Today we reach the end of our series looking at the Lord's Prayer through the insight of N.T. Wright in his book The Lord and His Prayer.
For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.
An initial comment on this phrase is in order. Many translations, including the NIV ©2011 that I most often use, do not include this phrase in the main text, relegating it to a footnote because it is not found in the most reliable early manuscripts of Matthew's gospel. Wright acknowledges this but affirms the place of this phrase within the prayer, arguing “it is actually inconceivable, within the Jewish praying styles of his day, that Jesus would have intended the prayer to stop simply with 'deliver us from evil'. Something like this must have been intended from the beginning. In any case, it chimes in exactly with the message of the prayer as a whole: God's kingdom, God's power, and God's glory are what it's all about.”
With that in mind we'll put aside any discussion of whether this phrase belongs in the prayer or not and consider what it tells us as pray-ers. Wright spends most of this chapter examining the role and significance of Caesar in the time when Jesus walked on the earth. For those of us who were born and raised in a modern democratic state, we relate with difficulty to life under a autocratic monarch. In fact the idea may be repugnant to us. But such was the state of things in ancient Palestine and such is still the condition in many parts of the world, whether the title Caesar or king still used by the one in control.
In light of this, Wright reminds us that Jesus' actions as well as his prayer teach us to turn our eyes to the true source of power, authority and glory. He sets up a stark contrast to the man on the throne in Rome, because in Jesus himself the kingdom of God has come in power and glory. The very king of heaven walks on the earth among his people. And he demonstrates his power and authority in ways quite different from what most Jewish people expected or desired. He did not come wielding physical power to overthrow the existing kingdoms of the earth. He didn't exalt himself. In fact he sought to put attention off himself onto the God he himself served. He did not behave as one would expect a king to behave, and for some of those who were inclined to follow him at that time this created too much internal dissonance for them to take that step of discipleship. Still today many struggle with accepting a Jesus who demonstrates his power through weakness, humility and ultimately surrender. We are still not comfortable with this real Jesus and often recast him in an image more palatable to our conceptions of power, authority and glory. As we pray this prayer and reach this closing phrase, we should keep in mind that Jesus is indeed king and that to him do belong power and glory. We should also keep in mind that he expresses this in ways that run in stark contrast to the ways of the world.
As we pray these words we should also be challenged to work as representatives, ambassadors of this king. We are here not only to allow this king to transform our own internal lives. Jesus came to restore the created order and to inaugurate the kingdom-rule of Jesus. He confronts any who set themselves up as an alternative source of true authority over and against him. He declares that he will cast kings from their thrones and lift up the humble. He will send the rich away empty while filling the hungry. (See Luke 2:46-55). And he invites us to participate in this process.
“It is not enough, though it is the essential starting-point, that we submit in our own lives to God's alternative kingdom-vision; we must pray and work for the vision to come in reality, with the rulers of this world being confronted with the claims of their rightful king. We cannot, then, pray this prayer and acquiesce in the power and glory of Caesar's kingdom.”
Ultimately then, the Lord's Prayer is not just a pray for the comfort and renewal of our own souls. It reminds us that we are part of something much, much larger and more significant than ourselves. In Jesus God's kingdom has entered our world and is in the process of transforming it into the kingdom of heaven. We his people are not called to just sit quietly in our churches or homes, working to live lives of personal purity and holiness. We are called to join Jesus in establishing his kingdom. Our prayers should be joined by our actions in bringing God's desired restoration and renewal of his created order. This is a high calling indeed and one that should leave us both overwhelmed and enthusiastic. We cannot do it on our own or in our own strength. That's why we must regularly pray this prayer, bringing our focus back to the one through whom the world has been and is being transformed. But we can be enthusiastic – literally filled with God – because he has invited us to join him in this fantastic work. I wonder whether much of the current apathy both within and outside of the church toward the Gospel message comes because we have so reduced it to a message of personal salvation that it fails to ignite the passion of many. It simply offers too little to compel others to join in the cause. A proper understanding and practice of this prayer may be a good place to start changing that perception and focus. I close with Wright's words, who expresses it quite well:
“If the church isn't prepared to subvert the kingdoms of the world with the kingdom of God, the only honest thing would be to give up praying this prayer altogether.”
How has Wright's exegesis of the Lord's Prayer impacted your perception and practice of it and of your faith?