"Our Father..." (Part 2 of 4)
In Luke 20 one of the spies for the Temple Mount authorities in Jerusalem comes to Jesus and tries to entrap him with a trick question: “Jesus, is it permitted to pay taxes to Caesar.” This language is very evocative, this word “permitted” is rabbinic language, and all the orthodox Jews are standing around waiting to see what Jesus will do. (It is a fascinating story if you know some of the background.) Jesus says: “show me a coin.” Why did he have to ask for a coin? Why did he not just pull one out of his pocket? In all likelihood Jesus refused to handle or carry one of these coins because of the commandment: “you shall not bear any graven image.” This coin had the image of Tiberius Caesar on it, so observant Jews in Jesus’ day would not even handle those coins. Someone pulls out a gold denarius on which is the image of Tiberius Caesar and the following words—Tiberius Caesar, son of the deified Augustus Augustus. Jesus says: “whose image is on that?” When he says that in Hebrew, he immediately invokes in the listener’s mind the recollection from Genesis that we have been created in God’s image. The spy who tried to entrap Jesus had the tables turned on him now, because he is going to show his colors when he says: “I know who is on there because I had this coin; it is Tiberius Caesar.” And then Jesus says: “then give back to Caesar what is his, but give to God what is God’s.” What he means by this is: “give yourself, holy and complete, to the one in whose image you are made.” You can give Caesar these token coins, but what God is asking of you is your whole self because you are stamped in his image. You are stamped in the image of your Father in heaven. You and I are stamped in the image of God and he wants all of us, not a token of ourselves, but all. What you are called to do is to walk in a way that honors your family heritage. Our Father in heaven! We have to have a simple devotion to God when we pray, and yet beyond that we need to realize we are not beggars, we are sons and daughters of the Most High God. Not only must we pray with this devout consciousness, we must also pray with content, with substance to our prayers. Who would like to hear the prayers that Jesus uttered? Let me read you two prayers that Jesus knew and prayed and that had content. Remember, you pray with kavanah: with focus, intensity and intention. These two prayers are the opening benedictions of the series of 18 benedictions, called the Amidah (the standing prayers), that Jews around the world continue to pray twice daily. In Jesus’ day these prayers were also uttered. Jesus knew them because we know these two benedictions that open the 18 benedictions date all the way back to four centuries before Jesus—to the time of the great synagogue of Ezra and the men of the great Sanhedrin. Imagine uttering these prayers if you were Jesus, with that kind of devout consciousness but also with this content: “Blessed art Thou O Lord our God and God of our fathers—God of Abraham, God of Isaac and God of Jacob. Great, mighty and revered God, the most high God who bestows lovingkindness and art master of all things. Who remembers the pious deeds of the patriarchs and in love will bring a redeemer to their children’s children for Thy name’s sake. O King, helper, savior and shield—blessed art Thou O Lord, the shield of Abraham.” The second benediction that Jesus would have prayed is this: “Thou O Lord art mighty forever—you revive the dead, you are mighty to save, you sustain the living with loving kindness, you revive the dead with great mercy, support the falling, heal the sick, free the bound and keep your faith to them who sleep in the dust. Who is like unto Thee, Lord of mighty acts and who resembles Thee O King—who orders death and restores life and causes salvation to spring forth? Yea, faithful art Thou O Lord, to revive the dead. Blessed art Thou O Lord, who revives the dead.” These are some of the prayers of Jesus’ day that gave content to their devout consciousness. Not only does one need to have a heart for God, but one needs to have a mind for God. When one prays, one needs to pray with devotion and also with substance and content. When we come to the New Testament account of the life of Jesus, we see that he takes this well-known Jewish concept of the fatherhood of God and intensifies it even more so. In fact 107 times in the gospel of John alone, he speaks of God as Father, and he illustrates for us the character of our Father. He gives one of the most thrilling characterizations in the parable of the merciful father, which we know of as the parable of the prodigal son. But it is not really a parable about a prodigal son, but about a merciful father who at every point surprises us by his grace. At every point he does not do what the law requires or what custom would dictate, instead he does the exceptional thing, he shows grace and forgiveness. He puts himself at risk, he humiliates himself for the sake of his son, because he is a loving father—and that is what Jesus is trying to tell us about the one who created us, the one who has stamped us in his image. At every point he will surprise us with his grace. He will humiliate himself for you—he has done so in Jesus—he suffered for you, he will care and provide for you, because he is our Father.