It is the truth that only as we are ready to die to our rights, even to our rights within the rules and regulations of our jobs, that we shall find the real peace and reconciliation that God alone can give. It is so easy to hide behind ‘standard operating procedure’ or even the need to save one’s face as an excuse for harbouring ill-will and as an excuse for not dealing with unpleasant matters or people that are presented to us. But here we come up against the judgement: only as we forgive will we be forgiven. If we cannot bear the cost of forgiving others, then we shall not be able to bear the cost of admitting that we [deeply] need forgiveness and the cost of accepting that forgiveness. And the demand of this forgiveness goes further than our merely forgiving others, because this much we might think we are doing in our own magnanimity. In Matthew Jesus also calls us to seek the forgiveness of others: “If you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go on your way, first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matt. 5.23-24). We have a need both to give and to receive mercy in our human situations if we would really know the mercy of God. But yet as Christians we know the good news of God’s love and mercy toward us that frees us to be loving and merciful in Christ in a God-given power that is not limited to our own meagre resources.

“And bring us not to the test”. The older translation, “And lead us not into temptation”, obscures the meaning here. What is meant is, do not test us at the end in our own mere human strength, for then we shall fail. It is not by our own strength that we shall prevail and succeed in going in the way of the cross, the way of dying to ourselves in order that others may live.

“But deliver us from evil.” Here is our final good news. It is God alone who can and will sustain us in dying to ourselves, our rights, our perks. This is the true power, the true obedience to God that demands our all, and it is as we cast ourselves wholly on him that we find in him the gift that delivers us from all false paths. It is from him alone that we are given the true power to pray and to will into action the words, “Thy will be done”.

To God be the glory: “Hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done”. From God is our sufficiency: daily bread, forgiveness and deliverance from evil.

The familiar closing words, “For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory for ever and ever”, are a liturgical doxology, a paean of praise, added by the early church to the Lord’s Prayer. Although we gladly say these words, as we have just seen, they add nothing beyond what we have already prayed when we rightly understand the Lord’s Prayer. For the Lord’s Prayer is the prayer of our true humanity into which we enter anew and more deeply each day, that humanity which is both grace and demand, gift and goal. It is that humanity which finds its true expression and freedom by living in Christ in total dependence on God our Father. As we face the new tasks of this day in our office, our classroom, our clinic, or in our field work, may we enter more deeply into this true human freedom that comes from total dependence upon God for our wisdom , power and well-being, that we may accept all who come without fear or favour, that we may be kind and considerate to all, and that we may be free even to die to ourselves for the sake of those whom we are called to serve, trusting God our Father to raise us into new life, into true life, into our real humanity in Christ.

(For the work that lies behind this, see Wisdom, Power and Well-being)