The Prayer Jesus Taught Us: What is it I Asked For Again?

Our Father, which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name.
Thy Kingdom come.
Thy will be done in earth,
As it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive them that trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
The power, and the glory,
For ever and ever.

Amen.

Like most Christians, I have recited this prayer thousands of times from memory—in church; at the bedsides of the sick; over the bodies of the dead; even, sometimes, just for the heck of it. The words are, as the saying goes, etched in the mind.

The prayer comes with, if you will, many after-market products: two thousand years of preaching on the subject; and thousands if not tens of thousands of books on the meaning of the prayer. But look at the words. What are we praying for here?

There are four “asks” in the prayer:

1.

Thy Kingdom come.
Thy will be done in earth,
As it is in heaven.

2.

Give us this day our daily bread.

3.

And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive them that trespass against us.

4.

And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.

First out of the box, we pray for the coming of God’s kingdom, which is defined not as the end of the world but as the will of God occurring on the earth. The kingdom of God, the Beloved Community.

The second ask is for simple sustenance. Making it.

The third ask is for forgiveness of our own shortcomings, contingent upon our ability to forgive others (how’s that for a spiritual exercise?).

Note that the version quoted here is from the Book of Common Prayer. The King James text on which the prayer is based phrases the lines,
And forgive us our debts,
as we forgive our debtors.

The fourth ask is for the avoidance of the materialistic temptations that plagued the Rich Man.

The context for this version of the prayer is the Sermon on the Mount. The prayer also appears in the Gospel According to Luke where it reads,

And it came to pass, that, as Jesus was praying in a certain place, when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Master, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.”

And Jesus said to them,
“When you pray, say,
Our Father which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done,
As in heaven, so in earth.
Give us day by day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins;
for we also forgive every one
that is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
(11:1-4)

Admittedly, the Matthew version is more elegant. The asks are the same in both texts, however, and the first remains a wish to bring the will of God to the earth and to our immediate experience. What the prayer asks for is pretty immediate!–the coming of Beloved Community; sustenance; reciprocal forgiveness; and the avoidance of actions based on desire rather than compassion.

So may it be!

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One thought on “The Prayer Jesus Taught Us: What is it I Asked For Again?

  1. We say this prayer every Sunday during services at the UU church where I grew up. The UU church that I currently attend would never in a million years permit this prayer during services, so I’m forced to take my sustenance in private. But there are benefits to this approach too. It was only recently that, while re-reading the Gospels, I realized there are two different versions in the Bible. I found that quite interesting. I agree that the Matthew version is more elegant, but maybe I’m biased because that’s the version my church uses.

    It’s funny how these familiar pieces of liturgy and scripture change over the years. When we said this prayer at my Grandfather’s funeral, suddenly “Our father, who art in heaven” meant something completely different for me. Years later, I’m still thinking about that.

    Anyway, thank you for this nice little post.

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