The Greatest Prayer (Week 6)

Our final gathering covers the last petition of the Lord’s Prayer, using chapter 8 and the epilogue of John Dominic Crossan’s book, The Greatest Prayer. Here we notice the prayer turns solemn, as the reality of evil, trials and temptations are anticipated.

Discussion Questions

Chapter 8 – Lead Us Not into Temptation

  1. The terms temptation and evil have a variety of connotations. Crossan asks “what content comes immediately to mind” when you hear the word temptation? (p. 167) Are they generic images or specific situations?
  2. Crossan describes the Roman military responses to violent rebellions in the area around Nazareth (pp. 163-167). How does he see this cycle of violent uprisings and heavy-handed counteractions?
  3. How does Crossan explain the relationship of his own history growing up in Ireland and how he understands the context of Jesus’ ministry?
  4. How does Crossan relate the temptation stories of Jesus in Matthew and Luke with his interpretation of the petition, “Lead us not into temptation” (pp. 170-173)
  5. Crossan understands temptation in the prayer to be the temptation to use violence to bring about the kingdom of God (pp. 173-174). How does that affect the way in which he understands the request for God not to lead us into temptation?
  6. The familiar doxology which often closes the public prayer, “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever” (pp.174-5). This phrase does not occur in the earliest and best Greek manuscripts of Matthew. The phrase echoes the words of praise found in 1 Chronicles 29:11-13. What is Crossan’s caution concerning using the phrase? How do you understand the doxology when you recite the Lord’s Prayer?
  7. Reflecting on this chapter, has your understanding of the final petition changed? If so, how? What temptations face us as we partner with God in bringing the realm of God to earth? What evils stand in the way of God’s will for our world?

Epilogue – The Strangest Book

  1. Crossan addresses the contradictory depictions of God in the Bible, one image of a  nonviolent God and the second image of a God of violence and retribution. How does Crossan address these conflicting understandings of God? With these troubling contradictions, how do we continue to read the Bible as a sacred text?
  2. Are divine justice and divine love in opposition to each other?
  3. Crossan describes his method of approaching the Lord’s prayer on page 8. He focused on key words, using a concordance to study all of the instances of those words in the Bible, and reading those occurrences in context. He calls this a “biblical meditation on the Lord’s Prayer” (p. 8). How does this approach to understanding the Lord’s Prayer influence his reading? What benefits do you see in using this method of study?
  4. Thinking back over our study, what stands out for you in the readings and discussions? How has your understanding of the Lord’s Prayer changed?

The Greatest Prayer (Week 5)

What do we mean when we pray, “Forgive us our debts”? Is there a difference in meaning among the three common versions of this petition using debts, trespasses or sins?

Monday night we’ll take a look at chapter 7 in The Greatest Prayer by John Dominic Crossan. Ask your questions about the reading or make a comment below.

Discussion Questions

Chapter 7 – Forgive Us Our Debts

  1. Throughout human history debt and slavery have had strong connections with one another. What is the relationship between debt and forced-slave labor?
  2. Discuss the examples of laws limiting debt slavery (pp.144-153). Why were such limitations important?
  3. Crossan offers a brief overview of the uses of debt, trespass, and sin in prayers found in gospels. What differences does Crossan find? Why does Crossan argues the term debts should be read literally and not metaphorically?
  4. If debts are to be understood literally, how does Crossan understand humanity’s debts to God? How does this relate to the way in which you understand our debt to God?
  5. For a first century Mediterranean day laborer or peasant, daily bread and future debt would have been primary concerns. In what ways do these concerns hold true for the poor today?
  6. How do we understand debt today? Do we see it in relation to oppression or economic exploitation? Or do we view debt as a result of personal choices?
  7. Discuss the connections between being forgiven our own debts and forgiving the debts of others.
  8. Does the use of the word “debt” change the way in which you understand The Lord’s Prayer?

