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?

Taking Requests

This summer Pastor Nancy is offering sermons on topics chosen by the congregation in an “Everything You Always Wanted to Hear in a Sermon about but Were Afraid to Ask” series. Questions cover all types of issues: biblical texts, theological issues, Christian practices, and more.

On Sunday, June 6, we began exploring our first question, “What is the destiny of humanity?”

We watched the creation and destruction of a Buddhist mandala:

We considered the story of the call of Moses in Exodus 2:23-3:15. At the burning bush Moses encounters the God of compassion, a God who reaches out to be in relationship with humankind. And yet at the same time, Moses experiences God as holy other, powerful, awe-inspiring. The story is at its core the mystery of the God who is unknowable and yet seeks us out.

What is the destiny of humankind? To walk in the way of the God who saves and the God who calls.

Rather than offer stock answers to questions of faith, the hope is that this sermon series will facilitate more conversations among our folk.

Listen to the audio of the sermon here.

Summer 2008–Sermon on the Mount Intro


This summer we’re taking a close look at the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5-7. Rather than be understood as a single sermon delivered by Jesus, it is helpful to think of the Sermon on the Mount as a distillation of Jesus’ teachings, pulled together by the writer of Matthew’s gospel for a late first century (80-100 CE) Christian community. Here, in 3 short chapters, we find what a group of first century Christians felt was the core of Jesus’ teachings.

In Matthew, the Sermon on the Mount comes near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus has called four disciples and has been making his way through Galilee. Along the way he has taught in the synagogues, healed the sick, and proclaimed the good news of the God’s kingdom.

Now, Jesus heads up the mountain; his disciples in tow. He sits down and begins to teach them.

For the next couple of weeks we’ll look at the beatitudes in Matthew 5:1-12. This link has two versions of the passage; one from the English Standard Version and the second from Eugene Peterson’s The Message. Take some time this week and read through them. Perhaps even read them out loud to yourself. Compare multiple versions with each other.

What stands out in the text for you?
Are these words comforting? disturbing?
What questions come to your mind as you read the passage?

Acts 25:23—26:33

Read the text here: Acts 25:23—26:33.

Before Paul makes the move to Rome, he first is brought before King Agrippa (Herod Agrippa II, the last Judean king before the end of Jewish rule in 70 CE). Agrippa expresses curiosity about Paul, and thus Paul is given the chance to make one climatic speech defining his ministry in front of the Roman authorities. Paul the prisoner; Paul the itinerant preacher; Paul the part-time tentmaker makes the case for Christianity in front of the King, his wife, and the Roman governor. It is a full-blown speech, created by Luke as a model for believers in Luke’s time who might be facing difficult circumstances and hostile responses by the authorities.

Here Paul comes face-to-face with power and privilege. First, he is met with intellectual curiosity (Agrippa). Soon the response includes a concern about Paul’s sanity (Festus), and then finally turns to skepticism and aloofness from all three present.

Let me write a bit about Agrippa’s response to Paul’s question in verse 27, “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” Agrippa answers, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” The Greek is a bit ambiguous. Rather than a serious question, it’s more likely a witty retort, something along the lines of “You think you’re going to make a Christian out of me in such a short time?” (see L.T. Johnson, Acts of the Apostles, pp. 439-440 as well as Boring & Craddock, The People’s New Testament Commentary, p. 458). The “to be a Christian” phrase has the connotation of “making” a Christian or “performing the role” of a Christian.

Paul takes Agrippa’s reference to “a short time” and builds upon them, “whether short or long…I pray that…all would ‘perform my role.'” Perhaps Paul is suggesting that he doesn’t want bystanders to the faith but active witnesses such as he is.

The exchange ends with the assessment that Paul might have indeed been set free had he not appealed to Caesar. If Paul is hoping for an open and fair hearing before Caesar, he might have checked out the reputation of Emperor Nero first. Nero was known for many things, but rationality and fairmindedness were not among them (for starters, rumors abound that Nero’s mother Agrippina poisoned his uncle Claudius so that Nero could take the throne at age 16; what goes around comes around as eventually Agrippina would be murdered reportedly upon order of her son, Nero.) Hmmm…maybe Jerusalem and Caesarea aren’t that bad of venues after all!

Acts 25:1-22

Read the text here: Acts 25:1-22.

Two years have passed, and Paul remains in prison in Caesarea. Within a few days of accepting the post the new governor, Festus, travels from Caesarea to Jerusalem and meets with the Jewish leaders there. The leaders ask a favor of Festus, that Paul should be moved to Jerusalem. At this point the narrator lets us know there is yet another plot against Paul’s life; this time not by a vigilante group, but by the chief priests and other key leaders themselves.

