Quite frankly, Jesus’s response is telling. The prayer Jesus teaches them is not a new idea. Jesus did not introduce them to the Lord’s Prayer, nor did He create the prayer from His own mind. Most scholars agree that the Lord’s Prayer is a condensed version of what we know as the Jewish Amidah Prayer. Otherwise known as the “Standing Prayer,” this is a prayer that would have been uttered by Jews at the noon prayer time in the Temple. Tradition holds that Jewish men would stand in groups of twelve and utter this prayer together.
Spending a few minutes online searching for the Amidah Prayer will produce results to keep you busy for hours. While one can find several different versions of this famous prayer, we do know that the modern Amidah was not being used in the days of Jesus. Even referencing the modern Amidah Prayer, a reader might notice that Jesus’s prayer is a summary of the content of the longer version. We’ve found significant evidence for the following prayer being circulated in the first century as the Amidah of Jesus’s day:
avenu shabat shamayim; ye’kedesh shemchah; tomlich malchukah; y’aseh bashayim uve’aretz; et lechem hu’kenu ta’lanu he’yomAnd some versions even add the following line:
“Our Father, the One who dwells in heaven,
May Your name be holy.
May Your kingdom come as we do Your will here on earth, as it is done in heaven.
Give us today the bread of today.”
“And deliver us from the evil one, cursed be he.”
In essence, this means that when Jesus’s disciples ask Him to teach them how to pray, Jesus responds with one of the most well-known prayers of His day. Jesus was saying, “You know how to pray. Just pray. And mean it.”
Jesus does, however, make one striking alteration. In no version of the Amidah, either past or present, can you find a mention of us forgiving others. There are requests for God to forgive us, but nothing about forgiving others. Again, we see forgiveness and mercy being central to Jesus’s message. We will cover this in greater detail at a later time, but it’s important to notice — especially for Jesus followers who have become so used to the idea of forgiveness that it means very little — that this is a radical idea. For ancient Jews, God forgives sins. We are called to love our neighbor, show mercy to our neighbor, and many other things — but forgiveness is a job for God alone.
This suggestion of Jesus, that we should partner with God in the work of forgiveness, is one that will get Him in serious trouble. This insertion into a basic, everyday prayer for Jesus’s disciples is more of a thunderbolt than many of us realize. It’s enough to make us ponder whether or not we give forgiveness enough thought in our life. There is something about the act of forgiveness and God’s coming Kingdom.