Friday, September 23, 2016

Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes–The Lord’s Prayer

38d2ea28-d0b8-4953-b962-1b9a41648f0b_1.521799f19899b1e8b6f68e4eef180b97We now move on to the third section of the book: Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels, by Kenneth E. Bailey. The main purpose of this book is to take a fresh look at the Gospels in the context of Middle Eastern culture. In this section, Bailey looks at the Lord's Prayer. He sees this prayer as having some similarities to the traditional prayers of the Jewish scriptures and culture, but also with important differences. I welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book.

First, he looks at the address of the prayer, "Our Father," or the Aramaic, "Abba" with which it is paired in several verses in the NT. He sees the use of the Aramaic as very significant because it was a break from the use of the traditional Hebrew and "religious language." Jesus was urging the use of simple prayers in the vernacular. This opened up the gospel to be adapted into, and transform, all cultures. He defines "Abba" as a word of respectful relationship. It is one of the first words a Middle Eastern child learns (97) and yet it shows respect to a person of rank. Of course, father is a metaphor and not all aspects of earthly fatherhood should be brought into our idea of God. Bailey sees the prodigal son parable as Jesus' way of defining what he meant when He called God "Father." It is a special word that defines the relationship between the worshipper and God and helps us to see that we all are brothers and sisters.

If there is no sacred language, there is no sacred culture. All of this is a natural outgrowth of the incarnation. If the Word is translated from the divine to the human and becomes flesh, then the door is opened for that Word to again be translated into other cultures and languages. Matthew 5.9, 95

Jesus did not describe God as an emperor exercising absolute sway over his possessions (some fathers and mothers act in this fashion). Rather, Jesus called God “Father” and defined this term in the parable of the prodigal son. This is the only legitimate understanding of “our Father,” and any other definition is a rejection of the teaching of Jesus and a betrayal of his person. Matthew 5.9, 99

The Abba of Christian prayer is indeed near and yet far away; he is in the heavens. The worshiping community is part of the created world. Abba is the Creator. The faithful are servants and Abba is the Master. Mortals are born and they die, while Abba is the eternal One. Abba, the loving Father, is approachable and yet dwells in awesome majesty in the heavens in all his glory. Matthew 5.9, 101–102

Bailey now turns to the six petitions in the Lord's Prayer and compares them with the central prayers of Judaism. He notes that Jesus' prayer "de-Zionizes" the Jewish tradition with no reference to Jerusalem in this formative prayer. He also notes that the 1st three requests are focused on the worldwide mission of God and the final three are focused on the needs of the community and its individuals. He then discusses the idea of God's Name and holiness in the first petition. The big point is that only God can "make holy His Name." The prayer is asking for God to show His holiness as He acts in the world. Ultimately God's holiness and love are demonstrated together by the cross as His love provides the solution to human unholiness.

Each of these six petitions involves an act of God, and each specifies or implies participation on the part of the believer. That is, each involves the sovereignty of God and the freedom and responsibility of the human person.  Matthew 6.9, 105

In its simplest expression the name of God is that point of approach to God where it is possible for humans to communicate with him...The name is also a summary of the essence of God. To know the name of God is to affirm that God is personal, that he can be known (Mt 28:19) and that revelation is always an act of God. Matthew 6.9, 108–109

God is holy love, and he faces unholy nature. Yet, in his holiness, God is able to reach out to love that unholy nature. Again Kuhn writes, “therefore the antithesis between God and man consists in the very love which overcomes it.” In the story of Jesus, the cross offers a more perfect resolution to this agony, where justice is served and ultimate, unqualified love is demonstrated. Matthew 6.9, 111–112

In chapter 9 Bailey moves to the final "thou petition" (God's kingdom and will being done on earth as in heaven) and the first "we petition," which he translates (based on the Old Syriac translation), "Give us today the bread that does not run out." The prayer for the kingdom assumes a view of history with a goal that gives our daily actions meaning and purpose. God's kingdom is a multi-faceted, spiritual-physical, already-not yet, in the world, but not of the world kingdom. This prayer request reminds us that God's kingdom depends on Him, but also commits us to our role as servants of the king.

This request for the coming of the kingdom has to do with a metanarrative that involves the entire world. The faithful who pray this prayer are not an inward-looking circle praying merely for their own needs. This section of the prayer widens the vision of the worshiper to see beyond individual and community needs and catch a vision for the world throughout human history. Matthew 6.10, 117

The defining phrase on earth as it is in heaven is critically important and often forgotten. This phrase obliges the disciple of Jesus to care about the earth and what happens to it and to the people who live on it. The Christian faith is not just a methodology for preparing disembodied souls for the next world. Matthew 6.10, 118

This first "we" request reminds us that we should be just as concerned about our neighbor's bread as our own. It reminds us that our good God gives good gifts and takes care of his children.

Bread is a gift. The one who prays this prayer affirms that all bread comes as a gift. It is not a right and we have not created it. Such gifts are in trust for the one who gives them. All material possessions are on loan from their owner; the God who created matter itself. This perspective on the material world is critical for the joyful life commended in the Gospels. Matthew 6.11, 123

The last chapter of the section deals with Jesus' petitions about forgiveness and trials/temptations. Forgiveness from God is tied to forgiveness of neighbors. It is a daily need to ask God for forgiveness for doing what we should not and failing to do what we should, and to forgive our neighbors for the same sins against us. The final request is that we will not be brought to the time of trial. This is a statement of trust that God will not lead us into a situation that he will not carry us through. He will give us strength and protect us against the "evil one."

This prayer asks the one who struggles for justice to forgive the person or persons against whom he or she struggles. Through forgiveness the bitterness, anger, hatred and desire for revenge are drained out of the struggle and the person contends with those for whom he or she may now be able to feel genuine compassion. This will influence enormously the style of the struggle. Matthew 6.12, 127

The phrase in the Lord’s Prayer expresses the confidence of an earthly pilgrim traveling with a divine guide. The journey requires the pilgrims to affirm daily, “Lord, we trust you to guide us, because you alone know the way that we must go.” This affirmation of the trusting traveler reflects the confidence of the community that prays this prayer. Matthew 6.13, 129

Christians must not think of forgiveness merely as a great dramatic act that occurs at the beginning of the pilgrimage of faith, but as a daily need. Each day the faithful need to ask God to pick up the broken pieces of their lives and restore to them the joy of their salvation. The one who prays this prayer asks for release from the guilt of unfulfilled responsibilities and for a lifting of the burden of wrongdoing. Matthew 6.12, 126

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