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The Greatest Prayer

Harper Collins,  2010
RRP $21.00

Reviewed by John Coles.

“AS in heaven” reminds us that God’s will for creation was always there and ever the same, but that window of opportunity opened in the first century CE and “as in heaven” became “so on earth”.

That is what John says most accurately and poetically at the start of his gospel: “In the beginning was the Word…and the Word became flesh and lived among us…”

The Greatest Prayer: Rediscovering the Revolutionary Message of the Lord’s Prayer by John Dominic Crossan was published by Harper Collins in 2010.

Crossan is Professor Emeritus at De Paul University, a former Catholic priest and renowned Scripture scholar and author of many books including The Historical Jesus, The Birth of Christianity and Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography.

In 1985, together with Robert Funk, he founded the controversial Jesus Seminar to examine the historicity of Jesus.

Because of my lifelong interest in Scripture, theology and spirituality I was drawn to the possibilities of this book for my own spiritual reading and reflection – and I have certainly not been disappointed.

The brilliance of Crossan’s presentation is that it is a succinct, uncluttered treatment that is richly informed by the author’s scriptural scholarship; and his ability to give new insight through an historical/cultural context for the theme he is treating.

His prologue which he titles “The Strangest Prayer” explores the appetite in that he states that the Lord’s Prayer is Christianity’s greatest prayer but its strangest prayer.

It is prayed by all Christians but it never mentions Christ.

It is prayed in all churches but it never mentions church.

It is called the Lord’s Prayer but it never mentions the Lord.

For him, as he goes on to substantiate, the Lord’s Prayer is a revolutionary manifesto and a hymn of hope.

His approach becomes “a biblical meditation on the Lord’s Prayer, one in which he shows that “the entire biblical tradition flowed through every unit of this prayer”.

Crossan’s method enables us to think about Jesus “in his first- century Jewish and Roman matrix”.

His “intuitive insight” is that Jesus’ prayer is “a prayer from the heart of Judaism on the lips of Christianity for the conscience of the world”.

He commences with a chapter titled with Jesus’ words, “Pray then in this way” and reflects on Paul’s passage in Romans 8: “We do not know how to pray as we ought”. Then chapter by chapter he reflects on each phrase of the Lord’s Prayer before concluding where he began, elaborating on “The Strangest Prayer” being part of the “The Strangest Book”.