Saturday, March 9, 2013

If Jesus Taught Us a New Prayer

Bible study given at John the Baptist CSI church in Aluva, Kerala on March 9, 2013
If Jesus lived among us today, how would he teach us the Lord’s Prayer? Would it be the same as the one he taught his disciples in Palestine two thousand years ago? Obviously Jesus will have to teach us the prayer in a language we understand, not in Aramaic, the language of the first century Palestine. If Jesus lived in an English speaking place, he would teach it in English. If in Kerala, it would be in Malayalam, if in Germany, it would be in German, and so on. Well, this prayer has been translated to over two thousand languages since then, and people pray this prayer in their own languages. If Jesus lived among us today, would he teach us the same translations of the prayer that we use, or will Jesus modify it in any way?
If we don't understand this prayer exactly the same way his disciples understood it, Jesus will have to rephrase it. The terms such as heaven and Kingdom of God may not mean the same today as it meant in Jesus time.  Our world hasn't changed much from Jesus' time, but our worldview has radically changed. Our existential problems haven't changed much, but the way in which we approach those problems has radically changed. If Jesus lived among us today, he would consider these differences.  What follows is a brief examination of how the worldview of Jesus' time was different from ours, and how their existential issues were approached based on their worldview.
Here is the Lord's Prayer as it appears in the New Revised Standard Version:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one. For the kingdom and the power and the glory are yours forever. Mat. 6: 9-13, Lk. 11: 2-4
Jesus' World-- A World in Pain
Jesus lived in a world of pain and suffering. Sunday school classes have given us the picture of a Jesus who toured in a peaceful countryside preaching and healing. However, this picture is far from the truth.
The people of Jesus' world were under foreign dominion, and they were oppressed in every possible way. They did not have freedom of religion. Their high priests were appointed by the Romans. Many patriotic people were made outlaws and were forced to live by highway robbery. We read about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices (Lk.13: 1). How cruel it was on the part of that foreign governor to slaughter the Galileans while they were doing a religious ritual in their temple! Jesus sent out the twelve with a warning that they might be arrested or killed (Mt.10: 17-30). The government authorities were always in fear of mass riots (Mt.26: 5). There were spies among the people, which is the reason why Jesus talked to the people in parables but in plain language to his disciples (Mt.13: 9-13).
In the absence of political freedom, the land’s economy deteriorated day after day. The gap between the rich and the poor was getting wider. We read in a parable of Jesus that there was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day, and at his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table (Lk.16: 19). In another parable we see a man who could not pay his dues liable to be sold into slavery along with his wife and children to clear the debt (Mt.18: 23 -34).  What a frightening situation! In another parable Jesus speaks about a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men (Lk.18: 2). From the story of Good Samaritan we assume that burglary must have been very common (Lk.10: 30). Jesus advised not to store up treasures on earth, where thieves break in and steal (Mt. 6: 19). 
Due to the political oppression and economic deterioration, the people were suffering from starvation, sickness, and mental illness. We read about a pool in Jerusalem where a great number of disabled people used to lie --the blind, the lame, the paralyzed waiting for a movement in the water to be healed (John 5: 2). We also read about mentally ill people living in tombs (Mk. 5:2). How hopeless they were!
In this miserable condition, one prayer rose from the depths of their hearts: God, save us! The Lord's prayer is an expanded version of this simple prayer. They also tried to find the root cause of the problem in order to find a solution.
The Worldview of Jesus' World
A close examination of the Lord’s Prayer yields a fairly good picture of the worldview of Jesus’ world. The world was related to a two-storied house consisting of two levels—an upper level and a lower level—heaven and earth. The earth is flat, and heaven exists as a flat world parallel to the earth.  There were stories of angels coming down from heaven to earth now and then, and of heaven opening sometimes and people on earth getting a glimpse of what is happening there.
Compared to the earth, heaven was seen as an ideal world. Heaven is a world of joy, love and peace, but earth has all sorts of existential problems. God is in heaven, and the human beings, who are praying, are on earth. God is the king of heaven, but not of earth. God’s kingdom is heaven, not earth. God’s will is done only in heaven, not on earth. The human beings are expressing their wish in this prayer for God to become the king of earth as well. God’s kingdom needs to come to earth. God’s will needs to be done on earth as in heaven.
