But what will it mean, when Israel’s God returns to be King? According to the same prophetic passages, there will be a new Exodus: the evil empire will be defeated, and God’s people will be free.
How lovely on the mountains are the feet of the messenger who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion ‘Your God reigns.’ Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices, together they sing for joy; for in plain sight they see the return of yhwh to Zion. yhwh has bared his holy arm in the sight of all the nations; and 2 страница all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God. (Isaiah 52:7–10)
Jesus, I think, knew these prophecies intimately, and deliberately made them the theme of his own work. When we sing of Zion hearing the watchmen’s voices, we are singing the song Jesus himself had in mind as he told his followers to pray, Thy Kingdom Come.
So was Jesus’ kingdom-message, after all, simply about national and political liberation?
At this point Western Christianity has tended to say: of course not. Jesus wasn’t into politics; he came with a spiritual message 2 страница, the timeless and eternal truths of personal salvation. Well, that clearly won’t do. We’d have to cut out the tell-tale phrase, on earth, as it is in heaven. Whatever Jesus’ Kingdom-announcement was all about, it was about something that actually happens, within the space-time world. But, equally, Jesus’ parables regularly challenged the simple one-dimensional liberationist kingdom-vision that his contemporaries cherished. If Isaiah’s message is about God’s healing for the nations, about Israel being the light of the world, this will not be achieved by military victory. To put it crudely 2 страница, how can the Prince of Peace defeat evil if he has to abandon Peace itself in order to do so?
No. Jesus took the three parts of Isaiah’s kingdom-message and set about implementing them. Release for captive Israel; the defeat of evil; and the return of yhwh to Zion.
First, release for captive Israel. Jesus tells a story of a son who goes off in disgrace into a pagan country, and who is welcomed back, astonishingly, with open arms and a huge party. For Jesus’ first hearers, ‘the Prodigal Son’ wasn’t just a timeless message of repentance 2 страница and forgiveness. It was, rather, the story of the new Exodus, the liberation of captive Israel. But Jesus, in telling this story, was not issuing a call to arms in the struggle for liberty. He was explaining why he was constantly celebrating the Kingdom with the outcasts and misfits. Somehow, he seemed to be saying, through his strange work the kingdom was appearing, even though it didn’t look like people had imagined. This was how the captives were being released.
Second, Jesus spoke and acted as if evil’s long reign would finally be defeated through his own work 2 страница. (We shall look at this in Chapter 4.) Isaiah’s Kingdom-message promised defeat for the evil regime which had enslaved God’s people. Woven into that message, in Isaiah, we find four poems about a strange character, the Servant of the Lord, who will be God’s agent in accomplishing this task. The prophecy as a whole (Isaiah 40–55) sets out the promise of the Kingship of God; the Servant-songs, within it, set out a job description for how the promise is to be realised. Jesus volunteered for the job. This, he believed, was how evil would be defeated 2 страница.
Thirdly, Isaiah had declared that yhwh himself would return to his people: coming with power and justice, coming gentle as a shepherd. Jesus spoke of his own work in the same terms. He frequently explained what he was doing in terms of a shepherd rescuing lost sheep. He told stories about a king, or a master, returning to his servants to see what they were up to. Jesus spoke and acted as if he was called to embody not just the return from exile, not just the defeat of evil, but also, astonishingly, the return of yhwh 2 страница to Zion.
Jesus, then, embraced a crazy and utterly risky vocation. And when he taught his disciples to pray, Thy Kingdom Come, he wanted them to pray that he would succeed in it.
That prayer, astonishingly, was answered. They thought it hadn’t been; but Easter proved them wrong. Jesus’ first followers, to their own great surprise, quickly came to believe that God’s kingdom had come, and his will had been done—in Palestine, in Jerusalem, on Calvary, and in the Easter Garden. Heaven and earth had finally dovetailed together. The prophecies had been fulfilled, though not at all in 2 страница the way they had expected.
