Matthew 6:5-15 - Pray in this Way
Matthew 6:5-15 - 5“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.6But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 7“When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. 8Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9“Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.10Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.11Give us this day our daily bread. 12And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one. 14For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; 15but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Background: In Matthew, Jesus’ teaching on prayer takes place in the midst of his greatest teaching event that we call the Sermon on the Mount. He begins this teaching with the soaring announcement of the countercultural reality of his kingdom in the Beatitudes. He then moves to address very specific areas of individual and community life in the context of his great topsy turvy kingdom. In chapter 5, after the Beatitudes, he tells his listeners that he is fulfilling the law, not abolishing it. Then moves on to address some particular problem areas he sees in the community, seething anger, adultery, divorce, casual oath taking, retaliation, and issues his stunning call to love enemies and give generously. After addressing these thorny issues, as if knowing we will need help to appropriate what he has said, he moves on into a section on prayer. At heart here, he is concerned that we not take a gift and turn it into a burden by doing it hypocritically.
To Whom is Jesus Speaking? The entire Sermon on the Mount is largely addressed to his followers and the larger group of disciples. There are many seekers and skeptics in the crowd and some of the teaching seems to be quite pointed at them, still, he is primarily concerned with his disciples coming to terms with the fresh reality and new consciousness that he is bringing into the world. While that consciousness is spiritual, it also manifests in daily living. Following Jesus is not a spectator sport. It is an entire world view and life style.
Vs. 5 – hypocrites – this word in Greek comes from the theater. It was the word for an actor who performs behind a mask, one who plays a character that is not himself or herself, one who impersonates, or is a counterfeiter.
Love – from the word for warm feelings. What Jesus is warning against is falling in love with the mask that we wear and using prayer to build up its false image.
To be seen – means to become conspicuous, from the root to shine, to be a star.
Reward – this is the word for wages. Wages are given for what one does not what one actually is.
Vs. 6 – pray – Greek proseuchomai from which we get our English word prosecute, that is, to make one’s case. This word is always used when praying to God in the New Testament. There is another word for prayer in Greek that is also used in the New Testament. That word carries within it the sense of a wish or a hope. Our word here carries the sense of laying out the truth, all the facts, and awaiting a verdict.
Vs. 7 – heap up empty phrases – This phrase translate one word in Greek. It means to speak foolishly or to be needlessly wordy.
Think – This word means to think or imagine. It comes from the root for glory and carries the sense of imagining recognition or praise.
Vs. 9 – in this way – gives the sense of a paradigm or model. The construction of this sentence indicates frequent repetition.
Father – Abba – An Aramaic word like Papa. It indicates deep intimacy and connectedness as well as respect. The word appears 11 times in the Hebrew Scriptures but never in prayer. It appears 170 times in the New Testament, always in the context of prayer. This word is not about the gender of God, as we know that God is not gendered. It indicates the type of relationship Jesus had with God and that we, through Christ, now have as well.
Heaven – This does not refer specifically to a place where we go after we die as we often think of it. Rather, it refers to the sphere of God. It is the overarching, all embracing dwelling of God in which all of God’s yearning is fulfilled.
Hallowed – this phrase expresses the concern that God’s name be kept sacred. This was a common theme in Jewish prayer and it rooted in God’s command (in the Ten Commandments) that we respect the Name and refuse to misuse it for selfish reasons.
Name – from the Greek word for to help, because to know the name helps to know a person. The name carries the essence and identity of a person. It also carries a measure of their power.
Vs. 10 - Your kingdom – does not refer to a place. It is a state of being in which all of life is ruled by God.
Will – This word refers to the deep yearning of God.
Be done – this word means to be made or formed, often from nothing. It means to occur or come to pass. It also means to be fulfilled or accomplished.
Earth – This is an interesting word and not the usual word for earth (kosmos.) This word (ge) refers to the part of creation that is the domain of human beings, where they have a measure of control. It also refers to the history of human beings with God and has a relational character. So Jesus is saying that we should pray for God’s deep yearning to be accomplished and fulfilled in the sphere of human life, in its institutions, in human relations, in the relationship with the land, and in human history, especially in human/divine history.
V. 11 – daily – This is a fascinating word. It appears in the New Testament only in the Lord’s prayer. It comes from the root for something coming into being or substance. It means special or even peculiar. The implication here is that this bread is only that which is needed to support life. It is the substance that supports our substance on both a physical and spiritual level.
bread – (artos) refers to food in general. (The phrase in Greek is quite difficult. A literal translation might be something like, ‘Our bread, the daily, keep giving to us each day.’ The point is the recognition that provision comes from God and we are only to ask for what we need. We are to do that each day to remind us that we are dependent on God along for our sustenance.
V.12 – forgive - this word means to send away, to dismiss. The point is that we do not pray for our debts (or sins in Luke) to be disregarded but rather that we will be set free, liberated from their effects and they have no power over us.
Debts – a debt that is owed. In Jewish idiom the comparable word is used to refer to an offense that obliges reparation.
Debtors – one who faces punishment for unpaid debts or who is under obligation to make something right.
Vs. 13 – temptation – the word means ‘testing’. This is not to indicate that God would somehow lead us down the primrose path. We don’t need any help with that! The plea is for God to keep us from falling away during the time of trials.
Deliver – This word means to draw with force and violence, to drag, pull, liberate or draw out, particularly to draw one away from danger.
Evil – (poneros) – moral or spiritual evil or wickedness that results in sorrow or pain. This word for evil is always malicious as opposed to kakos which is not always malicious.
Vs. 14 – trespasses – In ordinary spoken Greek this word indicates sin that is not too serious. In the New Testament, however, it refers to the transgression of a particular and known rule of life. It is from the root for to step over. It carries the meaning of stepping outside the bounds of moral and spiritual living.