The Lord’s Prayer seems to cross all Christian religious borders. Most churches use it in their liturgy. The “official story” is that it came directly from Jesus. Seems one day when He & the disciples were on the shore of the Sea of Galilee – you know, they probably hung out there a lot, being fishermen. So they’re all doing what fishermen do – probably mending nets, fixing up the boats, maybe eating peanut butter & jelly sandwiches. Well, maybe more like fresh cheese, olives and home-made bread.
One of them turned to the Teacher and asked, “Lord, teach us to pray?” I’d like to think all conversation hushed. All eyes turned to Jesus to see what He’d say. And since He was never one to miss a ‘teaching moment’, I picture Him standing up, putting his hands together with a smile and saying, “when you pray, pray this way.” The phrase “this way” in Aramaic actually means “something like this” for that’s how the phrase translates.
Our Father who is everywhere
Let your name be set apart
Come your kingdom (counsel)
Let your desire be, as in the universe, also on the earth.
Provide us our needful bread from day to day
And free us from our offenses, as also we have freed our offenders.
And do not let us enter into temptation,
But separate us from error.
For belongs to You the kingdom, the power, and the song and praise
From all ages throughout all ages.
That’s a literal translation made by Rocco Errico, a man who has studied Aramaic and Hebrew interpretations of the Bible & ancient Semitic culture. He has four doctorates & has published eight books, including two grammar books on Aramaic. I saw him speak once at First Church Unity in Nashville. He is on YouTube. His books are on Amazon.com. Here’s the one I’ve based today’s talk on. [hold up SETTING A TRAP] Much of what I will tell you today comes directly from this book although I haven’t put quote marks around everything.
It’s an interesting title for a book about the Lord’s Prayer, no? When we pray in the right way, God can’t help but hear us. We are holding up a hand to be noticed. We set a scenario up that God cannot overlook, thus we capture a bit of God’s personal attention with our prayer.
So let me set the background a little. If you’ve heard me talk before, you know how much tracing the history back means for me.
Aramaic is the language of Jesus. It was the lingua franca of the area; it predates Hebrew. Now if you want to bring perspective into this, remember that the Gospels weren’t written until years after Jesus was no longer around for editorial review. There is much speculation that they were not even written by the apostles or His direct followers, but by those who had heard stories of what He said many years later & thought, I’d better write these down! Kind of like when you say to Grandma, “That’s a great story…you should write a book!”
Aramaic was translated into Hebrew and Greek and then on from there. You may have seen the glyphs of near Eastern languages like Hebrew and Aramaic written. They have dots all over the place above & below the letters. These indicate meanings. A meaning changes completely if you miss the dots or change one letter. Like writing “trip” when the word is “trap”. One letter totally alters what is being said. How many times were these words copied before they got to us? Monks spent years in cloister rooms or scriptoria doing this and they didn’t have overhead lighting…or corrective lenses. What they DID have was iron gall ink made from oak tree galls & pens made of turkey or swan feathers, oh, plus a penknife to sharpen the quill.
Then the whole Bible went to print on the first printing press & I’m not even going to comment on how many of Guttenberg’s copywriters can dance on the head of a pin.
Errico speculates that there are 1,000 idioms that lost their meanings in translation by being taken literally. I looked up “idiom”, and an idiom is a phrase that one culture uses commonly and thus understands, but a phrase which doesn’t make sense when translated literally into another. For example, we might say someone was drowning in red tape. Imagine someone reading that in a culture where they don’t have that expression. They’d be thinking, “red tape? Can someone drown in tape? Another is “hot under the collar,” or she was “chained to the stove.” If a German-speaker came to you to say, “Oh, he doesn’t have all his cups in the cupboard” she’d be saying what equals to us as, he’s “lost his marbles.”
Let’s examine the Lord’s Prayer with some of Errico’s information & understandings from his knowledge of the idiomatic Aramaic in which Jesus spoke.
Prayer is intended to be a form of listening for God, not necessarily speaking out to the Deity. In this one, we are talking to God as our father. Now any observant parent knows what a child needs before the child asks. Do you think God knows what you need? So this prayer isn’t “telling God” what to do – God knows how to run the universe. The purpose of prayer is to CHANGE US! Could a prayer make God more loving, do you think? A prayer can help you to understand yourself. Prayer is nourishing, it clarifies the atmosphere in our minds to give us a refreshed perspective on what’s going on all around our world.
In Unity, we say there is only one Power in the universe, God the Good. Our fear can create blockages to interfere with this knowledge & the beautiful faith this statement should bring forward in us. So much of contemporary praying is a move of desperation, of hunger, of begging relief from a perceived threat. While prayer, in the ideal, is really a form of listening. First we set the trap, then we see what we’ve caught.
Have you ever heard the phrase, pray in Jesus’ name? It’s in the Gospel of John, right? He says in there “Truly, truly, I say to you that anything you may ask my father in my name he will give it to you.” Our Jesus wasn’t the only Jesus in Palestine, you can be sure. It was a pretty common name at the time. When He said “pray in my name”, He meant pray with the same kind of understanding of God & the human family that He had. He meant for them to pray in the manner he was about to teach them.