Jesus’ first followers didn’t think, for a moment, that the Kingdom meant simply some new religious advice—an improved spirituality, a better code of morals, or a freshly crafted theology. They held to a stronger, and more dangerous, claim. They believed that in the unique life, death and resurrection of Jesus the whole cosmos had turned the corner from darkness to light. The Kingdom was indeed here, though it differed radically from what they had imagined.
And of course they faced the question: if the Kingdom is here, why is there still 2 страница injustice? Why is there still hunger? Why is there still guilt? Why is there still evil? They didn’t dodge this question. They didn’t escape into saying: oh, we didn’t mean that; we’re talking about a new individual spiritual experience, leading to us sharing God’s kingdom in heaven, not on earth. No. They went on praying and living the Lord’s Prayer. And they would tell us to do the same.
But how? What Jesus did, he did uniquely, once and for all. That is essential to the gospel. We don’t have to go on repeating 2 страница it again and again; and we couldn’t, even if we wanted to. Rather, think of it like this. Jesus is the medical genius who discovered penicillin; we are doctors, ourselves being cured by the medicine, now applying it to those who need it. Jesus is the musical genius who wrote the greatest oratorio of all time; we are the musicians, captivated by his composition ourselves, who now perform it before a world full of muzak and cacophany. The Kingdom did indeed come with Jesus; but it will fully come when the world is healed, when the whole creation 2 страница finally joins in the song. But it must be Jesus’ medicine; it must be Jesus’ music. And the only way to be sure of that is to pray his prayer.
What then might it mean to pray this Kingdom-prayer today?
It means, for a start, that as we look up into the face of our Father in Heaven, and commit ourselves to the hallowing of his name, that we look immediately out upon the whole world that he made, and we see it as he sees it. Thy Kingdom Come: to pray this means seeing the world in 2 страница binocular vision. See it with the love of the creator for his spectacularly beautiful creation; and see it with the deep grief of the creator for the battered and battle-scarred state in which the world now finds itself. Put those two together, and bring the binocular picture into focus: the love and the grief join into the Jesus-shape, the kingdom-shape, the shape of the cross—never was Love, dear King, never was Grief like thine! And, with this Jesus before your eyes, pray again, Thy Kingdom Come, thy will be done, on earth as it 2 страница is in heaven! We are praying, as Jesus was praying and acting, for the redemption of the world; for the radical defeat and uprooting of evil; and for heaven and earth to be married at last, for God to be all in all. And if we pray this way, we must of course be prepared to live this way.
So, as we pray this for the world, we also pray it, of course, for the church. But this cannot simply mean that we want God to sort out our messes and muddles, so that the church can be 2 страница a cosy place, without problems or pain. We can only pray this prayer for the church if we are prepared to mean: make us Kingdom-bearers! Make us a community of healed healers; make us a retuned orchestra to play the Kingdom-music until the world takes up the song. Make us, in turn, Servants of the Lord, the few with the message for the many.
The world, the church—but what of ourselves?
I used to think of this clause simply as a prayer of resignation. ‘Thy will be done’, with a shrug of the shoulders: what I 2 страница want doesn’t matter too much; if God really wants to do something I suppose I can put up with it. That might do if God were a remote, detached, God. It won’t do for Isaiah’s God; it won’t do for Jesus; and it won’t do for those who break bread and drink wine to remember Jesus and pray for the kingdom. No: this is the risky, crazy prayer of submission and commission, or, if you like, the prayer of subversion and conversion. It is the way we sign on, in our turn, for the 2 страница work of the kingdom. It is the way we take the medicine ourselves, so that we may be strong enough to administer it to others. It is the way we retune our instruments, to play God’s oratorio for the world to sing.
There is one important spin-off of this. Along with the unbiblical view of the Kingdom that sees it as the escape from the created order, rather than the redemption of it, there is a view of prayer that sees it as essentially the activity of the mind, the heart, or the soul, leaving the 2 страница body untouched and irrelevant. This view has a certain strength: it will never fall into ritualism or magic, or into thinking that we can put on a pretty little outward show which God will then politely applaud.
