Jesus by Martin Dibelius
Martin Dibelius occupied the chair of New Testament at the University of Heidelberg for thirty two years. He wrote extensively, and many of his works have been translated into English. In 1937 he visited the United States, delivering the Shaffer Lectures at Yale University. Jesus was translated by Charles B. Hedrick, teacher of New Testament at Berkeley Divinity School, and Frederick C. Grant (who completed the translation after Dr. Hedrick’s death). Dr. Grant was Edwin Robinson Professor of Biblical Theology at Union Theological Seminary, New York. Published in 1949 by Westminster Press, Philadelphia. This book was prepared for Religion Online by Richard and Sue Kendall.
Chapter VIII: Man's Status Before God
Threat, promise, demand — this the frame within which Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom of God is confined. That God will shortly enter into the world must seem like a threat to an indifferent human race, immersed in the life of instinct, or to an ambitious one, entangled in prejudices. It sees itself suddenly challenged by One who passed through this world as a witness for the world of God and a living sign of its coming. The transformation of things which he announced seemed in itself to be something threatening; hard times would precede it. What was required was utter loyalty, the refusal to fear those who might kill the body: “Let your loins be girded and your torches burning!”
To all those, however, who doubted or despaired over the meaning of life, to whom it had become a question in their own lives why this world, created by God, served God’s purposes so slightly — to them Jesus brought the message of the Kingdom of God as promise. A time would come, and it was already very close, when God himself in the person of his Anointed would take control of this world. Then the contradictions within the world order would begin to make sense; injustice, the fact that might takes precedence of right among the nations as well as in the existence of a single people, would disappear; then it would become evident who is the Lord of the world — in the Kingdom of God. That is why
Jesus clothes the promise in a call to the disinherited and oppressed of this world:
“Blessed, you poor—yours is the Kingdom of God!
Blessed, you that hunger you shall be satisfied!
Blessed, you that weep — you shall laugh!
Blessed are you, when they revile you and speak evil of you!
Rejoice and be glad. A great reward is awaiting you in heaven!
(Luke :2o, 21; Matt. 5:11, 12).
Thus he foresees a complete reversal of the claim to the Kingdom. From afar, out of the East and the West, they will come and find entrance. Those, however, who call themselves “ sons of the Kingdom” will be cast out into everlasting darkness —“ misery is there, and shuddering, and torment “ (Matt. 8:11, 12).
It is no wonder that the men thus set between threat and promise are eager to know how they can escape the threat and become partakers of the promise. They want to hear God’s requirement from the herald and witness of the Kingdom. As a matter of fact, Jesus did give counsel in the name of God, in great fundamental questions as well as in minor matters. But Jesus was no lawgiver. If he had been, his detailed instructions would have had to embrace the whole area of human life. Instead, his admonitions by no means deal with all the questions that life presents, and many of the problems of human life are simply not considered. Only by way of example does he take up such questions or let them be submitted to him: the customs of his people, even the religious customs such as fasting and prayer, furnish the occasion for such questions. The Gospels have preserved to us a comparatively large number of such instructions — some with and some without the occasion being given. That explains the misconception, appearing ever and again in new forms, that the Gospel is a collection of commandments, that discipleship means the carrying out of a number of precepts.
