With each new year, the Lord's Prayer sets the goal and direction for those who pray, "Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done."
Fr. Timothy Lowe suggests we resolve to pray, out loud and often, the very words provided by Jesus in Matthew's Gospel. Our daily bread is closely linked to the daily practice of forgiveness, suggesting that as often as we eat, we must seek the Lord's daily bread through His Word and extend His mercy to one another. Taking note of its priorities, its communal emphasis, and even its own powerful simplicity in what the prayer leaves out, the Lord's Prayer sets the ultimate goal and direction for those who pray, "Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done."
What is Doulos?
The Doulos podcast explores servant leadership in an Orthodox Christian context.
Hollie Benton 0:04
You're listening to Doulos, a podcast of the Ephesus School Network. Doulos offers a scriptural daily bread for God's household and explores servant leadership as an Orthodox Christian. I'm Hollie Benton, your host and executive director for the Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative. Father Timothy Lowe is our co host. He is a retired priest and former Rector at the Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem, and he's with me today. Happy New Year, Father Timothy.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 0:31
Thank you, Hollie, Happy New Year to all of you as well.
Hollie Benton 0:34
Thank you, Father. We're recording this episode in this first week of the new year in 2023. New Year's offers a chance to reflect on the previous years and consider some changes, a reset button so to speak, a fresh and new direction. What do New Year's resolutions mean in the context of Christian faith? Certainly, there's an aspect of salvation that is fresh and new and clean, and possibly aligns with new beginnings like a new year when we hear Jesus tell Nicodemus that he must be born again. Is it possible that a new year fosters the possibility of being born again, of resolution to work out salvation with fear and trembling in this new year? What kinds of goals and resolutions are Christ-followers setting in the new year? Is there a salvific aspect to losing weight or exercising more, learning new languages, reading more books? Or are we just fooling ourselves by jumping on the self improvement bandwagon thinking merely of our own self improvement, with little thought to loving God and loving neighbor? Father Timothy, you've been around for many a new year, what's your take on this practice of setting new goals, casting new vision, creating those New Year's resolutions?
Fr. Timothy Lowe 1:56
Well, I am fascinated about the psychological effect of starting a new year. We all like it. We like the very idea. There's something powerful, and it's a worldwide celebration. So it's something actually we're not doing by ourselves or a small church group or anything like that. Actually, it is a worldwide phenomenon, which has its energy, and therefore its hope, because we all know, we need a reset button. It has nothing to do with faith. God, we all know that we like the idea of starting all over again, recapturing some hope, especially since 2022, like the last few years have been very dire and dark. And not just my opinion, but you know, the brokenness that we all sense and feel, the anxiety, stress and whatnot. So yes, who doesn't like a new year? Who doesn't like the possibility of making some resolutions, but you specifically put it in a Christian context. So that means we can't speak of resolutions, personal goals, that we all know fail because we start and stop. Yes, I have seen a lot of new years. But of course, the issue is repentance. That's the only key to any renewal in the context of the Gospel's teaching and proclamation is repentance. So anything that brings us to the idea of repenting not just for our own well being but for a return to the way set up before us in the Gospel, the life of Christ and commandments, you know, I'm all for that. But we need to understand what that means. So let's say Hurrah for the new year, grateful for it, grateful to reflect on the last year, which I did, I did, instinctively didn't have to push myself to do it. Grateful for certain things, people I got to see and encounter, and general well being, and that's not enough. That's not enough.
Hollie Benton 3:41
That's right. In our last episode together, the Gospel of Matthew provided us with a word about prayer, and a warning about the kind of piety that motivates prayer "in order to be seen by men." We studied this passage up to the point of Jesus's instruction, where he says, "Pray then like this," and then he goes on to dictate the words of the prayer recited often by Christians today. I remember you emphasized last episode, the radical approach to praying to God as our Father. What else should come to our attention in this simple, yet powerful prayer? Specifically, I'd like to ask about this phrase, "Thy kingdom come," particularly in the context of Matthew's Gospel, where he likens the kingdom of heaven to numerous images and metaphors. For example, The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, like a mustard seed, like leaven, like a net cast into the sea. And then he uses the parable in Matthew 25, about the 10 Virgins with lamps and also the parable of the talents to describe the kingdom of heaven. So how should we understand this when we pray, Thy kingdom come?