But that’s actually about all that can be said for it. Thy Kingdom Come on earth as it is in heaven; and we who pray that prayer are ourselves bits of earth, lumps of clay. If we really want God’s kingdom to come on earth, we should of course expect that the earth in question will include this earth, this 2 страница clay, this present physical body. That means, of course, holiness. It means, of course, sacraments. And, held between holiness and sacraments, it means the physical act of prayer.
Sadly for those who like everything tidy, there are no rules at this point. Some, after all, find kneeling difficult; some can’t stand for very long; some are too shy to cross themselves or raise their hands into the Orthodox praying position or its recent Charismatic cousin; some realise that their flamboyance in doing these things may be a hindrance to anxious neighbours; and so on. But this doesn’t mean 2 страница that the physical expression of prayer is irrelevant. We have learnt a lot in our generation about what we call ‘body language’; have we thought of applying it to our prayer?
If we do, we may well discover that the great men and women of prayer in other times and cultures had learnt a trick or two. The ideal posture, they would tell us, is relaxed but not slumped; poised but not tense; alert but not fidgety; above all, humble but happy in the presence of the Creator whom you are learning to call ‘Father’. Find the posture that does 2 страница all that for you; find the gestures that express and symbolize the life and love of Jesus for you; and you will be teaching your body to pray—which, to the surprise of many modern persons, is no bad way to teach your mind, heart and soul to pray as well. What is more, you will be acting out, in one little but vital local instance, the prayer you want to pray anyway: Thy Kingdom Come, on earth as it is in heaven. If we each learnt a bit more about how to do that, the medicine and the 2 страница music of the gospel might make fresh inroads into the sick and cacophanous world all around us. And an excellent way to start is the acted drama of the liturgy; particularly, of course, our coming with empty and outstretched hands to take and taste the life and death and rising of Jesus.
You see, if it was part of Jesus’ task to teach his followers to pray in this way, it is in a sense our task to teach the world to pray in this way. How might we get the opportunity? In Luke’s gospel, Jesus 2 страница waited until his followers asked him for a prayer; and the reason they asked was because they saw what he was doing. Something tells me there’s a lesson there.
Give Us This Day
The danger with the prayer for bread is that we get there too soon.
We come to prayer, aware of urgent needs, or at least wants. It’s tempting to race through the Lord’s Prayer, as far as ‘on earth as it is in heaven’, so that we can then take a deep breath and say ‘Now look here: when it comes to daily bread, there 2 страница are some things I simply must have.’ And then off we go into a shopping list. To do this, of course, is to let greed get in the way of grace.
When that happens, greed defeats its own object. If we don’t spend time adoring our Father in heaven, seeking the honour of his name, and praying for his kingdom, all our own desires and hopes will simply present themselves to us in a muddled and jumbled fashion, coming bubbling up to the surface in what C. S. Lewis, contemptuous of the later writings of James 2 страница Joyce, called ‘steam of consciousness’.
Now don’t misunderstand me. There is something perfectly valid in what you might call ‘steaming in the presence of God’. If you feel as though you’re boiling over, at least have the grace to come and do it in the presence of your Father in heaven. But, as the regular practice for our cooler moments, I suggest that we owe it to ourselves, not to mention to God, to pray the prayer in a more integrated manner.
We find the true depth of this petition by going back once more to the 2 страница life of Jesus himself.
They said a lot of things about Jesus during his lifetime, by no means all complimentary. One particularly juicy phrase sticks out: he was, they said, ‘a glutton and a winebibber’. You can just see Jesus’ opponents rolling that one round their tongues with relish. But do you know where the phrase comes from? It’s actually a quotation from Deuteronomy 21, in which the Israelites are told what to do with a stubborn and rebellious son. The parents are to bring him to the elders of the town, and say ‘This son of ours 2 страница is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a winebibber’, and they must stone him to death. So there was more to the charge against Jesus than just that he went to too many parties. It was a way of saying: he is being profoundly disloyal to our traditions; he deserves to die.
But Jesus was following the agenda he set out in the Lord’s Prayer. He wasn’t a rebellious son; he was loyal to the one he called ‘Father’. His eating and drinking with his motley collection of friends was 2 страница a deliberate sign of the Kingdom. His parties weren’t simply a matter of cracking open another bottle for the sake of it; and the prayer to the Father for daily bread was part of his wider and deeper agenda.
