Rector's Ramblings December 13, 2017
Few things are as sacred in our liturgy as the Lord’s Prayer. For the vast majority of us, it is the first prayer we learn as children. Every worship service we participate in includes the Lord’s Prayer. The language of it reaches deep into our hearts and souls, without much conscious effort. I have been with Alzheimer’s patients who don’t speak or communicate, and yet still find the words of the Lord’s Prayer spilling out over their lips as we pray together. In my last parish, despite the modern prayers the teenagers wrote for their monthly liturgy, they insisted in the “old” language version of the Lord’s Prayer. They simply couldn’t bear to hear or speak the “new” version.
I imagine most Christians have similarly strong feelings about and experiences of the Lord’s Prayer. For this reason, the Pope’s suggestion that a rewording of the Lord’s Prayer was in order got some attention this past week. Although that may (and did) sound shocking to some, the issue the Pope raises is certainly not a new one. His biggest concern is around the way we pray to God about temptation. We’ve all learned the version that prays that God would not, “lead us into temptation,” and yet the Pope suggests that’s not the best interpretation of the words Jesus said.
As he said in the interview that has since spawned the minor controversy, "It is not He that pushes me into temptation and then sees how I fall. A father does not do this. A father quickly helps those who are provoked into Satan's temptation." Instead, Francis recommends language closer to, “do not let me fall into temptation.” The idea is less that God tempts us, but rather that God aids us when we face temptation. It seems a minor point, and yet it is a significant difference in how we think about God, God’s motivations and actions, and how God interacts with us.
For some, simply changing the words alone is enough to make them upset, regardless of what is at issue in the translation. Some have said that very thing, noting the reasonableness of the Pope’s assertions, but also noting the disruptive result of such changes. But the reasonableness matters, nonetheless. There are those who will point to what it says in their Bibles, and cry foul that we cannot change the very words of Jesus, because we do not like them or agree with them. Those same folks are probably also not being fully transparent about the difficulty that comes with arriving at the words we use in our English Bibles. In the case of the Lord’s prayer, Jesus would have spoken the words in Aramaic, which were then translated and written down in Koine Greek. From there they were filtered through translation into Latin, and finally into English.
This provides us with a great example of how biblical interpreters do their work. They have to make some decisions about how to translate certain words, and they must rely on context and tradition to do so. If the context, once up on a time, was that God actively tempted us, that version makes sense. We also know that how we pray shapes what we believe, and vice versa. The traditional prayer continues to shape us in one way, while our teaching tries to shape us another. This is why some Anglican provinces, including our own, have had an updated version of the Lord’s Prayer for so long. We’ve been having this conversation for decades and decades and couldn’t agree. So, in our typical Episcopal fashion, we get both.
Many of you know both versions of the Lord’s Prayer, the one that suggests God tempts us, and also the one that says it a bit differently: “Save us from the time of trial.” I prefer the latter one, personally, and yet I recognize the importance of the older one. At the end of the day, I don’t speak Aramaic, Greek, or Latin, so I’m in a place where I have to study and trust those who are much more informed on such things. I also have to pray as my heart leads me, in accordance with the God I have come to know and love.
If nothing else, this latest “flap” is simply a reminder that our faith really does require faith. Things which we take for granted as settled and factual rarely are. Our faith is active, believing in spite of our questions and doubts, and that extends to the words Jesus prayed and told his followers to pray. The important part of the Lord’s prayer is ultimately that we put our trust in God, asking for God’s grace and blessing as we go through our daily lives. For a prayer that really strives to keep things simple, we’ve managed to make it quite complicated.
Our Father in heaven,
Reveal who you are.
Set the world right;
Do what's best— as above, so below.
Keep us alive with three square meals.
Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.
You're in charge!
You can do anything you want!
You're ablaze in beauty!
Yes. Yes. Yes.
Lord’s Prayer from, The Message