Fr. Timothy Lowe 4:59
First of all, I think we'll see as we go through the Our Father that it's all about reference points. What are we referring to? What are we looking for? Biblically speaking, we are from the ground, the earth. That's where we came from. And that's where we'll return. But it is not the ultimate reference point. And Matthew hits hard, as you mentioned, various examples from parables and so on about Thy kingdom come. As long as we're willing to acknowledge that that's the ultimate reference point, then everything is geared that direction, our life needs to be geared in that direction. And you know, so much of our life is geared towards the drudgery of survival, in pain and labor and in the sweat of your brow you will make your living, and the struggle for survival which defines so much of people's unconscious behavior, me versus you, malistic passions. And here, Matthew is introducing, if God is our Father, then we want His kingdom. We want the place that He is ruling. And it's hard to see that when there's so many competing kingdoms for our attention, including our own little kingdom. You know, you and I live in suburbia. Right? It is an image of a place where we're home or safe or secure, protected, provided for in some way. But that's not a reference point. Neither is a country a reference point, a state a political party. So Thy kingdom come, it is the focus. Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come. After may His name be sanctified and wholly respected, honored, not debased, Thy kingdom come, because we already know that the kingdoms of the world are a torment to us, to varying degrees, luxurious suburbia, not much torment. But no, it's not a reference point. Okay, there's something more, there's something else. And that needs to be our starting point. We have to pray Thy Kingdom Come, that is the ultimate reference point. Thy Kingdom come, Thy Kingdom come, Thy Kingdom come. Otherwise we're stuck in trying to save a broken world. And it cannot be saved. It can be modified, healed a little bit individually, yes, okay. But just go to the next homeless lunch and see the poor and the destitute. You see what, the kind of destitution that most of us are spared. And it's there, okay. So we know it, we feel it, we understand it, we try to hide from it, Thy kingdom come, point one.
Hollie Benton 7:31
And not my kingdom come, God forbid.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 7:34
God forbid, yes, oh my.
Hollie Benton 7:38
Father, two things that struck me recently, as I was meditating on these words of prayer is that, number one, the Lord cast the vision, sets the goal, He provides the direction for any so called New Year's resolution, when we pray, Thy will be done, which comes right after Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done. That's it, simply seeking and doing the Lord's will as a follower of Christ, and encouraging one another within the body of our one Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to seek and do His will, with Christ as the head. So praying, "Thy will be done," is truly the only way to get everybody literally on the same page, by reciting the page of this instruction, this prayer, together, praying to our Father in Heaven, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done. Secondly, as we pray for our daily bread, something that I think most Americans really don't struggle with is finding their daily bread. But there are some in our neighborhoods who do. I was struck that as often as we eat, which, for most of us is daily, even three times daily or even more, we must also be seeking forgiveness and forgiving those who may be indebted to us, those who may have offended us knowingly or unknowingly. It's not a one and done exercise, but it's a daily practice just like eating, seeking the Lord's daily bread through His Word, and then extending mercy to one another through the practice of forgiveness. The prayer ends with a recap on forgiveness, "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." So I'm inclined to understand that this daily bread is daily mercy giving. What is Matthew driving at with this daily bread and forgiveness Father Timothy?