At the heart of it stood a central biblical symbol of the kingdom: the great festive banquet which God has prepared for his people. This picture goes back to the vision of the land flowing with milk and honey; to the Psalmist, saying ‘Thou shalt prepare a table before me, in the presence of my foes’; to the children 2 страница of Israel, being fed with quails and manna in the wilderness; to prophecies like that of Isaiah, that
On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines.
And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud over all people;
he will swallow up death for ever.
He will wipe away the tears from all faces,
and the disgrace of his people
he will take away from all the earth.
The banquet, the party, is a sign that God is acting at last, to rescue his people and wipe away all 2 страница tears from all eyes. Jesus’ parties, and his feeding of his followers in the wilderness, were intended, for those with eyes to see, to pick up this whole theme and celebrate it. As so often, the most powerful things Jesus said were in actions, not words.
Why then did they criticize him? Because, first, he was celebrating the feast of the kingdom with all the wrong people. He threw great parties for the most notorious of sinners. He went to eat with Zacchaeus, while the respectable burghers of Jericho tut-tutted on the pavement outside. And, in one famous 2 страница passage, he explained these odd celebrations by telling stories—about lost sheep being found, lost coins being discovered, and about two lost sons being confronted by a Father’s love. The angels, he said, were having a party over what was going on, so it was only right that he should, too (Luke 15:1–2, 7, 10, 23–4, 32). Jesus was re-inventing the Kingdom of God around his own work; and at the heart of it was the great sign of welcome to all-comers, welcome to the party, to the Messianic Banquet, to the renewed people of God. Jesus was offering 2 страница all and sundry the daily bread that spoke of the Kingdom of God.
But if Jesus was celebrating with all the wrong people, he was also, from his contemporaries’ point of view, celebrating at exactly the wrong time. The Jews of Jesus’ day kept various fast days, commemorating moments of great sadness in Israel’s history. But Jesus refused to fast on those days. Instead, he threw parties. By way of explanation, he spoke of the wedding-guests being unable to fast as long as they had the Bridegroom with them. He was celebrating the great wedding-banquet of the Kingdom 2 страница of God. You can’t look miserable and keep fasting while that’s going on. Jesus was celebrating the strange presence of God’s Kingdom. And the prayer he gave his followers was a prayer for the complete fulfilment of that Kingdom: for God’s people to be rescued from hunger, guilt and fear. ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ means, in this setting, ‘Let the party continue.’
This should help us to understand the interesting difference, in this clause of the prayer, between Matthew’s and Luke’s versions. The Greek is tricky, but Matthew’s seems to 2 страница mean ‘give us today our bread for tomorrow’; while Luke understands it as ‘give us each day our daily bread’. They both probably reflect different aspects of what Jesus intended. Matthew, in line with Jesus’ whole agenda, means ‘give us, here and now, the bread of life which is promised for the great Tomorrow’. Give us, in other words, the blessings of the coming Kingdom—right now. Matthew, writing his gospel, saw this prayer partially answered in the feedings of the five thousand and the four thousand; more fully in the Last Supper; and, most fully of all, in 2 страница Jesus’ death and resurrection.
But Luke’s version is not to be sneezed at as merely one-dimensional, just praying for boring old bread. The whole point of the Kingdom, as we saw in the previous chapter, is that it isn’t about shifting our wants and desires on to a non-physical level, moving away from the earthly to the supposedly ‘spiritual’. It is about God’s dimension coming to birth within ours, which is after all what Advent and Christmas are anticipating and celebrating. The Kingdom is to come in earth as it is in heaven 2 страница. Daily needs and desires point beyond themselves, to God’s promise of the kingdom in which death and sorrow will be no more. But that means, too, that the promise of the Kingdom includes those needs, and doesn’t look down on them sneeringly as somehow second-rate.
This clause of the prayer thus becomes a window on four central issues in our own praying.
