Prayer (Matthew 6:5-15)

Submitted by admin on Fri, 2007-11-30 14:05.

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With reference to prayer, the hypocrisy Jesus censured was the desire to be seen as pious. According to ancient Jewish sources, the arrival of the hour of prayer required that the activity in which one was then engaged be halted. To pray, men picking fruit from the top of a tree would descend, and those riding donkeys would dismount. The Tosefta (Berakhot, 3:18), however, indicates that a person could remain seated on the donkey if it could not be restrained from running away. Reportedly, by pausing a long time before and after prayers, individuals could make it appear that they were making their petitions for a much longer period than was actually the case.

Those who wanted others to admire their zeal and piety timed their activities in order to arrive at locations where many people would observe them standing in an attitude of prayer. Regarding those who “loved” to be seen standing in the synagogues and at the street corners as they prayed, Jesus solemnly declared, “Amen [Truly], I say to you, They have received their reward.” His Father had no regard for such wrongly motivated prayers, and the praise of humans would be the one and only recompense. (Matthew 6:5)

Petitions sincerely made, without any intent for others to observe one in an attitude of prayer, are the ones God hears. In the privacy of one’s room and with the door closed, one can pray hidden from human view. Concerning such prayer, Jesus added the assurance, “Your Father who sees in secret will recompense you,” responding favorably to the petitions made with the right spirit and in harmony with his will. (Matthew 6:6)

Among the nations, people who worshiped various deities also prayed, rambling on extensively (often repeating the same formulaic phrases) and believing their many words would lead to a favorable hearing. Jesus admonished his disciples not to imitate them but to keep in mind that the heavenly Father already knew their needs before they even made their petitions. (Matthew 6:7, 8)

Indicative that they were not alone but part of a family of God’s beloved children, they would rightly direct their prayers to “our Father in the heavens.” (Matthew 6:9) This, however, does not mean that all prayers must include “our,” for this pronoun is missing in Luke 11:2.

For God’s name to be “hallowed” or “sanctified” could either mean that humans would, in increasing numbers, come to honor him as the bearer of the holy name or that he would reveal himself to be the holy God through direct intervention in human affairs. As a petition that precedes an appeal for his kingdom to come, it more likely is to be understood as relating to his action in sanctifying his name, making himself known by manifesting his power. (Matthew 6:9; Luke 11:2)

Asking for God’s kingdom to come would mean requesting that his sovereign will be expressed on earth, culminating in the end of any competing demands from other rulerships. (Compare Daniel 2:44.) Believers, by reason of their being no part of the world alienated from the heavenly Father, are in the kingdom of his beloved Son. (Colossians 1:13) They recognize Jesus Christ as God’s appointed king and conduct themselves as loyal subjects in the realm where his Father is the Supreme Sovereign. In the world, therefore, theirs is an alien status, and they find themselves faced with demands requiring them to disregard humans in order to choose to do God’s will, leading to their suffering for doing what is right. As for those who are part of the world of mankind alienated from the Most High, they are not in his realm. Praying for the kingdom to come is an appeal for the existing condition to end, with a world that is in a state of rebellion against God and all the problems associated therewith to pass away. (Matthew 6:10; Luke 11:2)

In heaven, the holy spirit realm, all are in complete harmony with God’s sovereign will. For his will to be done also on earth as it is done in heaven would signify that there be perfect unity in both realms, with angels and humans carrying out his will and being at one with him and with one another. The basis for this marvelous unity would be love. (Matthew 6:10, but not in Luke’s account)

In the petition relating to “bread” (ártos), the Greek term epioúsios appears. There is uncertainty about the precise significance of epioúsios. Not having seen this word in other writings or hearing it used in common speech, Origen (185? to 254? CE) concluded that it was a coined term. Considering Jesus’ admonition not to worry about the next day (Matthew 6:34) and the fact that manna was a daily provision of one omer (about two dry quarts) per person (Exodus 16:16-18), one may reasonably conclude that the petition is for “needed” bread or “essential” sustenance for the day. (Matthew 6:11; Luke 11:3)

A sin is an offense against God and often also an offense against a fellow human. The sinner thus comes to be in the place of a debtor to God and to anyone else he may have sinned against. This means that sinners need to be extended forgiveness to be released from their debtor status. In Matthew 6:9, the petition is, “Forgive us our debts,” but in Luke 11:4, the plea is, “Forgive us our sins.” This is followed by an acknowledgment of having personally displayed a forgiving spirit (“as we also have forgiven our debtors” [Matthew 6:12]; “for we ourselves also forgive everyone indebted to us” [Luke 11:4]). Therefore, as forgiving and merciful children, we look to our heavenly Father to forgive us our debts or sins.

The plea not to be led into temptation could embrace not being permitted to come into circumstances beyond one’s strength to endure and, instead, could involve being fortified to resist succumbing to sin. The Greek word ponerós could either denote the “evil one” (the devil) or the “evil thing.” To be delivered from the “evil one” would mean to be shielded from his gaining the opportunity to lead one into sin. (Compare Luke 22:31; John 13:2; 1 Peter 5:8.) On the other hand, deliverance from “evil” would mean being safeguarded from anything that could result in ruining a right relationship with our heavenly Father.

Emphasizing the need to maintain a forgiving spirit, Jesus taught that those who are willing to forgive fellow humans their trespasses could look to his Father to forgive those they commit. As for those who are unforgiving and merciless, they cannot expect God to forgive them. (Matthew 6:14, 15)

Notes:

Jesus’ teaching about prayer is directed against the display of private devotions for the purpose of being seen, and his comments do not include prayers in which a community of believers join and to which they add their personal “amen.”

Traditionally, there were three hours of prayer. Acts 3:1 links the ninth hour or 3 p.m. to an “hour of prayer.” Josephus, in his Antiquities (IV, VIII, 13), mentions two times for prayerful remembrance: “Let everyone commemorate before God the benefits which he bestowed upon them at their deliverance out of the land of Egypt, and this twice every day, both when the day begins and when the hour of sleep comes on, gratitude being in its own nature a just thing, and serving not only by way of return for past, but also by way of invitation of future favors.”

On another occasion, Jesus taught his disciples about prayer in response to their request. (Luke 11:1) Luke 11:2-4 parallels Matthew 6:9-13, but the wording differs and the prayer is shorter, indicating that Jesus’ words serve as an example of appropriate prayer and not as a formulaic expression to be repeated by rote.

The word “name” does not refer to the transliterated four letters YHWH appearing over 6,800 times in the Masoretic Text and uniquely distinguishing him as the true God (the One who is). “Name” stands for the heavenly Father, the bearer of the name or the God he has revealed himself to be.

A number of translations render the petition about the sanctifying of God’s name in a manner that would relate to the action of humans. “Help us to honor your name.” (CEV) “May your holy name be honored.” (GNT, Second Edition) “Your name be honored as holy.” (HCSB) “May your name always be kept holy.” (NCV) This, however, does not appear to be the preferable significance. In the prophecy of Ezekiel, divine action is revealed as resulting in the sanctification of God’s name. The Septuagint rendering of Ezekiel 38:23 uses a form of the same Greek word for “sanctified” as found in Matthew 6:9 and Luke 11:2 and specifically identifies the sanctification as a result of God’s action in expressing his judgment against “Gog” and “many nations with him.” (Ezekiel 38:22) According to the Septuagint, Ezekiel 38:23 reads, “And I will be exalted and sanctified and glorified; and I will be known before many nations, and they will know that I am the Lord [YHWH, Masoretic Text].”