Model Prayer 6:9-15
So what would your private prayer sound like? On the one hand, memorizing this passage as some kind of sacred liturgy is a huge mistake. Nothing here suggests it, much less commands it. Rather, Matthew chose Greek words that translate roughly to “along these lines” or “in this fashion.” Nor should you imagine that it’s some kind of holy outline, treating it like a checklist. Again, that misses the point. A proper Hebrew approach is to get the flavor of what He says, to absorb the protocol underlying the words.
Oddly, the first line is standard rabbinical stuff; you can find it in the Talmud. Keep in mind that the Hebrew concept behind “Your name” refers to Our Father’s title, His role as God of all things. Further, the second line is typical Messianic wording. You can be sure that when the Messiah comes, He will assertively require full obedience in His Presence just as He would from the angels in Heaven. Thus, these first two lines are familiar to His disciples already; Jesus reaffirms common practice thus far.
The reference to “daily bread” was widely understood as a Roman term. Without digging too deeply into the details of a Roman conscript’s daily life, his captain was his master. The captain would keep his conscripts in line by keeping them dependent on him. At the end of each day, he gave his troops just enough food to last through the next day. To avoid becoming dependent on local provisions, Rome often provided directly the makings for a very good quality of bread as the bottom line for military rations. It was not at all like the flat bread common in the Levant, but was like a big round loaf and could be quite tasty by comparison. This better bread was one of those small inducements that kept soldiers loyal, but the limited ration would discourage going absent. If you want to keep eating, you have to keep reporting back to the captain.
Thus, Jesus depicts the Father as rather like our captain, giving us better stuff, but just enough to keep us dependent. This line in the prayer was to teach His disciples to think differently about the whole issue of shalom. You should be aware that the false Messianic Expectations blathered about unlimited supplies of food, rather like turning stones into bread. This imagery drawn from the Roman Army overturns the greedy Jewish thinking.
Jesus returns to conventional rabbinical wisdom about repentance. The Talmud says more than once that the burden is on you to move to the place of forgiveness first, so that you stand in the place where Jehovah’s forgiveness is poured out on you. Sins were viewed as debts that burdened the sinner and prevented God’s prosperity, but so was a lack of forgiveness. Forgiveness was an open door to resolving those debts. You cannot compel someone else to repent for sinning against you, but you can open the door. Forgiveness must be offered, but could not be claimed without repentance.
Connected to this was the line about being led away from trials. In the Hebrew mind, it’s one thing to submit as David did to examination (Psalm 139); this is one kind of testing. It preempts the other kind of testing — a fiery trial that falls on those who need encouragement to develop a penitent heart. The word Matthew selects here is more like “discipline” than “temptation.” We should pray for the first kind of testing, so that we can avoid the second. Failing the second testing means we are turned over the Evil one, whose nickname here in Greek can be read as “Calamity.” It’s a picture of being turned over to the nobleman appointed by the king to put you into harsh and degrading slavery until you earn back the debt you failed to pay in the first place.
The doxology line is nearly a quote from 1 Chronicles 29:11, a part of the Jewish ritual for addressing the Ark of Covenant. It’s the standard protocol for leaving the presence of your feudal sovereign. Then, as your final takeaway from the Divine Presence, Jesus hammers home the point about penitence as a way of life. The only way you can lose that is to close off your heart. A primary mark of the Holy Spirit is the reflexive sense of one’s culpability before a Holy God. It broods and burns in the background and never leaves you alone in this life. You can never escape the sense that you are wholly unworthy, but it’s always paired with the overwhelming sense of joy at the grace of forgiveness. How could you not forgive others?