A Different Look at the Lord’s Prayer

Loren RossonWhen Christians pray the Our Father, they are usually praising God and asking for blessings.

But when Jesus’ disciples prayed it, they were asking for protection against disobedience–for God to keep them on a difficult straight-and-narrow.

The Disciples' Prayer

“The Disciples’ Prayer: The Prayer Jesus Taught in Its Historical Setting” by Jeffrey B. Gibson is available from the library in paperback.

So says Jeffrey Gibson in his hot-off-the-press analysis of what we call the Lord’s Prayer, but which he calls The Disciples’ Prayer since it was the disciples who prayed it. It’s an historical analysis that puts the prayer in its original context.

Gibson asks intriguing questions: Which version of the prayer is more reliable, Matthew’s (6:9-13) or Luke’s (11:2-4)? (He thinks Matthew’s). Did Jesus inherit the prayer from John the Baptist? (He says no.) Was the prayer like other Jewish future-looking prayers? (Not quite.)

The prayer emerges not so much as a plea for God to make his kingdom come, but to help the disciples maintain an obedience which the kingdom required.

To say “Our Father” was a confession of God’s lordship that pledged disciple loyalty whatever the cost. “Hallow your name” asked that the disciples not dishonor God through disobedience, even at the cost of their lives. The plea for “forgiveness” was about the principle of nonretaliation and the constraint to love enemies.

Loving enemies is always a tall order, but martyrdom (especially pacifist martyrdom) is terrifying.

There were Jewish resistance groups in the first century whose messiahs or leaders effectively preached, “an eye for an eye, with a rock through the head, too.” When the disciples were told to turn the other cheek, they weren’t being taught a cute Sunday-school metaphor, but rather to be merciful and even to succumb to martyrdom if it came to that.

The Disciples’ Prayer is a fascinating historical investigation, even for secularists like me. For Christians it carries the bonus of offering an alternative way of thinking about this famous prayer. Perhaps it was less about “praying down” the kingdom of God, and more about keeping oneself constrained to be worthy of it.

About Loren Rosson

Loren Rosson heads up the circulation department at the Nashua Public Library. He's worked at the library since graduating from Lewis and Clark College, with the exception of the two years he spent in Lesotho with the Peace Corps, teaching high school.

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