Friday, January 7, 2011

The Model Prayer as the Antidote to the Temptations

A while back, I wrote here about what I consider the five basic temptations. In short, I said that the appearances of Satan in scripture outline these five temptations: 1. Be like God. 2. Blame God. 3. Satisfy your physical hungers.
4. Show off. 5. Grab power.

The Model Prayer, found in Matthew 6 (and, in part, in Luke 11), is one of the best known sections of scripture. It is probably not hyperbole to say that millions recite the Matthew version from memory daily. Many studies and interpretations of the Model Prayer have been written.

I want to suggest an additional purpose of the prayer. The five requests that Jesus teaches us in the Model Prayer are, in my view, directly related to the five temptations. I believe that Jesus' prayer is an antidote to the basest of the temptations that beset us.

1. "Hallowed be thy name." This is the first request of the prayer. Jesus, speaking to His father, asks that God's name be kept holy. The first temptation, verbalized by the serpent to Eve, is that we can be like God. The way to fight that temptation is constantly to be reminded that God is God and we are not, that God is holy and we are sinful, that God is creator and we are creatures, that God is king and we are subjects. The first supplication of the prayer, then, asks God to remind us and the world of the uniqueness of God's station, God's name, God's very being. We are unlikely to fall for the temptation that we can be godlike when we are aware of the nature of God.

2. "Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done." In this second request, Jesus raises the will of God above others' desires or choices. This same idea, of course, is echoed in different words by Jesus' prayer in Gethsemane - "nevertheless, not my will but Thine be done." The second temptation, exemplified in the devil's shenanigans played out through the advice Job receives from his three "friends," is to blame God. Even Job's wife tempts him to "curse God and die." Blaming God is natural for the one who does not recognize that God's ways are superior to our ways. That we do not understand God's will does not make it any less overarching. This request, then, is asking that God's will be done to the exclusion of any contrary will of human beings. We don't blame God for doing or allowing when we have first requested that God be in charge, that God exercise God's will.

3. "Give us this day our daily bread." The third appeal is for provision. The third temptation, which comes to a very hungry Jesus from Satan in the wilderness, is to turn stones into bread; in other words, the third temptation is to take matters of our physical needs into our own hands and to prioritize them, using even supernatural powers to satisfy them. The Model Prayer, on the other hand, recognizes the provision of the Father for His children. We rely on God for what we need; then, we do not need to fall prey to the temptation of figuring out how to satisfy ourselves.

4. "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us." This part of the Model Prayer dually shows our own sinfulness, and thus our need for forgiveness; it then directs us to focusing on others, thus recognizing their need for forgiveness. In contrast, the fourth temptation is all about self-aggrandizement. Jumping off the temple to make a public display of how God has gifted you is the height of arrogance, control, and selfishness. The antidote for the temptation of exalting self is to recognize our errors and to turn our focus to others.

5. "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." The fifth temptation, that of grabbing power, has a condition attached to it. To get that power, we have to bow down to the tempter. This last request of the Model Prayer is a recognition of the lure of what is offered if we simply abandon the First Commandment and have other gods before God. The prayer, if prayed sincerely, is the antidote, asking to be led away from such enticements, regardless of what illusory rewards are dangled before us.

I do not mean to suggest that the entire purpose of the Model Prayer is tied up in an Old Testament understanding of temptation, but I do think that Jesus knows what faces us each and every day when He tells us how to pray.

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