It is almost embarrassing to admit that (1) traditions surrounding the Lord’s model prayer and (2) my own distaste for repetition have kept me from considering the place of this prayer in early Christian thought—and presumably in the very mind of Jesus. As set in Matthew’s gospel, this prayer can lead to important insights, including focus on the Father’s purposes and the art of simple, trusting request.
I am also struck by the material that flanks the prayer. Consider the immediate context:
- [Prior to the prayer] Counsel about doing good things with the Father in mind, not to be seen by others
- [After it] Words about (a) spiritual forgiveness, which occurs without physical evidence, (b) the secretive, non-observable side of fasting, and (c) treasures on earth vs. treasures in heaven
Do you notice the unseen element that appears (!) in Matthew’s material? It’s really quite apparent, but that didn’t stop me from ignoring it until very recently. Matthew seems concerned here with what’s spiritually real (not what’s physically observable).¹ I wonder whether we might say that the Lord’s prayer is, a sense, a prayer that relates the unseen kingdom to the here and now. That one proposition deserves repetition (but not quasi-monotone recitation).
There is yet more in this prayer. I could, for instance, draw on the insights of Gary D. Collier about the prayer’s compelling grammatical and syntactical structure. (I’ve never seen a published English translation that comes close to rendering this aspect well.) Surely, serious study of the prayer would last a year or two, and working it more into my heart, a lifetime.
For now, please simply consider with me the place of this prayer within the “Sermon on the Mount,” as the Matthew-gospel gives it to us. There is much in the context of Matthew 6 that clues us in to the unseen, yet very present nature of God’s will and God’s reign. Consider also the following quotation that ties the conclusion of the “Sermon” to the will of the King:
I like what Dr. Larry Chouinard writes in his pamphlet, The Kingdom Manifesto: “Jesus expects his followers to take seriously his words (Matt 7:24-27), and embody Kingdom values and priorities in the here and now. . . the modern church seems to have lost its earthly mission to embody and practice the way of the Kingdom as a concrete expression of God’s heavenly will.” – David Fiensy, Ph. D., https://www.kcu.edu/economics-christian-ethics/
¹ Those who are convinced that Jesus will yet rule on an earthly throne in Jerusalem should probably deal with this “unseen” aspect in some way.