Nearly every Christian will recognize the Lord’s Prayer, but in spite of its familiarity — or maybe because of it — there might be a few surprises lurking in the text. Today, I’m going to talk about one “clause” in the prayer in the light of the Kingdom teaching (with a little Greek lesson as a bonus). Let’s start with the King James version of the prayer in Matthew 6:
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 debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.Matthew 6:9-13
Now let’s look at the bit about the kingdom.
The typical translation into English might suggest that the one praying is asking God to institute or instigate the kingdom, and it’s a very short step to an interpretation of this in terms of eschatology, or The End. For instance, we can easily imagine that this passage is asking for the end: When all is literally said and done, God will end human history — including suffering and struggle — and institute the Kingdom, and peace will reign and everything will be nice. Job done. But in this interpretation, the job is God’s to do.
In light of the Kingdom teaching, and especially in light of the concept of the “Kingdom mindset” that I’ve been discussing, this way of thinking about “thy kingdom come” is problematic. First, in a way that is completely unlike the Kingdom parables, this interpretation makes the Kingdom God’s business and God’s responsibility. Interpreting the Kingdom in this “End Time” way absolves us of the work of making the Kingdom real and present in our world and in our lives. If the Kingdom is God’s business, we don’t need to worry about opening ourselves to the possibility of the Kingdom, because it’s going to happen anyway, when God is ready. In other words, it’s not up to us to do anything to transform our world or our neighbors’ lives. As long as we hear and accept the good news, we have it made, right?
But that’s exactly the problem: We don’t have it made, unless we have made the Kingdom a real presence in our world. To the extent that we’ve left it for someone else, even the ultimate Someone, it’s Someone Else’s problem. Compare that attitude with the Kingdom mindset: Everything depends on us, on our openness to the Kingdom whenever and wherever it appears, and on our willingness to do the impractical and reach out to others in need.
Recently, I read the passage in Matthew 6 where the Lord’s Prayer is presented, and I was struck by the way these two points are expressed in Greek. For those keeping score at home, both the petition about the Kingdom and about God’s will are aorist imperatives, a grammatical construction that usually implies a completed or even one-time action. On the surface, that seems to fit with making God responsible for the Kingdom’s appearance — but not so fast. This construction can also mean an action or state considered as a whole — “perfected” in full completion.
It’s not easy to know how to translate this petition, partly because it’s hard to see in these words anything other than our own interests (and comfort). But the Kingdom parables might offer us some guidance. Jesus doesn’t ask God to get on the stick and instigate the Kingdom. Rather, he prays “Let your Kingdom be realized completely.” He doesn’t pray that God will take over for us, cut through our actions and decisions and impose his will; he prays “Let your will be performed completely.” Oddly enough, these “requests” aren’t about getting God to do something — at least, not in the usual sense.
Jesus is praying for the full realization of the Kingdom, but what if it isn’t the hope that God will “come through” in the final act and institute the Kingdom for us? What if this prayer is for us to bring about the fullness of the Kingdom through our openness and our choices and our actions toward our neighbors — giving to those in need, caring for the sick, comforting the suffering, healing our world? If you pray this prayer, think it over: What if that’s what doing God’s will is about? What if that’s what the Kingdom looks like?
What if the prayer you’re praying means you’re asking God to set the stage, and leave the rest to you?