A move of the prisoner does not occur, but Festus does agree to reopen the case. We are given a summary account of the proceedings. Paul remains confident he has not transgressed Jewish law, and he insists that he is not disloyal to the emperor. Sitting in prison for two years may have convinced Paul that he has little chance for a fair trial in Caesarea or in Jerusalem, and so he plays his final card: an appeal to Caesar. Such an appeal may save him from illicit violence at the hands of his religious opponents in Jerusalem as well as remove him from the political maneuverings in Judea.

The next move in the story has Festus, a Gentile non-Christian, giving his understanding of the conflict and Paul’s role in it. There is no mention of any threat to Roman stability or peace, rather Festus describes the charges as being religious disagreements. Festus then relates a version of the early church’s kergyma , its proclamation or preaching, “…about a certain Jesus, who was dead, but whom Paul asserted to be alive.

Here Festus serves to underscore the writer’s main point: this is an internal religious conflict between two Jewish factions. The followers of The Way, the members of those early Christian communities, are in no way a threat to the Roman Empire.

Acts 24:1-27

Read the text here: Acts 24:1-27.

Paul is now in the hands of the Roman governor Felix in Caesarea, the provincial capital of Roman Palestine. The High Priest has brought along a hired gun, Tertullus, a prosecuting attorney (literally a rhetor, e.g., rhetorician) to argue the case against Paul. Tertullus follows common legal protocol, first by the expected flattery of the judge and then moving to make his case against Paul. Felix is described by Tertullus as a benefactor to all the people bringing peace and reform to the area. This may be more than a slight exaggeration, for the historian Josephus describes the time under Felix’s rule as turbulent with revolutionaries causing continual unrest (see Spencer, p. 228).

Paul, on the other hand, is depicted by Tertullus as a plague (meaning dangerous to the public welfare), a disturber of the peace, a ringleader of a sect, and a defiler of the Temple. Of primary concern to any Roman governor would be a security threat to the empire, a disturber of the Pax Romani.

The next step in the legal process would be for Felix to interrogate Paul in public. Instead Felix sets aside the trial proceedings and questions Paul privately. Paul disputes any charge that he is the instigator of any trouble in Jerusalem. He worships the God of Israel; he had come to Jerusalem to worship; and to give alms and offerings. Paul has done nothing to disrupt the Temple or threaten the public.

Felix has knowledge of The Way and is a married to a Jewish woman, and for a moment it seems that he might be persuaded to release Paul. But after some delay, his true colors are revealed. Felix does not free Paul, but keeps him imprisoned. His motivation? According to the writer of Acts, a mix of greed, fear, and political gain.

Over the course of two years, Paul and Felix speak together, but Felix is unmoved by Paul’s sharing of the gospel. Felix has knowledge of The Way, but his own personal greed and ambition keep him from embracing the faith. At the end of two years Paul should have been released. According to Roman law a citizen could not be held longer than two years without a verdict. As a last act of political expediency, Felix hands Paul’s case over to his successor. Paul’s ultimate fate remains unclear.

Acts 23:12-35

Read the text here: Acts 23:12-35.

At this point a careful reader might wonder where all Paul’s friends and traveling companions have gone. Has Paul no friends left in Jerusalem? It’s up to a previously unmentioned and nameless nephew of Paul’s who somehow uncovers a plot by a renegade Jewish group to ambush Paul and kill him.

This episode in Paul’s captivity serves to underscore to us readers just how important a role Paul plays. He is a prisoner, and yet he gives instructions to his Roman guard. His unnamed nephew, with no apparent claim to any great social status, is able to have a private conference with the Roman tribune in order to convey information about the threat on Paul’s life.

Paul’s influence continues to be strong, as the tribune sends the young man away with a command of secrecy and springs into action. At this point a most improbable show of Roman force is gathered to offer Paul protection and escort. Two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen, and two hundred more spearman will accompany Paul by night to Antipatris on the way to Caesarea. For the journey, Paul (still a prisoner, mind you) will get his own mount, while the 400 Roman soldiers are on foot. This incredible show of force may be nearly half of the soldiers available under the tribune’s command. Rest assured, Paul will make it safely to Felix the governor in Caesarea.

There is quite a bit of irony in Paul’s situation. Paul’s Roman citizenship gives him much more status even as a prisoner than his identity as a practicing Jew. The Romans follow the prescriptions of their legal system, while the the religious folks in Acts neglect the teachings of biblical law. Paul joins four others in a seven-day ritual of purification to signify his pious observance of the Law. The group of 40 would-be assassins join together in fasting not to be broken until they have killed Paul.

Paul has been sent by the Holy Spirit to Rome, and ultimately nothing will stand in his way.