The Greatest Prayer (Week 4)

Now we turn to chapter 6 of John Dominic Crossan’s book, The Greatest Prayer. This week we focus on the petition, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Want to start our conversation early? Ask a question or add an observation in a comment on this post.

Discussion Questions

Chapter 6 – Give Us Our Daily Bread

  1. Before reading chapter six, what did the phrase “daily bread” mean to you?
  2. Crossan describes the economic changes to the area around the Sea of Galilee brought about by Herod Antipas. Who benefited from the increased production? Who was adversely affected? How does this change your understanding of the context of Jesus’s ministry?
  3. Why does Crossan suggest there is so much “fishy stuff” in the gospels?
  4. Crossan points out the repeated pattern of Take–>Bless–>Break–>Give in meal stories in the gospels. What conclusions does he make?
  5. What associations does Crossan make between “daily bread” and “bread from heaven” in the Old Testament? How does that expand our understanding of the possible meanings of daily bread?
  6. On page 133 Crossan writes, “It is never just about food. It is always about just food.” What do you think he means by that?
  7. What connections does Crossan find between the Lord’s Supper and the Lord’s Prayer?

The Greatest Prayer (Week 3)

This week we’re discussing chapters four and five of John Dominic Crossan’s book, The Greatest Prayer. Our reading is filled with definitions and re-definitions. Some are familiar terms; others quite archaic. If you have questions, pose them in a comment and we can begin the discussion here.

Discussion Questions

Chapter 4 – Your Kingdom Come

  1. The term “Kingdom of God” permeates the gospels, a common thread in the parables of Jesus. Most of us have never lived in a kingdom. How would you explain the Kingdom of God? Are there other terms you find helpful in understanding God’s Kingdom? Kin-dom of God? Reign of God? Household of God?
  2. Crossan argues the Kingdom of God involves a different process and style of rule from traditional kingdoms or governments. He suggests rephrasing the term as the “ruling style of God.” (p. 78) How does this affect your understanding of the Kingdom of God?
  3. Eschaton is Greek for “the end.” Eschatology, then, involves ideas about the end. But what end? Eschatology is often tied up with apocalypse–which means a revelation about the Eschaton. How have you understood these terms? Often connected with the idea of an end of the world, it is better understood as the end of an Age or period of time. How does this shift in definition change the ways in which you think about these terms?
  4. Crossan suggests we think about the eschaton as the “Great Divine Cleanup of the World.” (p. 79-81) How does he understand this Divine Cleanup? How will it come about? Who plays a part in bringing about this Cleanup?
  5. Compare John the Baptist’s vision of the Kingdom of God with Jesus’s proclamation of the Kingdom of God. (pp. 85-92) In what ways were they similar? How were they different?
  6. Crossan ends chapter four with a discussion of the idea of parousia, a Greek term for an imperial-level visitation now associated with ideas of Christ’s future return. As we pray “your kingdom come,” how do you understand that coming? is it a past, present, future event or some combination of all three?

Chapter 5 – Your Will Be Done on Earth

  1. Each Sunday we pray, “your will be done.” What does that phrase mean to you?
  2. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” How does Crossan relate this saying of Martin Luther King, Jr. to his discussion of God’s will?
  3. Using Anselm as a jumping off point, Crossan invites us to consider the possibility that rather than through divine punishment, God’s justice and righteousness are manifested through consequences of the actions of human beings. How do you respond?
  4. His discussion of God’s will leads Crossan to refute the view of substitutionary or vicarious atonement, focusing instead on collaboration and participation. (pp. 104-106) How did Anselm understand God’s will and Jesus’s death? In what ways does Crossan’s view differ?
  5. Crossan suggests a better rendering of “on earth as it is in heaven” would be “as in heaven so on earth.” He understands “as in heaven” to be “the eternal design of God for creation.” (p. 116) Does that change the meaning of the phrase for you? of the prayer?

The Greatest Prayer (Week 2)

Here are some questions to help you reflect on the reading (pp. 29-72) for next week. How’s your reading going? Are there any questions bubbling up for you? If so, share the questions in a comment below.

