One of the neat things about Vacation Bible School this week is that the focus was the Lord's Prayer. The Lectionary this week was to be the Golden Rule and in two weeks was going to be the Lord's Prayer, so, we reversed those two Sundays and for worship this Sunday we will be focusing on the Lord's Prayer as well.
This works well, but creates one very important problem: by pulling out the Lord's Prayer from the lectionary progression, we run the risk of seeing it as it is often seen, as an entity all it's own rather than part of a larger story. In this case The Lord's Prayer is really part of a narrative of faithfulness.
In the Gospel According to Matthew, The Lord's Prayer is found within the larger "Sermon on the Mount" series, the great teaching of Jesus concerning righteous living and faithfulness. Following the core message in the petition of the Lord's Prayer is an understanding that our ultimate search in prayer is not what we attain in this world, but ultimately seeking and attaining a right place with God in his.
In Luke, the passage that is the lectionary text and will be focused on more directly this Sunday; the setting of the text is in the midst of a series of lessons between Jesus and his disciples on the issue of discipleship. Sparked by the question from the disciples "How do we Pray?" Jesus responds with a simplified prayer that, though shorter and less poetic, it does not leave anything out from the Matthean text except for the over-abundance of Forgiveness language.
What draws my attention in the Luke version over the Matthew and really sparks an interest for me is the part of the prayer that we currently use debts and debtors for. In Matthew the words used are a derivative of opheilow which can literally be translated as debt for money, but is more likely to denote being in a position that one is able to claim that something is due them.
In the Luke version instead, of using a derivative of the same word for debts/debtors as Matthew uses for both the petition and expectation, the writer uses Amaritas or Sin as the expectation that will result to the same degree that the individual forgives another Opheilonti or Debts.
While many modern scholars have equivocated the definitions to read Sins and Sinners or Trespasses and Trespassers, the action and reaction from God is unmistakable in that we are required to act in the same measure as God. This opens an interesting place to explore, taking either the Matthean or Lukan versions, we are asking God to give us Grace, but only in the same measure that we show to others (think the parable of the unjust king). Though while the Matthean version is focused on material indebtedness, Luke's version brings the reader to a place that connects the spiritual plane with the practical in that the measure by with we show each other grace is the measure that we are asking God to forgive our sins. HOWEVER, there is another big problem in that we have already been assured God’s unconditional Grace and forgiveness of sins. So now we are back to a confused mess.
Granted, that is, unless you take into account a couple of things. First, Matthew's narrative of the Sermon on the Mount is creating an outline for what it means to be a follower of Christ; starting with the Beatitudes, the theme really is that the Cost of Discipleship is your life, and if you are willing to walk completely away from it, then you have not fully accepted it. Now this is not to set up a pious retort, because the Sermon on the Mount would go against that too. Rather, it is to bring a reality to the fact that if we were to keep anything against anyone, we are unable to fully receive the Grace God has given to us.
In Luke, because of the direct teaching of Christ to his disciples as to how they will continue his ministry, the practice of forgiveness he demonstrates through the prayer becomes a witness in its own right. As we, the modern followers and disciples of Christ, apply this to our lives, we witness to the world God’s Grace through our action and lives especially when we forgive a debt and subsequently being a witness to the ways in which God is forgive something much greater, our sins. This witness of forgiveness is a central aspect of how we learn and grow in Christ.
So as you prepare for Sunday, I ask that you take a moment and ask, how hard is it to forgive, especially a debt. Moreover, when you say The Lord's Prayer, do you really mean what you are asking?
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Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen