painting of figures seated on the ground

Study Notes – Matthew 6 9-15

We are studying Matthew 6:9-15 for Sunday, February 16 – otherwise known as “the Lord’s Prayer,” or “Our Father.” We may all feel that more notes on this text are redundant, since this is one of those Biblical texts that most regular church-goers have long-since memorized, and since it has been the focus of more than one creed, catechism, and book-length commentary. Nevertheless, here are a few notes, anyway. [A few questions on the text are here.]

BACKGROUND AND CONTEXT: Our text this week follows immediately after the text we studied last week. So we’ll want to remember that this most famous of Christian prayers is embedded in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’s first long teaching discourse in Matthew’s gospel, and further embedded in his remarks on appropriate expressions of piety (as we discussed last week).

Because this prayer is so characteristic of Christianity, commentators have been inclined to see it as uniquely Christian, in contrast to the Judaism of its day. Amy Jill Levine, however, offers a detailed analysis of the prayer in The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus that calls that line of interpretation into question. She points out that the form of address and the petitions in the prayer would have been entirely at home in a first-century Jewish context, and would have had a pointed eschatological message, as the prayer asks for God’s will to be done, God’s kingdom to come on earth, and for us to receive tomorrow’s bread – the bread of the world to come – today already.[1]

In the course of that analysis, Levine points out that the Aramaic term Abba that presumably made its way into Matthew’s Greek text as “Our Father” is not best translated “Daddy” and is not exclusively a term of address used by small children – although it does indicate a significantly intimate, familial relationship. This is worth mentioning, since many of us will have learned the “Our Father = Abba = Daddy” story at church somewhere along the line. Now may be a good time to set that aside.

This text never actually shows up in the lectionary, although its counterpart in Luke’s gospel (Luke 11:2-4) comes around every three years in the Season After Pentecost. On the other hand, most churches incorporate it into the liturgy of Sunday morning worship every week, so being absent from the lectionary may be a small matter.

We are all likely to have many, and deep, associations with this particular text. We will, I think, want to pay attention to those.

CLOSER READING: In verse 6, Jesus addresses “you-all,” a plural “you” in teaching this prayer; he addresses an equally plural you in offering his advice on forgiveness in verses 14-15. The sense that Jesus is talking about a collective practice here is reinforced by his use of singular forms in the other examples of piety he mentions in verses 6:1-6:18.

The word translated “daily” in verse is unique to Jesus’s prayer, here and in Luke. It’s a compound word, but there are different suggestions as to what it is a compound of, and so, what precisely it means. Maybe something like “sufficient for the day,” or maybe something like “for the coming day” – which might mean today’s bread, especially if we’re praying in the morning, or it might mean tomorrow’s bread. All of the suggestions work in the context. Maybe this is one of those times when the text means more than one thing on purpose.

Most of us probably assume that “bread” means other things we need, as well, like rent money.

The NRSV doesn’t include the phrase “for thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever.” Other versions, including the liturgical one, do. The idea behind exclusion is that it is a later addition, that comes from the life of the early church, and from there made its way into some of the gospel manuscripts we have.

A helpful comment on the language of “lead us not into temptation” is this video by Dr. Brant Pitre; I think he is talking about Luke’s version, but it uses the same language as Matthew’s here:

red line embellished

[1] Amy Jill Levine, The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus, San Francisco: HarperOne, 2006, 41-51.

red line embellished

painting of Jesus teaching a group of people seated on grass
“Your will be done, as in heaven, also on earth”
Matthew 6:10

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