You know the Lord’s Prayer, right? Even if you aren’t super churchy, you’ve probably heard it a few times. Here it is, from Matthew 6:9-13:
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.'”
I left out the part about “yours is the Kingdom and power and glory forever,” because that phrase is absent from most early manuscripts and appears to have been added later. No big deal, you can still pray it. It’s true–the power is his and the glory and all that. It was just probably never said by Jesus. But I digress.
Historically, there has been plenty of discussion surrounding the Lord’s Prayer. You’ve probably recited it in church a time or two or five gazillion. It’s sort of been dissected from every angle, and we’ve built prayer strategies around the thing. That’s all deserved. Sure, maybe we’ve over talked the thing, but there are worse things to over talk than how to pray.
But there’s one part of the Lord’s Prayer that I don’t think is talked about often enough. It’s something that comes up nine times in the ten line prayer, which tells me it at least deserves a mention.
What is it, you ask?
It is the presence of a plural pronoun.
If it’s been a while since you sat in an English class, that means when Jesus teaches us to pray, he instructs us to use words that mean groups of people, not individuals.
Most of my life I never noticed this. If I was taught it, I wasn’t paying attention (shocker). Only in my adult life have I realized how ubiquitous the plural pronouns are. Only recently have I realized how that changes the tone of the entire prayer. Have you ever noticed that all the pronouns (that don’t refer to God) are plural instead of singular? There’s not a “me” or an “I” to be found.
Why don’t we focus more time and teaching on this aspect of his prayer?
I guess in our modern, western, Christian sub-culture we tend to consider prayer a pretty personal exercise. It is a responsible examination of Scripture which might lead us to that conclusion. Jesus, just before he gives us this example of prayer, tells us not to be public and showy in our prayers but to get alone by ourselves (Matthew 6:6).
But what if even in our individual, private prayers we are still meant to pray on behalf of our whole community? What if, in all the lessons Jesus is trying to teach us, we’re whiffing on the biggest one? Sure, we’re supposed to Adore and Confess and give Thanks and utter Supplication. That’s not a bad takeaway from the Lord’s Prayer. But what if the most imitable aspect of this prayer is that it’s plural?
- What if the point is that He is our Father, not my personal Lord and Savior?
- Why don’t we pray for our daily bread instead of me having what I need?
- How would our lives change if we started thinking about temptation as something that might befall our communities, and not just as as individuals?
Might that change the way we think of God if we emphasized our singular view of him? Might it impact the way we allocate our resources if in praying for our daily bread (or whatever possession we might be possessed to pray for) we recognize we actually have plenty while others’ literally rely on daily provision of food and drink? What would corporate repentance look like, if we came to understand that it is not only people, but entire churches that sin against God?
What if in our personal pursuit of prayer we are neglecting the power of prayer being offered in community or on behalf of community?
I don’t know the answer to all those questions, but I do know this:
When Jesus was asked how to pray, he didn’t use a single singular pronoun.
So maybe we shouldn’t either.