If God is not the ruler of earth, then who is its ruler? Whose will is done on earth? Whose kingdom is earth? The answer to this question can also be found within the Lord’s Prayer—Deliver us from the evil one. The earth is ruled by the evil one. The will of the evil one is done on earth now. The evil one is a synonym of Satan.  Satan originally received his authority from God. Then he was another angel like Gabriel and Michael, and his name was Lucifer. He was given the responsibility to assist God in administering the earth. Eventually, he rebelled against God and claimed the ownership of earth. Thus he became an enemy of God. The word Satan in the original language means enemy.
A Diagnosis and Solution
The people of Jesus’ world ascribed their plight to the rule of Satan. Relationship with God and among themselves was broken. The prayer forgive us as we forgive others represents broken relationships. Suffering from poverty and various illnesses, they hoped and earnestly prayed for God to intervene and end Satan’s rule. The Lord’s Prayer is such a prayer that rose from the depths of their hearts for deliverance.
They sincerely hoped that God would soon send someone to replace Satan as the ruler of the earth. They referred to this person as the messiah. As soon as the messiah arrives, he would conduct a judgment, and  Satan and all those people and nations that stand on the side of Satan will be eliminated. The Lord’s Prayer includes the prayer, Lead us not into temptation! Here the word temptation is peirasmos in Greek, which also means trial. Thus the prayer here seems to be this: Lead us not into the trial (judgment) by the messiah. Temptations from Satan were not to be avoided. Following the example of Jesus, they were supposed to seek out Satan, and boldly face the temptations. They also knew that in order to overcome the temptations of Satan, they needed daily empowerment from God. They received this while they meditated the verses from the Scriptures. Jesus won over the temptations by quoting verses from the scriptures. That is perhaps what the prayer Give us this day our daily bread means.
The events in Jesus' life follow this worldview. After accepting baptism from John, Jesus had a vision of the open heaven. He heard the voice of God appointing him as the messiah-- you are my dear son. The spirit of God descended on him confirming the appointment. Accepting the appointment, he went straight to meet Satan, the present ruler. Satan laughed at Jesus' conviction that he was the messiah (son of God), and tried to dissuade him from his mission. Satan tried to convince him that he was the lawful ruler of the earth, and invited Jesus to serve him. But Jesus overcame this temptation, and continued his mission. He began to proclaim the good news that the kingdom of God had arrived, and encouraged people to renounce the rule of Satan and enter God' kingdom.
Based on our analysis so far, here is a simple paraphrase of the Lord’s Prayer:
God, our father and the king of heaven: We, thy children on earth, are eagerly waiting for you to overthrow the rule of Satan and establish thy rule on earth. Broken relationships and the resulting injustice and poverty have made our life on earth intolerable. Please nourish us daily with thy empowering words so that we may stand against Satan with courage and strength. We want to mend our broken relationships, so we seek thy forgiveness just as we forgive each other. When thy messiah comes to replace Satan, please do not let us be eliminated with Satan and his associates.
Our World in Pain
Our existential issues haven't changed much from that of Jesus' world. Ours is also a world in pain. Evil rules in our world too, which is primarily expressed in broken relationships. Relationships are broken at all levels-- between God and man, between man and man, and between man and nature. People are not willing to seek forgiveness or to forgive. Such broken relationships perpetuate injustice and poverty. When some people amass more than what they need, most of the people don't have enough to survive. Unjust structures cause illnesses- physical and mental. A lot of people are born disabled physically as well as mentally, and many more become disabled in one way or other.  With the breakdown of man-man relationship, we are unwilling to  see the humanity as a family or as one organism.  Instead of cooperating, we are annihilating each other. We are building walls of nationality, race, caste, color, and gender. World military expenditure is estimated to have been $1738 billion in 2011, corresponding to 2.5 per cent of world gross domestic product (GDP) and $249 for each person in the world. With the breakdown of man-nature  relationship, humanity as a whole is facing extermination by global warming, pollution, lack of resources etc. Humanity itself has become an endangered species.
However the greatest threat to human existence today is a sense of meaninglessness. The primary requirement of human existence is a will to exist. Such a will depends upon how we understand our existence. Our existence appears meaningless to the humanity today because it seems to have no purpose. This is so because the humanity relies on a world-view that makes our life meaningless and purposeless. According to this world-view, only what appears to our sensory perception is real; any assumption of anything beyond or behind it is irrational, unscientific, and senseless. Such an understanding of the world and life has left the humanity handicapped. God is not even worth thinking about; actually it is a crime to use the word God in public life in some countries. The children learning in the modern schools don’t even know that such a word exists in language! Today we believe that what we see is what ultimately exists, and our science is the ultimate source of knowledge, and the scientists are the authority of knowledge. Unfortunately, our science and scientists fail to tell us why we exist and how we need to exist. They are asking us to live in their demythologized world of hopelessness.