Fr. Timothy Lowe 9:40
Well, let's start with your comments about Thy will be done, and then we'll follow into the daily bread. We know and I've said it before, and I'll say it to my last breath. I'll say it to my children, grandchildren, who knows maybe I'll have a great grandchild, but I have enough. This idea of egocentrism, of the human will derailing, dominating, enslaving others, we enslave ourselves to our passions. We think we know what we want and what's best for us. Implied in all of that is an egocentrism, a self-centeredness and arrogance. Even if it's not aggressive, it's still there. When we whine and complain, which is one of my new resolutions to whine less, this idea of submission, first of all, the focus, reference point is the will of God. Now, we can talk generally about the will of God for everyone, which is His commandments, okay, and that is the dominant will of God, that is the non-negotiable will of God. Sometimes we Christians like to talk about a personal will of God for me, the will of God to be a priest, and what are the responsibilities. So when you talk about Thy will be done, it is an attitude of submission and obedience. That's what I want us to focus on, submission and obedience to the Father. And this ultimately means, when we say Thy will be done, we have to connect it to Gethsemane and Christ in the garden, where he asks three times, not my will, but thy will. And he does He want to do this? No, that's why it's an important point, that you are hit with the final crisis, to submit to the will of God, whatever it is, ultimately, you submit in that sense, that is the singular choice we have as human beings, all the rest are details of something else. When we say that, it's also an act of faith, not my will, because my will is acting all the time it goes 24/7. Okay, that's why I don't sleep well, because it's always going on actively in my brain, which shows you I'm a little bit neurotic or mental. But that's my problem. But this idea of it is a reference point. And then we submit and stop fighting. I'm convinced the climax in the Gospel is Gethsemane. It's not hanging on the cross, he's already decided. And the cross is just the working out of his submission. It's not about him. It's about what the Father who knows better. And that's why this context matters, because he's going to tell us in the next few verses, your Father knows what you need before you even ask, okay, reference point. So the daily bread. When you look at the Lord's Prayer, what do we not ask in the prayer? Because we're asking for just a few things. Just a few things, nothing else. And sometimes when I look at our own church prayers, and then personal prayers, they're asking for all kinds of stuff that's simply are not in the Lord's Prayer. This is why I want people to start praying this prayer, put the Jesus Prayer aside, because the Jesus Prayer is very simple, very generic, Lord Jesus Christ Son of God, have mercy on ME, a sinner, and it's me focused, okay, have mercy on me, have mercy on me. Now, if you say, Have mercy on US, then you bring back in this corporate nature of our life, you talked about the body of Christ, and so on earlier, it brings back this connection that we have in reference points. So it's not about me, it's about us together. And so our Father, not my father, do not call God your Father. Our father, because it's yours, ours together. And we are doing this together, just as we celebrate the new years together. And with it the idea that we're actually doing something with others and not just again, focused on just me and my small problem and my small world, which is very small, trust me. It's very small. So "Give us this day our daily bread," can have all kinds of meanings like you listed. What is it that sustains us? Yes, we need food three times a day. And then snacks in between because you know, we can afford snacks. No, what is it that sustains life? It's His will. It's His commandments. That's what sustains us. That's what guides us. That is the manna from heaven to keep them going through an impossible situation where they cannot sustain themselves. So they completely rely on God, it's a mentality, it's a context for us to understand. We assume we can live without God, and in a manner of speaking, we can. See, I can grow food in my backyard. I can sustain myself for a while, whatever. But it's not about that. It's about the kingdom. It's about the sustenance that keeps us going, and our dependence and reliance and submission to God. So as long as we focus on this, then I can guarantee, and I never give guarantees, not even to myself, that it will affect our life. It'll affect our mental well being, it'll begin to erode away some of the anxiety and insecurity about the future which we all share. How many of you are going to buy a lottery ticket this week with the hope that somehow some way we may be one in 292 million that might win something and therefore our life can be easy now? But it's not about the physical sustenance of a life. I don't know about you, but I was watching Monday Night Football. Why? Because it's in the evening, I like Buffalo and I like Cincinnati. And besides, I have a fantasy team and I was playing people there and trying to win the league championship. So we're talking silliness, but it's true. And then what do we see? A guy who collapses before our eyes, stops breathing, and it changes people momentarily. Why all of a sudden does this one life matter when we ignore life all the way around us, but somehow it caught our attention. That's my point, it got our attention. And so this second string, Buffalo Bill cornerback, who was trying to raise $2,500 to give toys for kids. Now all of a sudden, five, six people are donating. So in other words, he was a nobody, per se, no one knew his name. Now he's a household word. And now all of a sudden, hundreds and hundreds and thousands of people are responding. It's a point of getting our attention. So let us start this new year with getting our attention focused on the simple things. And then when I say when I want people to pray