Jesus Seminar luminary and biblical theological gadfly John Dominic Crossan has turned his considerable critical writing skills toward an examination of this question. His new book examines what he calls the “The Greatest Prayer.” That prayer, of course, is what most Christians call the “Lord’s Prayer.”
Although it’s not really the Lord’s Prayer. According to Matthew’s and Luke’s versions of the matter, it was a prayer that Jesus taught his disciples in response to their requests for him to “teach us how to pray.”
Technically, that makes the prayer “the disciples’ prayer.”
But think about that for minute. Jesus was given an opportunity to teach his followers the deepest essence of what he wanted to communicate to them about God. What does Jesus want us to pray about?
Crossan, for his part, does not call the prayer the Lord’s Prayer or the disciples’ prayer. He calls the prayer “the Abba prayer.” This grows out of a widespread scholarly consensus that Jesus encouraged his followers to call God “Abba.”
Though translated “Father” in nearly all renditions of the New Testament, scholars agree that a better translation of Abba would be “Daddy.” Jesus was inviting his followers to experience God in the most intimate and personal way imaginable.
In fact, Crossan goes even further by suggesting that the term Abba really refers to the “householder.” In other words, Jesus was telling his disciples to pray to the one who nurtures life, provides food and shelter and offers protection and comfort.
That could be Mom or Dad.
Of course, that’s not the real meat of the prayer. The radical part of the Lord’s Prayer, or whatever you choose to call it, is the part that goes like this:
“Your kingdom come, your will be done — on earth as it is heaven.”
Crossan points out the obvious. In heaven things work fine. Down here — not so much. Jesus teaches his followers to pray for a change on the earth. He teaches us to pray that things down here will work like things work up there.
And what’s not working here? Well, we can start with war — three that we are engaged in right now. We can move on to poverty, hunger and an economic system that rewards the rich and punishes the poor.
We can take a look at an education system that does not educate because it spends too much time trying to monitor the educators.
Not to mention a religious movement that wants to be the state, and a series of state entities that want to be a religious movement.
Your kingdom come, your will be done — on earth as it is in heaven — this is the radical part of this prayer. It challenges us to reorganize our common life so that the most vulnerable, the little ones as Jesus called them, are not left in the dust of our so-called progress.
It is, as Crossan claims, the greatest prayer. We say it in unison in our church every Sunday. And if we would all let the meaning of the prayer begin to shape our lives, it would change everything.
James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn. E-mail: email@example.com.