Our Worldview
The world is very much like a machine in our view. It consists of galaxies and planetary systems that run like clocks. It is fully within our power to perceive and comprehend. Nothing exists beyond our power of perception, and even if anything exists, it is not worth knowing. Our worldview is different from that of Jesus' time. We don’t believe in a two-storied world any more. We don’t believe that there is a parallel world a few miles above earth. Our spaceships couldn’t find any such world. We cannot picture God as the king of heaven and Satan as the king of the earth; kings are disappearing from our world. Because we have a different worldview, we don't explain the cause of our misery in the same way as the people of Jesus' world did. We don't believe that a rebelled angel is the cause of all the problems in our world, and we don't believe that our world will be miraculously transformed with the arrival of a God-appointed ruler.
A Diagnosis and Solution
Our worldview today may be called a scientific worldview. It has no room for any poetic imagination. It cares only for observable phenomena. It may be described as a unidimensional worldview. Compared to our scientific worldview, the worldview of Jesus' world may be called a poetic worldview. It had room for poetic imagination. It was multidimensional compared to our unidimensional one. It could make use of metaphorical expressions that could handle hard-to-express  philosophical truths. Today with the unidimensional scientific worldview, we lack the skill of such metaphorical thinking.  
We need to express our innermost aspiration for liberation, and we are still looking for a new prayer to rise from our hearts. The Lord’s Prayer can give us some guidance as to what we might pray today. It has to be a prayer for the liberation of all those who lead a miserable life for whatever reason. It has to rise from the very depths of our hearts and it has to envelope all that exists. It has to be a prayer for the wellbeing of all the people on earth. We can still use the Lord's Prayer giving slightly different meanings to some of the key terms. We may have to demythologize some of those terms. We may not understand heaven as a parallel world above the earth, but we can see it as another dimension-- as the invisible part of the world. We may also see it as an ideal world, which we may use to understand our world. We may not understand God as the king of heaven, but we may see God as what ultimately exists. We may not understand Satan as the ruler of the earth, but we may see Satan as a personification of all the evil we experience in the world. We may fail to see messiah as a divine ruler who would miraculously resolve all the existential problems in the world, but may see messiah as an expression of a hopeful future.
The Lord's Prayer is a cry for liberation that rose from human hearts in Jesus' world.  However, it doesn't make much sense to us today because we, living far away in time and place, have a different way of looking at the world and a different way of explaining our existential problems. The people of Jesus' world used a poetic worldview, and they had the skill of metaphorical thinking, which enabled them to think in terms of heaven, God, Satan, and messiah. Though we lack the ability of metaphorical thinking, we use a scientific worldview, and we have the skill of rational thinking, which helps us to gain a very good understanding of the perceptible world. If we are willing to gain the ability of metaphorical thinking along with our skill of scientific thinking, we will be better equipped to face our existential challenges.   It is not a question of either or, we need both a scientific worldview and a poetic worldview.   
Our scientific worldview depends on our perception with the five senses and our rational power. But the world is greater than what we can perceive with our senses. This imperceivable part of the world is perceived by what we call our inner senses. Traditionally we speak about inner eye. Although we speak about inner senses, we really know nothing about them. It seems that it is primarily our power of imagination that creates a poetic worldview. A scientific worldview, though very useful, is incomplete in itself. It can help us live our life more easily and comfortably, but it cannot tell us why we live. A poetic worldview helps us answer the basic questions of existence such as why we live, who we are, and how we are related each other and to everything else.
Humanity has always functioned with a poetic worldview. In the past few centuries, we developed a scientific worldview, which we thought can replace the poetic worldview. That was a mistake. We need both kind of worldviews, and they need to exist side by side.  With this understanding, we will be able to pray the Lord's prayer meaningfully.   
Read here a Malayalam version of the Lord's prayer.


