Matthew 6: 5 – 15.
The significant context of praying in the Gospel of Matthew is preceded by Jesus’ exhortation towards giving to the poor (Matt 6:1-4); linked by the connecting coordinate ‘And’ and parallel thoughts on hypocrisy in public displays of these religious acts. Both these sacred undertakings characterise our interior intimate expression towards God that reflects His own matchless generosity and aspirations to communicate with man. When it came to praying, Jesus first highlighted negatively two specific groups of people: the religious and the Gentiles. Our Lord did not mince His judicious words by calling the former group, hypocrites; viz., a person who puts on a false appearance of virtue or religion or who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings. He was not decrying prescribed public praying or synagogue prayers per se, but was addressing an attitude of spirituality devoid of any intimate relationship with Yahweh. A consistent personal prayer life with God is one that was closeted away in secret, usually in the storeroom which was the inner room in a Palestine home (Matt 6:5-6). Next, He turned to a Gentile (i.e., ethnikos, relating to a pagan origin) in prayer, who used meaningless verbal repetitions as its mode (‘polylogia’ meaning ‘much speaking’ or ‘many words’). What is being parsed here isn’t the repetitive outpouring of syllables or words but the technique buttressing its purpose, that deems itself sacred and spiritually significant to engage a god or God to elicit some form of answer. What is the Lord’s pattern for spiritual prayerfulness?
It is pertinent to note that in the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus’ immediate concern is our relationship with His Father. It stands to reason that a mere reiteration of the Prayer, or any prayer for that matter, is not indicative of any relationship with our Creator. The foremost goal is an established prior friendship that is extant in the ongoing conduct of praying if it is to be meaningful (Matt 6:8-9; c.f., Luke 10:38- 11:13; John 15:14-16). The intimacy of a developing communicative fellowship with our Father would eventually elicit a personal discovery of our authentic spiritual needs (Matt 6:10). Undoubtedly, His Lordship over our lives will aid in discerning our own insidious self-centred clamouring for what we desire. In addition, time spent in His Presence will enable us to finally gain our Father’s wise perspective of our circumstances, including those around us, as to the reasons why our prayers may not have been answered; after all, He IS Lord of all.
The second-half of the Lord’s Prayer reminds us of our inheritance in Christ as children of God (Matt 6:11-13), in viewing our Father as the unequivocal Provider of all our essential needs for daily existence. Indebtedness was a significant problem among the poor in the economy of the Near East, and the Lord sought to encourage a counter-cultural grace from those whom debts were owed, to forgive their debtors in as much as God had forgiven them their ‘debts’ (viz., their transgressions). This theme of indebtedness elicited a further comment from the Lord (Matt 6:14-15), where forgiveness juxtaposed between the two (viz., debts and sins) appears deliberate. It should be noted that it is the debtors rather than the debts which are to be forgiven; due principally to a concern, like God’s, that the restoration of personal relationships with our debtors is paramount. The implication is that we would certainly be hypocritical not to forgive the debtor when we have been forgiven by God (c.f., Matt 18:21-35; Matt 20:1-15; Matt 25:31-46). And it is in that forgiving attitude that we are able to petition our need for God’s help and protection in the face of the devil’s desire to lead us astray. The Lord’s Prayer is ultimately our response to the Word of God, acknowledging our Father’s Lordship and His special relationship with us as sons and daughters, as we seek to witness to His Kingdom on earth.