What is my favourite Jewish prayer?
Well, here is a clue: it was taught by my favourite Jewish Rabbi!
-The Lord’s prayer, of course!
This is the version in Luke’s gospel.
Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’ He said to them, ‘When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.’
As Christians we are used to thinking of this as our prayer, and of course it is, in many real ways.
But it is interesting to see how rooted it is in Judaism. In fact calling it 'The Lord’s Prayer' detracts from the focus of the prayer, which is not the ‘Lord’ but the Kingdom of God.
So from henceforth in this blog I will call it 'The Kingdom Prayer'.
I would love if this kingdom prayer could become a prayer to unite people of different faiths. But I suspect the historical baggage associated with it might make that difficult. Perhaps first it will need some better understanding of the prayer's origins by Christians and people of other faiths. Before the Lord's prayer becomes a universal prayer there may be a need for some deep reflection and hearty-searching by monotheists of all major faiths.
Nevertheless, I believe there is hope that this prayer can unite people of diverse faith, especially Jew, Christian, Muslim, Sikh, Bahai, and Hindu (who contrary to what many westerners think, believe in one God, but with many manifestations). Classical Buddhism is non-theistic, but is so flexible, I suspect that most Buddhists too would be able to enter into the spirit of the prayer.
So lets look at this prayer and see if it can be prayed by many peoples of different faiths.
Think about what Jesus advices his disciples to pray for in this prayer. Note the simplicity of the prayer.
First, Jesus addresses God as Father. Now, this is traditionally a problem for Muslims, who do not use the word 'Father' to address God. But Islam believes that God is creator & that all of God's followers are brothers and sisters. But for Jews calling God 'Father' this is certainly not a problem. This language is found throughout the Hebrew scriptures. The spirit of this language is that God is to be respected & God's will to be followed. Interestingly Matthew adds that phrase into the prayer. But the essential hope of calling God Father is to unite humanity in obedience to God's will. This is something that all monotheists can agree upon. Morever this belief has the potential to save humanity!
Then Jesus advises we hallow God. Of course! Because God is alone in absolute love and goodness. Again, no problem for an interfaith situation.
Then we are told to pray for God’s kingdom. This is not a prayer for Christ to come in triumph, no matter how that might be imagined. But this is a prayer that God’s rule be followed. It is request that our human communal life be ordered according to God’s will and way. It is certainly language that is very familiar in the Jewish faith, and I believe that with a quick explanation it should not be a problem for other monotheists who are less familiar with this God language and metaphor.
So far so good!
The rest of the prayer is more straight forward – praying for God to provide daily food, that we not be greedy and grabbing! Then the prayer asks that God forgive us in the same way that we forgive others, or should it be the other way round? In either case all faiths proclaim that God is forgiving and so we too should forgive one another. And all faiths believe that it is right to pray to God for protection and for strength to withstand all testing and trials in life.
So there we have it! The kingdom prayer! - My favourite Jewish prayer and hopefully one day a prayer that can unite all peoples, regardless of their faith.