Anonymous said...

Dear John: I will only suggest the one change someone else had earlier suggested (from my readings) which I shall highlight below. I cannot imagine that the good Lord will "lead us into temptation"!

Our Father, which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name.
Thy Kingdom come.
Thy will be done in earth,
As it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive them that trespass against us.
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
The power, and the glory,
For ever and ever.

C. Alex Alexander

John Kunnathu said...

They sincerely believed that God would soon send someone to replace Satan as the ruler of the earth. They referred to this person as the messiah. As soon as the messiah arrives, he would conduct a judgment to those who stand with Satan. All those people and nations that stand on the side of Satan will be eliminated. The Lord’s Prayer includes the prayer, “Lead us not into temptation!” Here the word temptation is peirasmos in Greek, which also means trial. Thus the prayer here is this: Lead us not into the trial (judgment) by the messiah.

Anonymous said...

Even so John, would it not sound more Christ-like if our supplication is "leave us not in trial"?

I say this mainly because I read in a book by an Aramaic scholar (unfortunately I cannot lay my hands on it or recall the name of the author) who wrote that it is a mistaken translation from Aramaic to English which ended up us "lead" instead of "leave" in the Lord's prayer.

I will keep looking and when I find the reference I will send it to you.

C. Alex Alexander

Dymphna said...

I would love to hear more about the original Aramaic and its meaning.

John Kunnathu said...

Thank you for reading. The point I am trying to make is that it is not enough to know the original language. We need to know the worldview it is based on so that we can translate it into our worldview today.

C. Alex Alexander said...

I found an Aramaic translation of the Lord's Prayer. Here is the link

It makes the same point reg. lead vs. leave us not in temptation.

In my humble opinion, it does make a difference in my worldview of Jesus of Nazareth.

C. Alex Alexander

Tony Daniel said...

The Aramaic version of The Lord's Prayer. This will throw some light how the current translations have been misconstrued.[I think that Mr. C Alex Alexander is referring to this translation] The link is

The Prayer To Our Father
(translated into first century Aramaic)

"Oh Thou, from whom the breath of life comes,

who fills all realms of sound, light and vibration.

Nethkâdasch schmach
May Your light be experienced in my utmost holiest.

Têtê malkuthach.
Your Heavenly Domain approaches.

Nehwê tzevjânach aikâna d'bwaschmâja af b'arha.
Let Your will come true - in the universe (all that vibrates)
just as on earth (that is material and dense).

Hawvlân lachma d'sûnkanân jaomâna.
Give us wisdom (understanding, assistance) for our daily need,

Waschboklân chaubên wachtahên aikâna
daf chnân schwoken l'chaijabên.

detach the fetters of faults that bind us, (karma)
like we let go the guilt of others.

Wela tachlân l'nesjuna
Let us not be lost in superficial things (materialism, common temptations),

ela patzân min bischa.
but let us be freed from that what keeps us off from our true purpose.

Metol dilachie malkutha wahaila wateschbuchta l'ahlâm almîn.
From You comes the all-working will, the lively strength to act,
the song that beautifies all and renews itself from age to age.

Sealed in trust, faith and truth.
(I confirm with my entire being)

John Kunnathu said...

Tony, Please read the following study on the Aramaic translations available in the internet.

Tony Daniel said...

The Aramaic translation is valid. Some people attack its authenticity based on what is written in brackets.

Concepts like karma and reincarnation were not alien to 1st century Christians. Jesus himself is an avatar of God. Avatar is a Hindu concept. Non-materialism is common to both John the Baptist and the writing of James.

The authors of the recommended website may not be entirely truthful. Their arguments are tinged with palpable ridicule, which makes me think that they have a hidden agenda to be open to suggestions.

susan said...

Hi John,
I like the translation Tony Daniel posted better than the 'Our Father' that we have because it blends poetry and science.

All that vibrates is science is it not? Energy/ Matter
Fetters are our scripts that Stephen Covey talks about and Vasanas that Advaitha talks about.They are our sub conscious attitudes developed from past experiences. These keep us in bondage, going over the same track like a stuck LP Record .

We can see these wrong scripting in others and we are blind to our own and we initiate the scripting of others through our interactions.
Do unot your brother perhaps would result in a bondage free world.

Jesus rescripted all whom he healed. So clear in the Gospels.'

It is poetry and science.
I love this
Susan Eapen