the Our Father, I mean, very simply, you can go about your day, you don't need a prayer rope. You don't need anything. But I want you to say it out loud. I take the dog for a walk every morning. So the dog is sniffing around, he's off leash, I will say the Our Father, because it brings me back to the essential reference points on how I must live. When you say something out loud you're also hearing which is the point of doing it out loud. Say it slowly. Say it out loud. Hear the words, "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread," whatever I need to sustain me at this moment. And forgive us our trespasses, now I have to just say a few words. I cannot stand this translation. Those of us who grew up in Protestant churches didn't use trespasses, we use the word debt and debtors, which is a more accurate translation of the Greek. You know, when we hear this word trespass, we think of okay, there's a sign on my neighbor's yard no trespassing. In other words, don't cross over here. You're not allowed. Really? Public property, no trespassing. Okay. Simple point. Indebtedness. This word, we hate this word. I hate to be indebted to anyone. The thought of owing some responsibility, whether it's money, whether it's other things, because then I'm subject, I'm a slave of sorts, I've lost my freedom, okay, they can call it in, if you will. But until we understand this indebtedness to God, it's not our little simplistic little sins and whatnot, it's a debt that we owe. He will not forgive that debt unless we forgive those who owe us in return. At least in my mind, it changes how I think and understand forgiveness, when it says the debt and not as a trespass or just Oh, I did something bad, or I said something rude, or, you know, I thought some evil thought, no, it's that. And therefore, it's more serious. Now. Imagine if the bank would just wave my mortgage, just wave it. You see, I would throw a party and I would invite you, I'd send you a plane ticket, come Hollie, celebrate. But will we do likewise? And that's why the hypocrisy and the double standards and whatnot are just not merely not allowed, are sinful, and actually violent. We're doing a sort of violence, personal and to others, to ourselves and others. So daily bread, forgiveness, we cannot sustain our life with out it as you point out. Matthew is driving at these particular points and until we understand it, and we can figure it out, and people can hear this podcast and then they'll immediately understand it because it's not complicated, highfalutin words, it's just a simple, simple principle. But why do we say the prayer? Why is it the prayer of prayers? Because we hear it, we hear it and must respond. Unless we're hearing it more than once, i.e. on the rare occasion we go to church, if we don't go weekly, and weekly is not very much, it will not constantly hit us. The power of the word, calling us to submission, obedience, the will of God, His kingdom, the things that we need to truly live each day and the things that we can do without. Okay, we just celebrated Christmas, right? I don't need more stuff. And very few of us need stuff.
So at the homeless luncheon on the 31st, a good way to end the year, the parish had also warm clothing to give out. They can come and take whatever they want. You try not to have them take too much. The point is, is they can only take what they can carry because they don't have cars, so you ride either bicycles or you're walking, and then you can see the temptation to take more than what they can carry. But then they also think, well, I have you know, they live in an encampment or whatnot, then I have people who might need this and this and so on. But in the end, as one did, "I got held up at gunpoint last week, just because they wanted my stuff." It's not like he had much stuff, all the difficulties and vagaries of life. But your heavenly Father knows you need these, people will give what they can. Ultimately it is obedience, will of God, submission, being fed, and then, "Deliver us from the evil one." We forgot the punch line. Deliver us from the evil one. That's how the Greek translates. We say deliver us from evil. And that's generic. That's, you know, what is evil? You know, it's impersonal. Now, Matthew could have said, deliver us from Satan. There's a nice Greek word, satanas. He didn't use that word. He didn't use devil, diabolos, he just used this word ponēros, ponēros, from the evil one. Now, is the evil one a person? Sure can be, I can be evil, or is it just from the evil wherever it occurs? It can also be that, okay, it knows that evil is out there to destroy you. And evil can be a president of a country. It can be a boss who seeks to destroy you, seeks to undermine you, to ask God to deliver us from this. And of course, the temptation, don't put us to the test. Because if God puts us to the test, we may fail and there's no hope. That's part of the joke about asking the kingdom come. If the kingdom comes, then also judgment comes and we're going to be put to the test. And we may fail, right? Okay. See, there's no presumption, but it still is our reference point. So anyway, God help us. May we learn to pray this prayer, may we say it out loud a few times a day. And it will be transformative because it deals with the basic things of our daily life, and the call of what we must be as people who are committed to following the Lord is teaching His prayer, because Matthew tricks us because he puts it in the mouth of Jesus, when you pray say this, okay, say this. And then it's simplified. We don't have to say the Jesus Prayer. You can if you want, but I find that the temptation of spirituality sometimes to be very egocentric, you know, it's about you, me, me, me, me, me. Me. No, this corporate prayer that we say together that connects us to everyone else is saying it and saying it together. Powerful.
Hollie Benton 22:29
Thank you, Father Timothy, for this challenge to order our lives by this prayer, order our lives by its priorities as a community. Thank you Father Timothy.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai