I have been in the process of writing a new book which is just about to be handed in. When you write anything you end up with lots of extra stuff you don’t use and just don’t fit. Some of it you aren’t sure you believe and other bits you love but know others won’t. Anyway, it had some notes on the politics of Jesus’ prayer which never made it into anything really readable, and it became obvious it wasn’t a route I needed to go down. But never the less I thought it was something partly interesting.
So for those who are interested here are some notes on Jesus’ political manifesto!
A POLITICAL MANIFESTO,
So often we say the lords prayer rushing through it without giving real thought about its content. In the gospel of Matthew Jesus teaches his followers to pray. Jesus said to them this is how you should pray:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation
and deliver us from the evil one.” Matt 6:9-13
Jesus’ prayer is similar to that of a pledge of allegiance. It announces the intentions of the church and what they believe. They effectively declare that Gods Kingdom has come and that they choose right here and now to give all power and glory ‘not’ to the popular Roman empire or King Herod but to the Kingdom of God. It declares which team they are on and objectives of it.
This prayer was always in-tendered to be said as a corporate appeal. Jesus said we were to call God ‘our’ father. Jesus could have said ‘Father in heaven’ or ‘our father in heaven’ but he doesn’t he starts the prayer with a plural. This is a community prayer.
I would argue that if you actually read the prayer it doesn’t in fact ask God for anything. I would argue that it’s a dramatic announcement of what is the intent of a follower of Jesus in the world. It’s about a church making a active acknowledgement of the congregations intent. The prayers are going to implement the love and grace of God on earth and thereby establishing Gods Kingdom on earth. I’m not sure the prayer Jesus gave the followers was for God but was more of a manifesto for them to pray together. On a service level it’s about raising faith but on a deeper level its about a revolutionary community. It’s about people being prepared to join Jesus in uniting under God’s rulership as opposed to the Roman Empires.
Unlike the prayers found in the Psalms Jesus’ prayer does not call for God to step in against the earthly powers and rulers. But its about a group of people together declaring their intent in the world. So often we think of prayer as a way of us trying to change God’s mind on something or convince him to do as we wish. But here in Jesus’ prayer its not about changing Gods mind but its about us being freed of debt and us freeing others.
Our Father in heaven,
The first line is about how God is in heaven and that this name (YHVH) is holy. It then says that we want to see Gods kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. What if we were the answer to that prayer? What if it’s not about God doing more but the prayer is about us becoming willing to see that new kingdom in. If we want to see Gods principles of justice, grace, mercy, forgiveness and love then we should not just ask God for it but we too should practice this. In Jesus we saw this happen, Jesus practices his resurrection life on people that he met in a crowd or by a well. It wasn’t that Jesus could do this stuff because he somehow was special, Jesus emptied himself of all of that. Jesus was God in flesh but he was 100% flesh and we need to remember that. Jesus emptied himself so that we could see that it was possible to do the same things as Jesus because of the Holy Spirit.
Give us today our daily bread.
The prayer then says give us today our daily bread. What is interesting to note in this line is that it focuses only on the single period of twenty-four hours. Give us today our bread, its obviously meant to be said in the morning as the day starts. This line helps the prayer to remember to only ask for what is needed today and not to worry about the rest of the week, month or year.
The food that is mentioned is really interesting. Jesus doesn’t pray for bread and cheese, or bread and fish. No curry, meatballs or chocolate cake but simple bread. And not only is the bread a simple meal but in the Greek epiousios artos is better translated as necessary bread, that is the only bread required for keeping alive. This line of the prayer is about focusing us narrowly upon this day and on the essentials only.
This line focuses us upon stopping to seek to accumulate more and more wealth and goods. Jesus wanted the disciples to only go after the things they really require. Jesus know that poverty would not be eradicated by political governments but by a group of people all seeking to give away and live on less so the wider community can gain what they need.
Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.
If this prayer was corporate and if this is a manifesto then what does it do to a group of people when then say this line together. It reminds everyone that they have a part to play in setting people free from their debt. It reminds them that they are all equal and that no one is more important than the other. Each have forgiveness given by God, there is no levels of importance in forgiveness. When we take off our hatreds we naturally feel love. The tension between them and us dissolves and we are reborn. In Jesus’ time a person in debt would be stripped naked and left with no humanity, Gods forgiveness gives people back their humanity and so should ours. Forgiving people of their debt is about us reminding ourselves about how we want to be treated by God. It’s about setting people free from the stripping of their humanity so that they can life as whole human beings.
I would argue that Jesus’ prayer is in fact a political manifesto for the early church. The church declared their intent to see the kingdom come on earth by living on only what they needed. Living by forgiveness and love rather than hate and by setting people free from their debt and avoiding the evil ways of the Empire.
In other words by living justly, living by mercy and waking humbly with God.