Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Greatest Prayer


Sometimes I love the fact that I "know my discipline" (Biblical Studies) and I am thankful that I have learned how to read quickly - with meaning.

That helped me read John Dominic Crossan's 190 page book on the Lord's Prayer:  The Greatest Prayer in under an hour this evening.  A great read.  (If only the student papers that I grade could be read so quickly!!)  (Alternate link to text here from JDCrossan webpage.)  (Oh how I love picking up new texts at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature!)

I don't mean this at all in any presumptuous way when I say that he has drawn together - with greater scope and depth and meaning - many themes that my friend Dr. T. Scott Daniels and I have noted all across scripture.  (And again, I am not trying to be presumptuous here - what J.D. Crossan has done - simply and with depth - is *more* than what Scott and I have done! - but if you'll review Scott and my blog posts, either his or my sermons, and independent or shared writing projects - you will find discernible and direct connected themes - which, in truth - we've probably all "taken" from the same sources of texts we've each read over the past several decades!)

That being said - I'll post my review here - with supplemental note.  At I wrote:

This book is not a "devotional" about the Lord's Prayer - nor a simple articulation of Matthew's version of the prayer set in the context of the Gospel of Matthew. Not at all. Rather, in this text, as Crossan outlines in the prologue, he notices patterns (parallelism) and key words that operate within the prayer - that hold it together - in balance between "heaven" and "earth."

Crossan draws upon nearly the entire scope of the Christian Canon - including significant extra-biblical stories and events - to discern what the Lord's Prayer "means" in its historical context, framed within the larger Biblical Canon.

Crossan admits his own bias as having shaped how he might read the prayer - when he notes how he has been critiqued for using his homeland, Ireland as a model for seeing Jesus (p. 165). And, as any good Biblical scholar, Crossan should note his own interpretive and cultural framework that would shape his ideas about the Bible! But, this is not a book about how Crossan interprets the Lord's Prayer. This is a book where Crossan peels back Canon and History to show how the Lord's Prayer very likely *should* be interpreted from within its own contexts. This is a book about where Crossan reveals how History and Canon inform interpretation of the Lord's Prayer.

I have my own bias - as a peacemaker, pastor, and professor. So let me be clear in posing that here. My presuppositions, I will admit, were already with Crossan on many issues - including the use of "deliver us from evil." I still gleaned new layers of insight when I read Chapter 8, "Lead us not into temptation." - As Crossan notes, "The disciples must continue in prayer . . . . [because] it is not acceptable for the followers of Jesus to use defensive counter-violence even to defend Jesus himself" (Page 181).

If you have a few hours, and a good grounding in the history and canon of the Bible, I recommend you read the book straight through - in a single sitting - to capture the scope of what Crossan does in this text.

A note on the 4 stars - instead of 5 stars. First, The book's size and paperback form - and it's publication by HarperOne suggest that this is for a broad, public audience. While it should be read by many and while it is not complex - Crossan covers a huge array of historical events and scripture, such that a "lay" reader, in my opinion would get lost in the details and not finish the book - or, not discern the "larger" thing that Crossan is doing - which he does masterfully. And, second, because the book is much more technical than it appears, a full appendix to cover both topical issues and citations from Biblical passages would be helpful for review.

Finally - on a personal note - I found an email address for Dr. Crossan wherein I suggested he explore more Jewish Scripture connections to what he does in Chapter 6 with "Take-Break-Bless-Give" - pages 129ff. I think the themes he extends forward into the Christian Scripture have a nuance of issue he has not yet seen in from Genesis 1 to 3. I hope Dr. Crossan will explore the possibility of noting the themes I highlighted in a short piece I wrote about this much smaller issue - of much less significance and scope - via Duke University's Faith and Leadership website, entitled "Take, Give, Eat."

I'll add a few more notes here.  I think J.D. Crossan's work could have more depth, too - if it connected with themes Scott has nuanced out of Revelation - and these themes connected - as well to the work of  how the prayer and its focus on "heaven" and "earth" could be better connected to the Kingdom themes in the Book of Revelation with respect to the Lion/Lamb and the Kingdoms of the world getting "leaves" for peace and healing - from the tree of Revelation 22 - great insight from this text.

I read the book quickly - with no pen(cil) in hand.  But I dog-eared the following pages to come back to:  75, 91, 94, 103, 111, 118, 129, 140, 155, 167-168, 173-175, 178-181, and 187.

I have long wrestled - for all of my professional Biblical "career" with the issue of the violence of God in Scripture.  And here I'll post what Crossan notes - and I don't think it is is a "spoiler alert" - but know that this is central to what Crossan discerns in The Greatest Prayer.  Crossan notes that we are finally people who are Christians - followers of Christ and not "Bible-ians."

Confronted, as we are (italics in original), by tandem visions of both a nonviolent and violent God throughout the Bible, we simply ask ourselves another question.  Is Christ the incarnation and revelation of a nonviolent or violent God? (italics in original).  Since Jesus the Christ was clearly nonviolent (thank you at least for that judgment, Pilate), we Christians are called to believe in a nonviolent God. 

In other words, the nonviolent incarnational Christ challenges and judges the violent apocalyptic Christ.  Our Christian Bible, therefore, tells a most strange story.  It is one whose meaning is in the middle, not the end, whose climax is in the center, not the conclusion. That is, by the way, why we Christians count time down to the incarnation of Christ and then back up from it. (page 187)

I read this text on Sunday, November 27th - the first day of Advent for 2011.  What a delight to be reminded that across history, the Canon, and within the "greatest prayer" - the focus is on a God who empties Self to become human, to teach us how to live nonviolently.  Now, if only we can make it on earth, with God's dominion operative through us, as it is in heaven.  Then we will live into and "fulfill" with God - the purpose of our prayers for God's Rule to be effective even this year.

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