Dr. Errico writes that the Lord’s Prayer is the essence of Jesus’ entire teachings.” It is a short summary of his beliefs about God, humanity and the world. It blends His understanding of the seen & unseen realms.
When Jesus, who was, after all, a spiritual genius, prayed, He had some basic understandings going for Him:
- God is a loving parent;
- God is the source of all good;
- God is for us & never against us;
- We are God’s children;
- As God’s children, we can receive all the good things a loving parent has to give us.
- The kingdom of God is inside of each of us. We must act to lay hold of it.
When they were all together by the water, Jesus composed and recited a simple, succinct prayer. It has a universal appeal. It is brief. Every line of it is an attunement (which is an alignment to our best selves, our divine nature). It wasn’t a random grouping of holy words or even an original one by any means.
The phrases He used appear in other places in Hebrew Scriptures & rabbinic prayer. The phrase, “Our Father who are in heaven” is found in many Jewish prayers. “Thy will be done, as in heaven, so on earth” appears in the Tanna (which is the study guide for Rabbis of the first two centuries.)
Jesus wasn’t the typical young Jewish man of the day. Even if the phrases were familiar ones of the times, He put them all together for us in one place.
Let’s break it down:
Our Father who is in Heaven
I’ve spoken before about the meaning of the word “father” in Aramaic. If you were here that day, you might recall that I said one Aramaic word might have up to 42 meanings. 42! So when Jesus referred to Abba, He meant it as an endearment. Abba can be translated as “beloved.” The word He used wasn’t even what we would equate to “father”, but more a familiar expression, like saying “Dad”. He was trying to wake the disciples up starting in this way. How different is it to say “Our loving Dad” instead of “Our Father.” It creates the idea of a compassionate, loving deity, one who knows our wishes simply by virtue of being a parent. Remember, in some of the Jewish tradition, the name of God is never even spoken or spelled out. For Jesus to skip over all the omniscient, omnipresent, etc. aspects of the Creator & go right for the affectionate papa aspect was a startling attention-getter, to say the least.
It is because we are God’s children that we can call God that!
If the kingdom (which also means “counsel” and which I understand to mean wisdom) of Heaven is within us, then so is God. So in effect, we are saying something as simple as, “Dad, you’re right here with me. Let’s talk.”
Hallowed be thy name
In the Near East, when merchants sold goods, they would call upon God to witness their words. They might say something like, “In the most precious name of God, this shirt is worth $20, but you, dear friend, may have it for $14.” To which ‘dear friend’ might reply, “Blessed be God, but this shirt isn’t even worth $10; I’ll give you $8 for it. The sellers & buyers dragged God’s name into everything. Rather like today, right? Some people wouldn’t think of praying in a hundred years, but they use the name of God all the time. “God knows”, “In the name of God”, “Oh my God!” “For the love of God” – But these are exclamation points in a conversation. They don’t have too much to do with the Holy Name of God after all. It’s a form of invoking God’s name in vain.
So Jesus calls our attention here to remembering to use the name of God in a more proper way – as an invocation. We want to keep the name of God out of false applications – for example, waging war in the name of God. (Of all things God is NOT, I would think political tops the list.)
Let your Kingdom come
Jesus saw a world in which God’s rule as a parent reigned over all politics, all divisions, mended all hearts, reconciled everyone to one truthful path, under the loving guidance of a devoted parent. This means no more boundaries, not racial, not religious, not national, not nothin’! All would be joined under one banner –a kind of Unity Consciousness with love being supreme.
The kingdom of God is a genuinely spiritual, social kingdom that rules from within the hearts of humans. For where is the kingdom of God? Right! It’s within! All races & nations are God’s children.
The word “kingdom” in Aramaic comes from the same root as “counsel”. God is our wisest counselor – if we live from our hearts, we live in a wise counsel state of being. So “let your kingdom come” actually says “Let divine, spiritual forces guide our lives & direct us in all our ways.”
Remember, the Jews lived in occupied territory. The Romans ruled. They left the people to mostly govern themselves, but they made all the big decisions. Kind of like Washington today – they let the states do their thing until April 15th, and then they bring out the list of names. Same with the Romans. And the Romans wanted to impose their imperial society, their oligarchic society of merchants ruling – the ones with the money make the laws – on everyone. Their best way to do this was to eliminate individuality. Little by little they interfered with the locals, colonizing them from the top down, imposing their will. So the disciples & everyone expecting a messiah who expected a rescuer, a political warrior, someone who could summon up an army and not just any army, but one which could defeat imperial Rome! Jesus disappointed a lot of political locals when He declared, your ruler is within & it is the aspect of you which rules from the heart like a loving parent.
At the same time, He was re-stating powerfully that we are each a sovereign individual. We are each a co-creative, procreative I AM presence! Your sovereign self does not need to be ruled; it needs to rule itself in the most right & just manner possible, which means ruling from the heart.
