INSIGHTS FROM BONHOEFFER AND LEWIS ON THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT

The Hidden Righteousness of the Kingdom
Prayer: Part 4 (Matt. 6:6-15)

. INTRODUCTION

"Our Father who art in heaven:
Hallowed be Thy name.
Thy kingdom come;
Thy will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from Evil.
For if you forgive men their transgressions,
Your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
But if you do not forgive men,
Neither will your Father forgive your transgressions."


GIVE US THIS DAY OUR DAILY BREAD

The main question surrounding this request centers on the word "daily" as in "daily bread." Jesus has already commanded us to pray that God grant us TODAY something (our daily bread); therefore, then why would He command us to pray DAILY for DAILY bread?

There are 4 possible explanations with the last 2 being the most probable:

  1. The bread for tomorrow. Although this is possible, it doesn't fit in with what Jesus says later about letting tomorrow take care of itself (6:34). "The problem is whether I can seek tomorrow's break for to-day. . . . Thus it is surprising to find reference to two times in so short a sentence. Again, on this view the whole petition seems 'neither natural nor modest' . . . For wages in Palestine were not given to day-workers the night before. Such workers were given the usual meals during the working day. And it is the very nature of faith, from which the request springs, that it expects God's help and counts on it for the very time when it is needed, and not before. The same attitude of faith may be seen in the story of the manna in Ex. 16" (TDNT 2:295-299 by Foerster).

  2. DAILY bread for TODAY. This just seems to repeat the idea of daily. Ask daily for the daily. Possible but unlikely.

  3. The bread NECESSARY for TODAY. This hearkens back to the days of Israel wandering in the wilderness where God granted them manna. God told them to take enough bread for that day's needs; they were NOT to store up extra bread for the next day. When they did store up bread for the next day, the bread became putrid.

  4. "the coming day in view could well be the day of the eschatological banquet. The petition thus reflects an imminent eschatological expectation. The disciples should pray for the experience of the eschatological blessing today, of the bread that brings the time of the eschaton, the messianic banquet" (WBC:149-150). In other words, when we pray for our daily food, we are mindful of the day that will come when God will provide His people with a lavish banquet.

    The bread, the feasts, which enjoy here at Thanksgiving and Christmas time, are true indicators of the time when we shall sit down to feast with Abraham and the patriarchs: "I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 8:11).



FORGIVE US OUR DEBTS

It is interesting that instead of telling us to ask forgiveness for our sins, Christ tells us to ask God to forgive our debts. Why does Jesus use the word "debts" and not "sins"?

The word "debt" was used to refer to obligations to the treasury. In later Judaism [it] is a common term for 'sin.' [It] means arrears to a creditor, and as such it can be made good by payments. God for His part can as creditor remit the debt." Although this word is not used in the OT for sin, it was later used by Judaism in the intertestamental period before the coming of Christ (TDNT 5:565 by Hauck).

In other words, in my life God is the Creditor and I am the Debtor. Why? Because I OWE God my life. (1) He owns me because He created me. (2) According to Paul, why else does God "OWN" us (1 Cor. 6:20)?

If God OWNS us, then we OWE Him our lives.

Now it is interesting that the verb "forgive" is actually an aorist verb in past tense. The aorist tense means that we don't simply work through forgiving somebody; instead, we just forgive them. When one of the men in our groups shared an instance of him forgiving somebody who had harmed him terribly, I asked him how he was able to forgive. He said that he just prayed and it just happened...right then and there on the spot.

Second, the past tense means that we have already forgiven people even before they have wronged us. We are to stand in a state of constant forgiveness towards those who have wronged us. If we are not in a positive relationship with somebody, if we have not reconciled with somebody who has wronged us or vice versa, the fault had better not lie with us.