Consider, first, what to do with the muddled jumble, the steam of consciousness, that I spoke of earlier. Clear your mind to pray, and what do you find? A buzz of fears and hopes and 2 страница wants and puzzles; behind that, perhaps, some deep sadnesses; some real anger—and, I hope, some real joy, some true delight. What are we to do with all these devices and desires?
One of the most telling prayers in Cranmer’s liturgy comes at the start of his great Communion service: Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid … All desires known. How do you react to that? You can tell a great deal about your spiritual health by enquiring whether you see those words as 2 страница a promise, or as a threat.
Those who feel deeply threatened by God knowing all our desires will naturally want the Lord’s Prayer to be about ‘spiritual’ issues. If I’m ashamed of my desires, and would prefer God not to know them, then it will be much more comfortable for me if the ‘daily bread’ for which I pray is for the soul, rather than the stomach. But Jesus doesn’t leave us that option. Jesus does, of course, warn his hearers not to spend all their energy working simply for the food which perishes, but to 2 страница strive instead for the food which lasts to eternal life. But he doesn’t make this point by denying them food for the stomach; he provides for them at that level, and points, through that, to a deeper provision for deeper needs and desires. In his knowledge of their needs, for bread and all else besides, is no threat, but only promise.
Scripture, says Paul, is given so that by its encouragement we might have hope. Scripture is full of stories of people who brought their deep natural longings into the presence of God, and found them answered by being taken up 2 страница within his purposes. Naomi longed that her daughter-in-law Ruth might have a husband; God, answering that longing, made Ruth the great-grandmother of King David, the man after his own heart. Hannah longed for a child; God gave her Samuel, who would become his mouthpiece to Israel. The disciples, in Acts 1, were longing for Israel to become the world’s great nation; Jesus answered that culture-bound, political hope in a totally unexpected way, sending them out as his royal ambassadors to announce him as the new worldwide King.
‘Give us this day our 2 страница daily bread’; this clause in the Lord’s Prayer, then, reminds us that our natural longings, for bread and all that it symbolizes, are not to be shunned as though they were of themselves evil. Of course a genuine glutton must repent of desiring, and grabbing, more bread than is wise or good. But God knows our desires in order that we may turn them into prayer; in order that they may be sorted out, straightened out, untangled and reaffirmed. If we truly pray this prayer, with due weight to each clause, we are taking the first steps from the chaos of 2 страница our normal interior life towards an order and clarity which will let the joy come through to the surface.
The Kingdom-prayer isn’t a prayer, such as some religions would advocate, for our desires to be taken away or annihilated. In bringing them into the prayer within the setting of the earlier petitions for God’s honour, his kingdom and his will, it asks for our desires to be satisfied in God’s way and God’s time. And, since God himself is most truly the deepest object of our hunger, this clause asks that we may 2 страница be fed with God himself. And there can be no question of God failing to answer this prayer. ‘Breathe through the heats of our desires thy coolness and thy balm.’
Second, this clause reminds us that God intends us to pray for specific needs. It is, no doubt, much easier to pray ‘God bless everyone’ than to pray ‘Please bring peace to the Middle East’. It may seem more ‘spiritual’ to pray for the conversion of the world than for a parking space near to the meeting for which we’re about to be late. Now of course we would 2 страница trivialize Christian prayer if we thought it was only about praying for parking spaces, for our team to win the match, or for fine weather for the church fкte. But, once we put the prayer for daily bread within the whole kingdom-prayer where it belongs, to turn then to the specific things we honestly need right now is not trivial. It is precisely what children do when they love and trust the one they call ‘Father’.
Third, however, we must of course lift our eyes beyond our own needs. It is impossible truly to pray for 2 страница our daily bread, or for tomorrow’s bread today, without being horribly aware of the millions who didn’t have bread yesterday, don’t have any today, and in human terms are unlikely to have any tomorrow either. But what can we do about this, as we pray this prayer in church and go home to our Sunday lunch?
Well, obviously, we can give, as best we can. Obviously, we can become more politically sensitive and active, to support programmes not just for foreign aid but for a juster and fairer global economy. This is part of what it 2 страница means to pray this prayer. But, in addition, we should be praying this prayer not just for the hungry, but with the hungry, and all who are desperate from whatever deep need. We should see ourselves, as we pray the Lord’s Prayer, as part of the wider Christian family, and human family, standing alongside the hungry, and praying, in that sense, on their behalf.
