The Qaddish and the Lord’s Prayer

The Qaddish, named from the Hebrew qadosh, “holy”, is one of the central prayers in Jewish worship. It is very old, going back to pre-Christian times. The Qaddish, in one of its shorter versions (from an ancient Jewish inscription) says:

Magnified and sanctified be his great name in the world He created according to His will. May He establish His kingdom during your life and during your days, and during the life of all the house of Israel, speedily and in the near future. And say Amen.

There are also other variations, including one for Rabbis to pray in their training, ones for funeral and burial rites, and others (the above is actually a half-Qaddish).

As you can see, this is quite similar to the first part of the Lord’s Prayer, and indeed many scholars have called the Lord’s Prayer Jesus’ version of the Qaddish. A more literal translation of the opening to the Lord’s prayer than our liturgical forms tend to utilize is instructive here (actually mine is probably more like the Amplified Bible than anything else):

Our father, the one who is in the heavens,
May your name be sanctified (or made/known as holy);
May your kingdom come (or appear, or come into being),
Your purpose (or will) come into being (or be accomplished, or be done)
Just as in heaven, so also upon the earth.

If Jesus did adopt the Qaddish for his prayer, from where does the rest come, all the stuff about forgiving and daily bread and the like? Scot McKnight, a leading emerging church theologian, proposes a solution in The Jesus Creed.

McKnight refers to Mark 12:28-32 as the “Jesus Creed”, his opening of the Shema to include Leviticus 19:18’s command of loving your neighbor. The Shema (Deut. 6:4-5) was the fundamental text of Jewish monotheism, and devout Jews would recite it twice a day (the Qaddish was also recited multiple times daily along with other prayers). McKnight speculates that Jesus may have had his disciples recite the Shema with Lev. 19:18 added when they prayed. Jesus expanded the fundamental command of Judaism to include not only allegiance to and love of God, but also love of neighbor – the basic duty of life extending both vertically AND horizontally. The inclusion of both love of God and neighbor in the Jesus Creed mirrors the two sections of the Lord’s Prayer, and McKnight argues that Jesus is essentially doing the same thing with the Qaddish that he did with the Shema – expanding it to include dimensions of God’s glory and of his kingdom and also of life together based on love of neighbor in a community dedicated to living God’s kingdom as reality. In other words, as he says, if you love God you pray the first part of the prayer, and if you love your neighbor you pray the second.

Each of the petitions of the Lord’s prayer is subversive and perhaps even revolutionary: God is not distant but he his our Father; it is his name that should be exalted on the earth and not the name of any other ruler or power; for his reign to be fully manifest in this world, displacing the reign of other would-be lords. These fairly jump out at us from the page, but the petitions in the “love your neighbor” section are equally explosive.

To pray for our daily bread echoes the experience of Israel in the wilderness as God provided manna – just enough for each day, with no hoarding possible, no way for anyone to gain greater influence or power through God’s gracious gift. This undermines the nature of an affluent culture by declaring trust in God, not accumulation, as basic to our way of having needs met. To pray to be released from our debts as we release those in debt to us is an outworking of the principle of Jubilee that subverts a society based on debt and unequal economic power relations. To pray to be not lead into temptation but delivered from evil (or the Evil One) stands as a bulwark both against the tendencies of an oppressive society to call those who could to join the oppressors as well as the tendency of the oppressed to undertake violent revolution.

For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, forever and ever. Amen.


3 Responses

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