Bread, Forgiveness, and Temptation. (Sermon On the Mount, Part 8)

Last week, I wrote about the familiarity and the boldness of the Lord's Prayer. I wanted to unpack the rest of that Prayer today. I see the next three statements as confessions of our weakness, commitments to keep trying, and pleas to God to meet us in the mess and help us out.

"Give us this day our daily bread."

In the Old Testament, there is this crazy story where Israel was traveling from slavery in Egypt towards their "Promised Land." They were in the wilderness, inexperienced, afraid, and complaining. God showed patience, grace, and provision. In their times of hunger, God sent them 'manna' from heaven. Like, literally the bread would fall from the skies. They were to pack only what they needed for that day, the rest of it would ruin. The next say, God would send more. This arrangement required a lot of trust (no stockpiling) and contentment (be grateful for eating the same thing day after day after day after day.)  In general, Israel failed on both counts.

Manna became so mundane to the Israelite palate that they began to complain about the menu. Think about that for a second. They were just rescued from slavery through a series of plagues, they were being led by a freaking smoke monster from Lost, and on the daily bread was literally falling from the skies and they were like, "This again?!?" Of course, we are no better. Sometimes, the blessings in our life become so routine that we no longer see them for what they are. We become entitled and ungrateful.

We, like Israel in those stories, also stockpile. We don't trust in what tomorrow will bring so we hoard and create a Plan B. This is a huge struggle for me. If I were to be honest, I think I have a backup plan just in case God doesn't come through. Of course, bread doesn't just mean literal food, but our every need. And God's presence. Jesus mentioned that He Himself was the Manna that came from heaven (John 6.)

So this prayer, "Give us this day our daily bread," it's a tough one. God, let me trust you enough to not make backup plans or worry about that. (See Matthew 6:25-34) God, let me content with the things You have provided. God, keep doing your part, and help me to do mine. Help me be grateful and trusting.

"Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors."

I've already written a lot about forgiveness, and you can check some of that out here. This part of the prayer is also a confession, commitment, and plea. We are already praying for God to use us to bring His kingdom into our communities, but we are also being honest. We are going to blow it. We need God's forgiveness as daily as we need that bread. So that's our confession. (We'll blow it.) And our plea (But keep forgiving us.) And then our commitment. (We will forgive our debtors.)

To forgive means to 'give up' the need for retaliation. To let it go. I love the way Dallas Willard puts it in his fantastic book The Divine Conspiracy:

"We forgive someone of a wrong they have done us when we decide that we will not make them suffer for it in any way. This does not mean that we must prevent suffering that may come to them as a result of the wrong they have done."

Later on in this prayer Jesus adds: "If you do not forgive people of their debts, God will not forgive you of yours."  This is a really tricky passage. The traditional way that I have heard it explained is, "If you don't forgive other people, that is a sign that you haven't really experienced God's forgiveness. Forgiving is evidence of being forgiven." This idea is shown in the parable of the unjust manager. (Luke 6:1-13)

The manager owed his lender a large sum of money. After pleading and begging for his life, the lender forgives him of the huge debt. On his way out of the courtroom and back to his house, the manager spots someone that owes him a few dollars and refuses to forgive him of the debt. After hearing about this injustice, the lender finds the manager and puts him in jail until the debt is repaid.

Here's the point of the story- someone who has been forgiven has experienced the weight of their offense and understands what the other person has given up by deciding to not hold it against them. This pattern of asking for and receiving forgiveness creates a person of humility. That person will be happy to offer forgiveness to others because they recognize their own constant need of it.  Dallas Willard says it this way:

"If my pride is not touched when I pray for forgiveness, I have not prayed for forgiveness. I don't even understand it."

"Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one."

This portion of the prayer trips me up too. Why would God lead us into temptation? Why would he give us up to 'the evil one'? The common translation here isn't a great one. It's better understood, "Don't put us to the test. Keep us safe from bad things."  Of course, God doesn't always answer this prayer. But at least it's an honest one. A confession, a commitment, and a plea. A confession (I'm trying to be strong but I acknowledge if put to the test I could fail. I know trials can develop strength and character but they also suck.) A plea. (Help me out here.) A commitment. (I'm still about Your Kingdom because it is the eternal one.)

I almost intuitively reframe it to, "Save me from myself. I am my own tempter and my own worse enemy. I want to commit to this Kingdom movement in my community but I also know I'm a wreck myself. Please build me up even as you are wanting to use me for your kingdom here. Teach me how to trust and be grateful. Teach me how to own my sin and ask you for forgiveness. Let me be as good at forgiveness as you are."

Confession. Commitment. Plea. The Lord's prayer is a bold prayer, and really wrestling with it and internalizing it daily should lead to a life of humility, compassion, gratitude, wisdom, and generosity towards others.