Thy will be done
Literally translates as saying to God, let your wish or desire be throughout the universe, and also on earth. Wish means will, desire, delight & pleasure. People often understand God’s will as something to hinder theirs, something forced upon them. We don’t have to beg our father to find out what is His will: it’s a caring parent’s desire for us – what parent wants their children to suffer, to be sick, to be lonely, or to live in poverty – you know when your children are hurting in some way, you’d move heaven & earth to make things better for them.
Allowing your genuine inner self to come forward in a loving manner means not colliding with others, but associating with them in desiring the best for everyone.
Give us this day our daily bread
In the Near East, people provide for themselves each day. Which means they don’t go to Harris Teeter for two weeks’ worth of groceries twice a month. Like the Lord’s Prayer, bread is the one foodstuff all cultures have some form of. Eastern women bake a supply of bread for one day alone, for their families & for any guests who might come by. They believe the stranger today may host them tomorrow. Thus they treat each other well & share, even with enemies. This courtesy lasts for as much as three days, but then possibly no longer. Best be on your way after that third day.
Bread is so sacred; an Easterner will not tell a lie when bread is present on the table. When baking bread, they do not rise to greet a guest, but will urge any newcomer to partake.
Bread represents “ideas” & “Prosperity”. God provides us with ideas that we may prosper. It also refers to “truth,” “teaching,” and “understanding.” Daily Bread from heaven is insight & understanding every day, kind of like reading your Daily Word to set the tone of your day.
Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive others
The literal meaning of the word translated as “trespass” is ‘debts’. It also means error (which is sin, right? Remember “missing the mark?”) A trespass is a fault, offense, mistake. Just like if I mispronounced your name & said, “I’m sorry”… mispronouncing your name was a sin, I got it wrong, but I hope that my apology makes it right. My apology cancels the debt and unties the difficulty. It loosens and frees any situation developing from your being offended at how I didn’t pronounce your name correctly.
Even more than truth, forgiveness sets us free. Past errors are erased, debts canceled, we begin on a new path in our life. Imagine if you had no debt in your life whatsoever – imagine if a Jubilee were declared wherein all debt was canceled & you owned all the things you’ve been making payments on for years. (This was something they actually did in those days, declaring a year of jubilee every so many years. All debts were canceled. It gave everyone a chance at a new life, cleared family debts, freed up tons of creativity & generated a lot of gratitude to whoever declared it. The Master Teacher gave us elbow room when he tried to put across the idea that blame does nothing while forgiveness and pardon can change the world entire.
Wouldn’t it be nice to be free of the idea we have offended God with some behavior of ours? So the other half of the phrase – as we forgive others – becomes the balance we dare not overlook. For if we want to be free, we need to free others. I can tell you if you do not forgive someone, they OWN you! While you harbor resentment or anger, that person or situation is in charge of your life.
Furthermore, forgiveness is downright healthy! When we allow love to heal us with forgiveness, it doesn’t matter how others feel, or even if they don’t care about being forgiven. They don’t have to react. The action takes place inside of us in a beautiful restoration of inner harmony.
Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil
When I would go canoeing with my second husband, I sat in the front, which means I steered. I remember to this day when he hollered at me: “Carol, don’t steer into danger!” That’s kind of what they’re talking about here. The translation is roughly equal to “keep us out of trouble.” What loving parent takes his child to the curb & says, it’s okay to cross the street without looking, go ahead. God is light; light will not lead you into darkness. Light dispels darkness!
The Aramaic word “temptation” also connotes materialism. So what we are really saying here is don’t let us enter into materialism – don’t let us be deceived by the materialistic way of life. Because we lose sight of spirituality when we get into bigger, better, faster, more.
The word “deliver” also means “parted” or “separated”. So the idea now has moved into “keep us alert, keep us from wrong thinking & actions that’ll lead us into more problems.” In Aramaic, the word for evil also means “to err, to displease, to harm, to mistake, to be unripe…to be unripe?! Says to me to not be at our fullest, or in our most healthful aspect. As a noun, the word used means “bad” “ugly” “cruel”, “immature (unripe)” “incorrect” and others. God didn’t create our problems, no matter how much we like to lay blame. We have the ability to look to the truth within to make our own ways straight.
So this phrase, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil becomes instead: keep us awake to straying from the right road, deliver us from doing a wrong thing.”
I invite you to take another look at this simple, profound, loving prayer with these new thoughts shining from it. We lose meaning with allowing it to be just a formula…we’re then following along instead of leading our own way into the world. Jesus was giving His peeps a way to take charge of their lives. In effect, he was giving them God’s best contact information … friending them on Divine Facebook. He was showing them how to capture the best of divinity in the personal trap of each individual heart raising itself up to speak to a beloved parent.
And after redefining this prayer for ourselves, we wait with eager anticipation for God to recognize us with the divine and simply beautiful love of a parent.
Let’s take the Aramaic Lord’s Prayer into meditation.