We offer ourselves, in this prayer, as representatives of this world (this is what it means to be ‘a royal priesthood’), turning into words the unspoken prayer from thousands of hungry folk in our own country 2 страница and millions around the world, turning it into words that plead with our heavenly Father to feed the hungry, to care for the desperate. And when we have prayed in that fashion, the test of whether we were sincere will of course be whether we are prepared to stand physically alongside those for whom we have claimed to speak. This is, after all, a dangerous and subversive prayer to pray; but it’s the one Jesus taught us. And, this time, the danger with the prayer for bread is that we get there too late.
Fourthly, all 2 страница these aspects of prayer come together most obviously when we meet around the Lord’s Table, when by the power of the Spirit bread and wine become the vehicles and vessels of God’s own love in Jesus Christ. The Eucharist is, in a sense, both the highest form of prayer, and the first and most basic answer to our prayer. It forms a lens through which all the other answers come into focus.
The Eucharist is, first, the way in which Jesus himself taught us to remember him, to think of him. If the Lord’s Prayer 2 страница is the prayer which summed up his own life and work, enabling his followers to breathe in his life and love and make it their own, the Eucharist is the symbol which did the same thing, pointing particularly to his dying and rising. As we do this in remembrance of him, we are taken back in heart and mind, and in sacramental time and place, to the very life of Jesus himself, as he feasted with his friends, as he celebrated one last kingdom-party. This is the Kingdom-banquet, and we are the honoured guests. That, as we 2 страница saw, is where this clause in the prayer began.
But the Eucharist is also the place above all where we can come with our own physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual needs, and lay them before the God to whom all desires are known. The drama of what we do here, coming with empty hands to receive bread—God’s bread, the bread of life, the bread of tomorrow which is Jesus Christ himself—this drama draws together in a deep and rich symbol the whole action by which we bring our muddled and jumbled selves into the light and love of God 2 страница. We can bring whatever is on our minds and hearts to God in this action, without fear or shame, be our concerns never so agonizing or never so trivial, trusting that, along with the physical bread, the God we call ‘Father’ will give us all that we need, not least healing, forgiveness, support, and courage, in every other department of our lives.
So, finally, the Eucharist is the place where, precisely as the people of Christ, we have the responsibility to come on behalf of those in desperate need, not least hunger. Jesus celebrated the Kingdom by sharing 2 страница his feasts with all sorts of people. So should we. Here is a practical suggestion; it’s only a start, but it’s better to start somewhere than to leave everything at the level of grand general ideas. The next time you come to the Eucharist, bring with you, in mind and heart, someone you know, or know of, or have seen on television, who desperately needs God’s bread, literally or metaphorically, today. Bring them with you; let them kneel, in your mind’s eye, with you at the altar rail; and let them share the bread 2 страница and wine with you. And, as you return, strengthened by God’s food, ask yourself what this new friend would mean when she or he prays ‘Give me this day my daily bread’. Then ask how you might be part of God’s answer to that prayer.
After all, we ourselves are only at Jesus’ table because he made a habit of celebrating parties with all the wrong people. Isn’t it about time we started to copy him?
Forgive Us Our Trespasses
One of the most vivid images in the whole New Testament is that of a 2 страница man running.
These days, people of all sorts run to keep fit. Even presidents and politicians have been known to don jogging suits, and even to be photographed taking exercise. But in Jesus’ world, the more senior you were in a community, the less likely you were even to walk fast. It shows a lack of dignity, of gravitas.
So when Jesus told a story about a man running, this was designed to have the same effect on his audience as we would experience if, say, the Prime Minister were to show up for the state opening of Parliament wearing a bathing 2 страница costume. It’s a total loss of dignity.
And when we discover why this man is running, the effect is even more shocking. This man is running to greet someone: someone who has put a curse on him, who has brought disgrace on the whole family. We call it the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11–32), but it might equally be called the Parable of the Running Father.