How Jesus Changed Jewish Prayers as Echoed in His Our Father

God

The Our Father, the Lord’s Prayer, is the most recited prayer in the Catholic Church and in all Christian denominations around the world.  It has been said that this prayer is “Jewish to the bone.” The various parts of the prayer find their roots, sometimes verbatim, in prayers of the Jews existing long before Jesus was born. There are two versions in Holy Scripture- Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4.  I focus on the longer version in Matthew in this article.

This is how you are to pray:

Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name,

your kingdom come,

your will be done,

on earth as in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread;

and forgive us our debts,

as we forgive our debtors;

and do not subject us to the final test,but deliver us from the evil one.

If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you

But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.

In many discussions of the Our Father, the prayer is analyzed in terms of a salutation and petitions; the salutation – “Our Father” – and the various petitions to the Father that follow.

Two good examples of the Jewish basis for salutation and the petitions are the words, “Our Father,” and the petition about “trespasses.”

Our Father

Jesus was well aware of the connection between the prayer as He presented it, and its Jewish history.  The very use of the word “Father” is deeply rooted in Jewish scripture and prayers.  Isaiah has this prayer: “Look down from heaven and see, from your holy and beautiful habitation … For you are our Father.” (Isaiah 63:15–16:).  The salutation “Our Father,”  which is “Abinu” or “Abba”  is a frequently-used address for God in the Jewish liturgy (e.g.,  the New Year prayer “Our Father, our King! Disclose the glory of Thy Kingdom unto us speedily”).  Members of certain Jewish groups, such  the Hasideans, used the address “Our Father who art in heaven.”

Forgive Us Our Trespasses

Another example of Jewish influence is Our Father’s  petition “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”   A Jewish Encyclopedia article on The Our Father discusses the roots of this petition:

Repentance being another prerequisite of redemption . . . a prayer for forgiveness of sin is also required in this connection. But on this point special stress was laid by the Jewish sages of old. “Forgive thy neighbor the hurt that he hath done unto thee, so shall thy sins also be forgiven when thou prayest,” says Ben Sira . . .  “To whom is sin pardoned? To him who forgiveth injury” . . . . Accordingly Jesus said: “Whensoever ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have aught against any one; that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses” (Mark xi. 25, R. V.). It was this precept which prompted the formula “And forgive us our sins [“ḥobot” = “debts”; the equivalent of “‘awonot” = “sins”] as we also forgive those that have sinned [“ḥayyabim” = “those that are indebted”] against us.” (K. Kohler, “The Our Father,”  Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906; link – http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/10112-lord-s-prayer-the)

What  Jesus Changed – No Longer Asking For the Messiah ASAP

The monumental, ultimate “coming event”  for all Jews was no longer in the future.  In 30 A.D. most of them were totally unaware that they no longer had to wait for the Messiah. Jesus, having come into the world, Jesus made Man, was the Messiah. So the prayers in the past for the Messiah to come, as fast as possible, did not make sense anymore. Jesus did not say “Thy Kingdom come as soon as possible,” “with deliberate speed,”  or “with all haste.” That was unnecessary because He, in the flesh, was there presently before them. This is  discussed in the Jewish Encyclopedia article noted above:

“Thy will be done on earth as in heaven,” originally expressed one idea only—the petition that the Messianic kingdom might appear speedily, yet always subject to God’s will. The hallowing of God’s name in the world forms part of the ushering in of His kingdom (Ezek. xxxviii. 23), while the words “Thy will be done” refer to the time of the coming, signifying that none but God Himself knows the time of His “divine pleasure” (  . . .Isa. lxi. 2; Ps. lxix. 14; Luke ii. 14). The problem for the followers of Jesus was to find an adequate form for this very petition, since they could not, like the disciples of John and the rest of the Essenes, pray “May Thy Kingdom come speedily” in view of the fact that for them the Messiah had appeared in the person of Jesus.”

So, rather than say “Come now, Messiah,” or “Come as soon as you can,” Jesus used only “Thy Kingdom Come”  without “in the future” or “speedily.”

Conclusion

Jesus let everyone know He was the Messiah:

He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:  The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to proclaim the good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free,  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.  Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him.  He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21)

In gifting us with the Lord’s Prayer,  Jesus could not ask the Father to send the Messiah, soon, speedily, or at any other time – because He had already arrived.  The “Kingdom” is Jesus.

Implicitly, by omitting any reference to the coming of the Messiah, Jesus was telling His disciples, “Here I am.”

There are many works, books, and studies which present all the ancient Jewish writings, prayers, and scriptures whose words form the basis for every part of the Lord’s Prayer.  One excellent source is Part Four, Section Two, of the Catechism Of the Catholic Church,  “The Lord’s Prayer “Our Father!”  CCC 2762-  2768, among others, refer to the Jewish roots of Jesus’ Prayer.

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