Discussion Questions

Chapter 2 – Our Father in Heaven

  1. The Lord’s Prayer begins with the use of a male-specific address for God. In your own spiritual journey how have you experienced the use of the title Father to address God? Are there other names for God you find compelling?
  2. In what ways do you understand our names for God such as Father, King, Judge, Shepherd, or Lord to be a metaphor?
  3. Crossan goes to great lengths to argue the term Father does not need to be understood in an exclusively male way, but rather could be read as shorthand for Father and Mother. Are you convinced by his argument? Why or why not?
  4. Crossan’s proposes that the term Our Father should be understood as calling God “Householder of the World.” How might the metaphor of Householder enlarge our understanding of God?

Chapter 3 – Hallowed Be Your Name

  1. Using the story of Moses’s encounter with God in the burning bush, Crossan illustrates the paradox of recognizing the fundamentally unnameable nature of God yet our need to try to name God. Why are our names for God important? What might the unnameable nature of God teach us?
  2. Crossan points out that the verbs in the first three lines are in the imperative mood (hallowed, come, done). (p. 57)The imperative mood is for orders or commands. What do you make of this observation? Crossan asks who is doing the ordering in the prayer–God, us, or both. How do you respond?
  3.  Hallowed means made holy or sanctified. Crossan takes his readers through an extended tour of holiness in the Old Testament, beginning with Leviticus 19:2, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” How do you respond to Crossan’s connection between holiness and distributive justice? In what ways are God’s holiness, Sabbath holiness and our holiness related?
  4. Crossan asserts, “The Sabbath day has nothing to do with freedom from work so that one may go to some place of worship. It is about the distributive justice of rest from work for all who work as worship itself.” (p. 66) How does this view of Sabbath compare to your understanding of Sabbath?

The Greatest Prayer (Week 1)

As you read the Prologue and chapter 1 of Crossan’s book, The Greatest Prayer, feel free to use these questions as a guide.

Discussion Questions


  1. Thinking about your own experiences with the Lord’s Prayer, what, if anything do you love about the prayer? Is there anything about the prayer that gives you pause?
  2. Crossan calls the Lord’s Prayer “Christianity’s greatest prayer…and strangest prayer.” (p. 1) Why does he think this? In what ways do you agree or disagree with his assessment?
  3. According to Crossan the Lord’s Prayer is both a “revolutionary manifesto” and a “hymn of hope.” (p. 1) In his view, what makes the prayer a manifesto? In what ways is the prayer a hymn? Do you find the prayer revolutionary? hopeful?
  4. Crossan draws a distinction between retributive justice and distributive justice. How does he define these terms?
  5. Crossan discusses parallelism, a common structure in Hebrew poetry. (pp. 3-6) Poetic parallelism includes synonymous, antithetical, and climactic parallelism. As you follow his examples, how might an awareness of parallelism inform one’s reading of Hebrew poetry? Do you see ways in which parallelism might enhance meditation on Scripture?

Chapter One

  1. Crossan suggests that prayer “must mature over time and through practice.” (p. 27) In what ways do you agree with his perspective?
  2. In search of maturity in prayer, Crossan invites us to consider two prominent types of prayer: prayers of request & gratitude and prayers involving empowerment by God. How do you understand these types of prayer? How do they relate to one another?
  3. Prophets in the Old Testament spoke on behalf of vulnerable members of their society, those without familial support: widows, orphans, resident aliens. Who are the vulnerable members in our communities?
  4. In this chapter, Crossan lays out his underlying premise in interpreting the Lord’s Prayer, namely the inherent connections between prayer and distributive justice. He uses the image of the two sides of a coin, each one distinguishable from the other, but not separable. (p. 20) At this point in the book, do you agree with Crossan’s assertion? Why or why not?
  5. Do you have questions or responses to what we’ve read so far? Are there any questions you’d like to pose to the author at this point?