“Therefore pray in this way: ‘Our Father who are in Heaven, hallowed be your name, let your Kingdom come, let your will be done also in the earth, just as it is in Heaven.”1 (Matthew 6:9-10)
The Lord’s Prayer is well known in Christianity as the way that Jesus taught his disciples to pray, but what does it mean? Some Christian faiths take Jesus’ teaching of the prayer to be literal and believe it is to be memorized and repeated in a rote manner. Others believe he meant it merely as an example of how to pray, taking into account its structure, flow of subject matter and emphases.2 Suppose for a minute that there is a deeper meaning within the text that Jesus was trying to get across to his disciples.
One of the customs that was around during Jesus’ time was the recitation of a Jewish prayer called the Kaddish. What is particularly interesting about the Kaddish is that it bears a striking resemblance to the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer. The language between the two prayers is similar with parallels between the reverence of God’s name, the kingdom, and his will being highlighted. It is said that both the Kaddish and the Lord’s Prayer “spring from the same source,” and so the “essence” of both prayers is the same. The similarities are “more than linguistic” and support the theory that the Lord’s Prayer begins as an “adaptation of the Kaddish” that the disciples were familiar with, “but has been modified to deal with current issues.”3
Here is the text of the Half-Kaddish for comparison with the text of the Lord’s prayer (Matthew 6:9-10) above:
“May his great name be magnified and made holy (amen) in the eternity which he created in his will. And may he establish his kingdom in your lifetime and during your days and in the lifetime of all of the House of Israel, swiftly and soon. Now say Amen. And may His great name be blessed for ever and ever. May He be blessed, praised, beautified, exalted, lifted up, adorned, raised up on high, and worshiped, Blessed be He. Over all blessings, songs, and praises and sorrows declared on earth. Now say Amen.”4
Why use the Kaddish when teaching the disciples a new way to pray? For hundreds of years the Jews had been petitioning God, in this prayer, to establish the coming kingdom during their lifetime, but it wasn’t until Jesus introduced the Lord’s Prayer that the coming kingdom took on a new meaning.
In teaching the disciples a new way to pray, Jesus revised the Kaddish they were familiar with to show the Jews that the kingdom was indeed coming soon and it was going to happen in their lifetime. He not only gave us an example to follow, but he showed them the answer to the prayer the Jews had been praying for hundreds of years.