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The Lord and His Prayer (2) – A Book Review


Lord & His Prayer

 

This book is vintage N.T. Wright – not just because it’s copyright is 1995, but also because the themes he treats are so typical of his writing – at least of that part of it that I have been privileged to read.

In the first segment of this review, I looked at the first two of the six chapters: “Our Father in Heaven” and “Thy Kingdom Come.”

Chapter Three is “Give Us This Day.” It begins:

The danger with the prayer for bread is that we get there too soon.

We come to prayer, aware of urgent needs, or at least wants. It’s tempting to race through the Lord’s Prayer, as far as ‘on earth as it is in heaven’, so that we can then take a deep breath and say ‘Now look here: when it comes to daily bread, there are some things I simply must have.’ And then off we go into a shopping list. To do this, of course, is to let greed get in the way of grace.

When we do this, we fail to align our will with God’s will – and so we defeat our purpose in prayer, to say nothing of defeating God’s purpose for our lives.

To make requests of God before we have really thought about what it means that He is our Father in Heaven – and to have set His name apart in our hearts as the Lord of all – is really to reduce Him to a celestial Santa Claus who exists to grant our every wish.

Similarly, to make unbridled requests without a solid desire that His “will be done one earth as it is in heaven” – including that prayer’s implicit commitment to personal holiness – is to try to use prayer to manipulate God instead of serve Him.

Wright points out that Jesus, in His life, sought to always do the will of the Father. One of the descriptions frequently given of Jesus by His enemies was “a glutton and a winebibber.” This phrase comes from Deuteronomy 21:20 in a description of the rebellious son who is to be stoned. He draws from this that there was more to this charge against Jesus than that He went to too many parties. “It was a way of saying: he is being profoundly disloyal to our traditions; he deserves to die.”

Yet, as Wright goes on, Jesus was intensely loyal to His Father in Heaven. He was not a rebellious son. His life – and His prayer – was always, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

As He went to parties with all the wrong sort of people, He was, in life and action, pointing to the coming kingdom of God with its “great festive banquet which God has prepared for his people.” In His life, He was redefining the kingdom of God in ways that displeased the leading authorities of the Jews.

He then comes back to the words of the prayer for this chapter: “Give us this day our daily bread.” He suggests there is a subtle difference in this clause as given by Matthew and Luke. Matthew seems to be saying, “Give us today our bread for tomorrow” while Luke’s rendition seems to be “Give us each day our daily bread.” Wright admits that the Greek is tricky here – and that both Matthew and Luke each probably reflect different aspects of what Jesus intended.

He interprets Matthew to mean, “Give us, here and now [sic], the bread of life which is promised for the great Tomorrow.” That is, the blessing of the coming kingdom.

Of Luke’s ‘version’ of the prayer, Wright says:

But Luke’s version is not to be sneezed at as merely one-dimensional, just praying for boring old bread. The whole point of the Kingdom… is that it isn’t about shifting our wants and desires on to a non-physical level, moving away from the earthly to the supposedly ‘spiritual’. It is about God’s dimension coming to birth within ours…. The Kingdom is to come in earth as it is in heaven. Daily needs and desires point beyond themselves, to God’s promise of the kingdom in which death and sorrow will be no more. But that means, too, that the promise of the Kingdom includes those needs, and doesn’t look down on them sneeringly as somehow second rate. [emphasis in original]

He points to four central themes in our own prayers to which this clause in the Lord’s Prayer give a window.

First, that it is not a prayer for our desires to be taken away, as some religions advocate.

To show this, Wright skillfully blends the spiritual with the physical. He reminds us that Jesus also said we are not to labor solely for bread that perishes, but at the same time Wright points out how God can take our natural desires and envelop them with His purposes.

For example, Naomi wanted a husband for Ruth – and she became an ancestress of Judah’s kings and of the Messiah.

The disciples, in Acts 1, were longing for Israel to become the world’s great nation; Jesus answered that culture-bound political hope in a totally unexpected way, sending them out as his royal ambassadors to announce him as the new worldwide King.

Second, God intends us to pray for specific needs – even for a parking space near the meeting to which we are running late! Of course, it would trivialize prayer if we prayed only for parking spaces and other such things, but to pray for things we honestly need right now is not trivial or unspiritual.

Third, we must look beyond our own personal needs to those for whom daily bread is a daily scarcity. We need to make this prayer one for the hungry and with the hungry. In this, we become a part of a royal priesthood speaking for others to God.

Finally, all of this comes together around the Lord’s Table where we accept the bread that He gives us in memory of His body. Here is the Kingdom banquet in prospect, a place where we bring all of our needs to lay them before the Father. He concludes this chapter:

Jesus celebrated the Kingdom by sharing his feasts with all sorts of people. So should we. Here is a practical suggestion; it’s only a start, but it’s better to start somewhere than to leave everything at the level of grand general ideas. The next time you come to the Eucharist, bring with you, in mind and heart, someone you know… who desperately needs God’s bread, literally or metaphorically, today. Bring them with you… and let them share the bread and wine with you. And… ask yourself what this new friend would mean when she or he prays ‘Give me this day my daily bread’. Then ask how you might be part of God’s answer to that prayer.

After all, we ourselves are only at Jesus’ table because he made a habit of celebrating parties with all the wrong people. Isn’t it about time we started to copy him?

(More to follow)

 

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One Response

  1. ThankS Jerry to answer my question . GOD BLESS YOU

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