Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Gospel Blog: Matthew 6:7-15

Note: See Introduction for context on this series on the Gospels.

Honestly, I’m running out of steam on this Gospel blogging project. I will keep going, but I can’t force an earth-shattering epiphany with each passage that I read. The tension that I’m trying to keep during this project is the balance of (1) skepticism about the authorship, historical truth, and inerrancy of the Bible, (2) willingness to wrestle with the text, and (3) allowing it to be a “change agent.”

Summary of Matthew 6:7-15
Jesus provides a short prayer template in contrast to the long-winded type that the religious leaders use to impress God and others. He also urges us to forgive those who wrong us, so that God will forgive our wrongs. Otherwise, he won’t forgive us our wrongs. [!!]

Detailed Thoughts about Matthew 6:7-15
Jesus continues challenging the conventional religious wisdom of the day. Regarding prayer, he mentions those who go on and on when they pray, thinking that God likes to hear long prayers.

Interestingly, he also says “Your Father knows what you need before you ask.” Last week, on a Facebook community of which I am a member, someone asked a question regarding prayer. This person mentioned a relative who had some really bad health problems. The question was a good one: What is the purpose of praying for this individual, if God’s not going to change his mind? That’s been a question of mine, too. Unfortunately, this passage doesn’t seem to answer that question at all. All he does here is provide a template for prayer (the Lord’s Prayer) as a contrast to the outward piety of the religious leaders.

The Contemporary English version that I’m using for this project has some slight variations to how I’ve learned the prayer. Listed below is each line of the prayer, followed by my own thoughts:

Father in heaven, help us to honor your name
Takeaway: help us live our lives in such a way that gives you a good name here on earth

Come and set up your kingdom, so that everyone on earth will obey you, as you are obeyed in heaven
Takeaway: build that perfect kingdom (described by Jesus) here on earth

Give us food for today
Takeaway: meet our needs

Forgive us for doing wrong, as we forgive others
Takeaway: forgive us for not living out the kingdom life; we are empathetic to others who don’t do it either, because it is really difficult if not impossible

Keep us from being tempted and protect us from evil
Takeaway: keep our eyes fixed on building this kingdom; protect us from the evil in this current world—including the evil done to us and the evil we may to do others purposefully or unintentionally
In the two verses immediately following this prayer, Jesus tells his followers the forgiveness axiom:
Forgive others --> God will forgive you
Don’t forgive others --> God will not forgive you
Horribly, these verses are often used to shame others into forgiving their abusers. I think one needs to always keep in mind the context of what Jesus is doing during this whole sermon, which is contrasting the hypocritical actions and motives of religious leaders with something that is much more lasting and profound.

What goes through my mind as I read are the slices of conservative evangelical theology that attempt to exalt these words to the level of God, and then mold and twist the words into some sort of consistency with their current viewpoint of salvation via a “personal relationship with God.” (I admit it’s hard for me not to do that, either.) What I tend to forget is that this text was written almost 2000 years ago. Because of the time we’ve had as a species to learn more about our universe, we know so much more about the world around us (including the biology, chemistry, and psychology of human beings) than the authors of the Bible.

The question that we are left with is this: What principles can we take from the Bible, knowing what we know now about physical reality? This is a question that many Christians are taught never to ask. I’m going to continue to ask it.

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