The email took me back to the garden outside the Pater Noster Church in Jerusalem.
My friend, Ed Searcy, is facilitating groups in his congregation to study the book “Lord, Teach Us: The Lord’s Prayer and the Christian Life” by Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon. His note to me was to share the first chapter of a study guide he is writing to accompany the groups’ reading.
I remember the coolness of the stone bench in the garden, the shade of the trees and the 62 versions of the Lord’s Prayer that are featured on the walls of the church. But mostly I remember the introduction given by our Palestinian guide.
Centuries before, the area in which we sat was a gathering place for all those who might not be quite acceptable in the holy places of Jerusalem. Speculation is that it was the site of a graveyard.
Close to Bethany, Jesus used to stop before beginning the descent into Jerusalem and there he would encounter lepers, shepherds who could not quite cleanse their stench in a miqvah (a holy, cleansing ritual bath) and others who just did not fit.
It was these people, on the edge of religious and social acceptability, for whom the other teachers of the Jesus’ day did not find time. It was these people with whom Jesus entered into conversation and whom he dared to “teach” as ones deserving and capable of abundant life. It was these people who had no rabbi and voiced with yearning, “Master, teach us a prayer.” They wanted to be like all the other groups of apprentices whose masters provide them with their distinctive prayer.
So to the disenfranchised, those on the edge of acceptable, Jesus gave a prayer.
When read through those eyes I found the usual words I had grown used to rattling off yielding new light. A new kingdom, daily bread, the will of a different master, forgiveness of debt – powerful stuff.