Tuesday, October 06, 2015

In Clemency

He prayed, “I beseech you, LORD, is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? This is why I fled at first to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger, rich in clemency, loathe to punish. And now, LORD, please take my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.”  Jonah 4:2-3

“When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name, your Kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us, and do not subject us to the final test.”  Luke 11:2b-4

What is the right way to address the Lord in prayer?  We have a good example from Jesus through Luke and a bad example from Jonah. 

First the bad…Jonah’s prayer is done out of selfishness and imperfection.  Because of his innate meanness (jealousy and judgementalism), Jonah did not want the Lord to forgive the Ninevites.  However, the Lord does not dole out mercy in the same way an employer doles out a year-end bonus.  Grace is heaped upon us in greater measures than we ever deserve.  However, Jonah did not yet understand this. Selfish Jonah bemoans his own loss. 

The Lord teaches that it is much better to start out addressing him on the right terms.  Jesus teaches how to do that with the prayer that is aptly named for himself.

When Beth and I were teaching Confirmation class years ago, one explanation of the Lord’s Prayer has always stuck with me.  It boiled down the verses of the prayer into seven parts:  the three Christian theological virtues start out the prayer and then it concludes with verses that recall the four cardinal virtues: temperance, justice, prudence, fortitude.   Unfortunately, I have long since forgotten the author of these ideas except to confess it is not mine.

Faith:  Our Father, who is in heaven, holy is your name
Hope:  Your kingdom come; Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven
Charity: Give us this day our daily bread
Justice: Forgive us our trespasses
Prudence:  As we forgive those who trespass against us
Temperance:  Lead us not into temptation
Fortitude:  Deliver us from evil.

These seven verses considered in this fashion then also evoke the seven sacraments and the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.  Furthermore, considered this way, frees us from reciting the prayer from memory and allows us to get to know the Lord and ourselves by considering how our prayer life and our life reflects the three theological virtues and four human/cardinal virtues.

“The number seven is one of the most significant numbers of the Bible because it is the number of spiritual perfection. It is the number which is stamped on every work of God. We can observe the importance of this number in nature too. Be it physics, chemistry or music we can see they are all based on this number of God’s work. All music that is created is based on seven basic notes of music, the eight note is just a higher or lower octave. If light is passed through a prism then it splits into seven parts.[i]

This number and thus this prayer holds a very important and sacred place in the Word of God as inspired by the Holy Spirit as it is symbolic of spiritual perfection.

Last week, the states of Georgia and Virginia both executed persons on death row.  The Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole denied clemency for Kelly Gissendaner. She was executed on September 30, just after midnight.  Virginia killed Alfredo Prieto on October 1 while an appeal was pending.  This week, Texas executed Juan Garcia. He is the 11th person executed by Texas and the 23rd in the U.S. in 2015.

Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us even when the state says we can kill the killers.  Lead us not into the temptation to take an eye for an eye.  Deliver us from the evil done by killers and deliver the families of the victims from their pain and loss.

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