Notice that this part of the Lord's Prayer assumes that we are going to sin. We need to keep this in mind because of all the absolutes we find in the Sermon: "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect." That and that alone is the only standard for the Christian. Anything less is a lie; HOWEVER, we are going to fail, as seen in the fact that not only does the Lord include this in His prayer but also that this is the only part of the Lord's Prayer He elaborates on in verses 14-15.

God as judge, as someone who needs to forgive us, is a terrifying concept; however, what does John command us about judgment in 1 John 4:17-18: "By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love." No fear in judgment.

Why? Because we misunderstand the concept of God as Judge. C.S. Lewis Reflections on the Psalms writes: "The ancient Jews, like ourselves, think of God's judgement in terms of an earthly court of justice. The differences is that the Christian pictures the case to be tried as a criminal case with himself in the dock; the Jew pictures it as a civil case with himself as the plaintiff. The [Christian] hopes for acquittal, or rather for pardon; the other hopes for a resounding triumph with heavy damagers. Hence he prays 'judge my quarrel', or 'avenge my case' (35, 23). . . . The 'just' judge, then, is primarily he who rights a wrong in a civil case. He would, no doubt, also try a criminal case justly, but that is hardly ever what the Psalmists are thinking of. Christians cry to God for mercy instead of justice; they [the ancient Jews] cried to God for justice instead of injustice. The Divine Judge is the defender, the rescuer. Scholars tell me that in the Book of Judges the word we so translate might almost be rendered 'champions'; for though these 'judges' do sometimes perform what we should call judicial functions many of them are much more concerned with rescuing the oppressed Israelites from Philistine and others by force of arms. They are more like Jack the Giant Killer than like a modern judge in a wig." See also John 3:17-19.

None of this is the radical part of this request though. Here is the radical part: "Forgive us debts as we also" have what?

The radical part of this request is that "We ask forgiveness 'in proportion as' we also have forgiven those in debt to us" (RWP 1:54). In other words, forgive us, Father, no more than we have forgiven others.

In case you don't think Jesus is serious about this, go to Matt. 18:21-35. What happened to the slave who was forgiven by his master for 10,000 talents (150,000 years worth of wages) and yet did not forgive his fellow-slave who owed him 100 denarii (~$17,000)?

Before you or I water down Jesus' statement, at least spend a few moments reflecting on what He said.


AND NOW FROM BONHOEFFER

As long as the disciples are on earth, what should they NOT be ashamed to pray for?

What is God's will about creation?

According to DB, why should Christians pray for all men on the earth?

Although the disciples realize that while bread is the fruit of the earth, it comes down from whom?

Why does God spare their lives a little longer?

What does this prayer show about their belief?

What must Christ's followers acknowledge and bewail?

Although we should be faultless, what are we marred daily with?

Who are the only people God will forgive?

We should forgive others with what kind of attitudes?

"God forgive not merely me my debts, but ____________ _______________."


And now from Lewis

Regarding the different analogies on the atonement, especially justification, Lewis writes: "The one most people have heard is the one I mentioned before—the one about our being let off because Christ had volunteered to bear a punishment instead of us. Now on the face of it that is a very silly theory. If God was prepared to let us off, why on earth did He not do so? And what possible point could there be in punishing an innocent person instead? None at all that I can see, if you are thinking punishment in a police-court sense. On the other hand, if you think of a debt, there is plenty of point in a person who has some assets paying it in behalf of someone who has not. Or if you could take 'paying the penalty,' not in the sense of being punished, but in the more general sense of 'standing the racket' or 'footing the bill,' then, of course, it is a matter of common experience that, when one person has got himself into a hole, the trouble of getting him out usually falls on a kind friend.

Now that kind of 'hole' has man got himself into? He had tried to set up on his own, to behave as if he belonged to himself. in other words, fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms. Laying down your arms, surrendering, saying you are sorry, realising that you have been on the wrong track and getting ready to start life over again from the ground floor--that is the only way out of the 'hole.' This process of surrender--this movement full speed astern—is what Christians call repentance" (MC, Book 2, Ch. 4).