Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Rami: Response to Mike's 1/5 Post

I remind you of Greek philosophers? Which ones? Plato? Aristotle? Or Arianna Huffington? Actually I am taken with a number of Greek philosophers especially Heraclites and Epicurus. The latter was so hated by the ancient rabbis that they used the Hebrew version of his name, apikoros as a synonym for heretic. I am that to some. Proudly.

As we get into the Lord’s Prayer, let me remind everyone that I come at this assuming Jesus was a Jew speaking primarily to Jews in the idiom they knew best. Given that, we should not be surprised that Jesus borrows from Jewish texts and teachings in fashioning his Way. The genius of Jesus is that he took the Judaism of his day and recast it for a new day.

I want to take up the Lord’s Prayer section by section, sometimes line by line, to allow us time to go into this deeply. I will link the phrases (where applicable) to Jewish text and teaching, and then give my spin as to their meaning. Let's start with the text.

Our Father in heaven The metaphor of God as father is biblical: Psalm 103:13, Hosea 11:1, Isaiah 63:16, and Jeremiah 31:9, to cite just a few examples, so Jesus is again drawing on the prophetic tradition of Judaism.

In addition, referring to God as “our Father” was common in Jesus’ time. The Hebrew prayer Avinu Malkenu (Our Father, Our King) dates from this period, and Rabbi Akiva who, like Jesus, was martyred by Rome years before the Gospels were written, taught the prayer, “Our Father, our King, we have no king beside You. Our Father, our King, have mercy on us for Your sake,” (Ta’anit 25b). Having no king beside God is what got both Jesus and Akiva killed.

Linking “father” with “king” is the equivalent of Jesus balancing “father” with “heaven,” and means the same thing: God is both immanent and transcendent. The full phrase “Our Father in heaven” or as Jesus would have said it, Avinu sheh-ba-shemayim was an epithet much beloved by the rabbis of his day and earlier. In Sotah 9:15, for example, the rabbis say that true piety is doing the will of Avinu sheh-ba-shamayim.

Hallowed be your name is part of the opening line of the Kaddish prayer which ancient and contemporary rabbis use to close each teaching session: Yitgadal, v’yitkadash, shemay rabbah: "Make great and hallow Your great Name." It is also the prayer recited in honor of the dead, but this is a latter use of the prayer.

Without getting bogged down in textual history, I think it is safe to say that “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” clearly reflects and draws upon Jesus’ Jewishness. But what does it mean?

One the one hand, it means just what it says: Let us sanctify the One who is both as close to us as a father and as far beyond us as the heavens. But why refer to God’s Name rather than directly to God? Why not say, “Our Father in heaven, be hallowed”? Why the reference to God’s Name?

The Name to which Jesus refers is the Shem haMiphorash, Ineffable Four-letter Name of God which Jews believed was revealed to Moses at the Burning Bush (Exodus 3:14). God says to Moses that people used to know God as El Shaddai, the All Powerful, but now through Moses they will come to know God as Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh, the unconditional I Will Be What I Will Be that became the Four-letter Name, YHVH. Why the new Name? Because God is taking on a new role: God is not simply the transcendent Creator but also immanent Liberator. Our relationship to God is not simply one of thanksgiving and praise, but of active partnership in the liberation of the enslaved.

It isn’t El Shaddai that sends Moses to Pharaoh, but YHVH, and it is this Name that Jesus wants us to hallow. It is this Name his rabbinic colleagues want us to make great. Why? Because it is the Name of liberation. What Jesus and the rabbis are calling for, albeit in highly coded language that only Jews would understand, is the end of tyranny and the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth. The coding allows the message of liberation to spread without catching the attention of the Romans for whom the phrase "Your Name" is meaningless.

Thus as I read the Lord's Prayer, from the very first line Jesus is calling for revolution: "Our Father in heaven, let Your Name, let Your freedom, let Your liberation be hallowed, and not the name of Caesar and the tyranny that comes with it!"

As is common with us, Mike, we come at this from two different angles. I see Jesus the revolutionary, you see Jesus the Christ. I hear a call for resistance and you hear a call for transformation. But I don’t think either of us is wrong. On the contrary, I think Jesus, like every authentic prophet of any religion, is a catalyst for both social revolution and personal transformation. You cannot have one with out the other, at least not if you expect either to be fully authentic. In fact by hearing each other's understanding of Jesus' words I suspect we each broaden our own perspectives and understandings of Jesus as well. At least that is my hope and my experience so far.

No comments: