Like I said last time, I struggle with prayer. All has been quiet on the blog front for a while because I’ve been quite sick. This has only exacerbated my struggle with prayer. I believe God can heal. I believe God will heal. And yet…I have remained sick for over a week now. This has given me a lot of time to think about prayer, as well as a lot of time to practice prayer itself. So my next several posts will be on that specific topic. How should we pray? When should we pray? I’d intended on exploring the Psalms for this, and I may yet continue that track, but I’m going to take a detour through Matthew 6 and the Lord’s Prayer. After all, it starts with Jesus himself saying: “Pray, then, in this way…” Sounds like a great place to start if we’re looking to answer the question, “How should we pray?”
But before we get to that, I want to look at the context. Context is incredibly important when we explore any passage (whether Biblical or otherwise). So before we dive in to the Lord’s Prayer, let’s talk about Matthew in general. Matthew is the Gospel to the Jews. This is readily apparent through the massive amount of Old Testament quotations and allusions. If authors write to be understood, then Matthew’s abundant usage of the Old Testament indicates that he anticipates that material will be meaningful to his audience. Through this quotations Matthew makes it clear that he wants to show Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. On nearly every page you can find, “…and this happened so that it might be fulfilled as it was written…” preceding an Old Testament quotation or allusion.
With this lens intact, we can then begin to see Matthew’s Gospel taking a specific shape. The first chapter recounts Jesus’ genealogy, emphasizing the number 14 (the numeric equivalent of David’s name). Chapter two recounts the peril from Herod, which drove Jesus and his family into Egypt. Herod begins to slaughter children as Jesus is in Egypt. This is reminiscent of the plight of the children of Israel, who experienced their own slaughter while in Egypt. In Matthew’s narrative, directly after Jesus’ exodus from Egypt he is baptized. This baptism is directly followed by time in the wilderness where he is tempted by Satan. It is fascinating that his wandering in the wilderness parallels that of Israel. Jesus’ quotations of scripture to rebuke Satan are references to Israel’s own failures during their wandering. Jesus is effectively succeeding where they have failed. It is after this baptism that he chooses 12 disciples (a significant number) and he immediately “went up on the mountain” (5:1)…a significant location. From this mountain location he teaches Israelites, often adjusting their existing understanding of the Law (ie “You’ve heard it said…but I say to you…”).
The significance of these events must not be missed. Matthew has painted Jesus as an individual who has walked precisely where Israel walked (both to and from Egypt, going through water to return, after which there is a wandering in a desert). Jesus is what Israel was, and more. He succeeds where they failed, specifically in the desert. It is from this context that he begins to give the law again. It is from this context that we find Jesus on his own version of Sinai, teaching the children of Israel.
And it is in this context that he tells us how to pray.
But first, he warns of two mistakes in prayer: praying like the hypocrite (6:5-6), and praying like the Gentile (6:7-8). These two mistakes will be the focus of my next post, and then I will move on to looking at the Lord’ Prayer in particular.