This is probably the most serious misconception that encumbers the tradition of Jesus, and especially, as part of this tradition, that most systematic arrangement of Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels, the Sermon on the Mount (Matt., chs. 5 to 7). This Sermon is a collection of Jesus’ words, short sayings and connected groups of sayings, whose genesis one can discover for himself in the briefer parallels to be found in Luke 6:20—49. There was obviously already to be found among the sources of the two Gospels, Luke and Matthew, a short presentation of Jesus’ teaching, which consisted of the fragments that both Evangelists record at the same point. This must have begun with the Beatitudes and closed with the parable of the Two Houses; in between, it contained sayings that called for the renunciation of retaliation and for the love of enemies, after which followed the sayings about judging, about the tree and its fruits, and about “Lord, Lord.” Even this first little collection, found in the lost source, undertook not only to give an impressive example of the teaching of Jesus, but at the same time to sketch out what it meant to be a Christian in the midst of the world. How much the more was this the aim of Luke, and—especially—of Matthew! In the case of Matthew, it is not only in the selection and arrangement but also in the wording of the sayings that one can recognize a concern to set forth the requirements for the Christian life. Jesus’ call to the disinherited and downtrodden among his hearers, “ Blessed, you poor,” has become the statement (in the third person instead of the second), “ Blessed are those who are poor in spirit “— a restricted statement, for the addition of the words” in spirit” is meant to prevent misunderstanding, e.g., that Jesus had pronounced the blessing upon poverty as such. The addition is intended to restrict the Beatitude to the group of those who are inwardly oppressed by the course of things, and thus it runs counter to the original meaning of the words as given by Luke. In Matthew, attached to these Beatitudes on the disinherited and oppressed, are other sayings of Jesus which similarly exalt the meek, the merciful, the sincere (“ the pure in heart”), and the peacemakers. Thus the call to the poor and hungry becomes a catalogue of Christian virtues. And, in like manner, all the sayings of the Sermon on the Mount appear to have been put together to form a kind of catechism dealing with the life of the Christian in the world.
This, however, is the result of a transformation that had already taken place. The Christian communities, confronted with the demands and cares of daily life, craved an answer to the question, How are we to live as Christians in the midst of the world? The hearers of Jesus, on the other hand, had asked, What kind of people are we to be when the new world breaks in?
Therefore it is not correct to separate these sayings of the Sermon on the Mount from other words of Jesus — words of warning and of promise, but words which in every case point to the Kingdom of God — and to describe them as “basic principles” of Jesus’ preaching, i.e., as commandments that do not assume the approaching transformation of the world, but set out to regulate the life of the Christians in the world as it now is. Originally these “basic” sayings likewise had reference to the coming of the Kingdom. How could it have been otherwise in a preaching that sought to prepare men for the Kingdom! How could one expect anything else from a proclaimer who stands before his hearers as a visible sign of the coming Reign of God! All his commandments and requirements are part of his message of the Kingdom of God, rather than appropriate measures for the reform of this present world; in all of them, in the most intelligible as in the strangest of them, the coming of the Kingdom is either tacitly or explicitly taken for granted as the major presupposition. The command is given, not in order that thereby the Kingdom may come, but because it is coming. It is a question of laying hold on men with God’s command and preparing them for the Kingdom’s coming. While in the command Jesus proclaims God’s will in the presence of God’s Kingdom, he himself appears — and doubtless appeared to many among his hearers — not only as the announcer but also as the fulfiller of that will. He speaks “ as one who possesses authority and power” (Matt. 7:29), and this authority does not first need to be validated by means of his office or his Scriptural theology. Similarly a consideration of his demands awakens an understanding of his rank (see Chapter VII).
Jesus’ words, like his deeds, are signs of the coming Kingdom. He gives no new law that embraces all the circumstances of life. Precisely the fact that the tradition of his words is silent regarding many problems of life is proof to us of this sign quality. He speaks to his own people, and in so doing remains within the frame of the traditional religion. If the nation had really heard Moses and the prophets, it would doubtless have been ready for the Kingdom. But precisely the ordinances of the old Jewish religion became for him, ever and again, the occasion for the revealing of signs of the new thing, the new behavior of men in the presence of the coming God. He sees the devout of his nation fasting: they creep around with woebegone countenances in order to show to everybody how pious they are (for fasting is a pious but, of course, voluntary practice). Are such people ready for the Kingdom? No, says Jesus. Let them wash and anoint themselves as if they were going to a banquet. That would be real fasting in the sight of God (Matt. 6:16—18) ! This is said in that Oriental fashion which does not set out to describe something, but rather to rouse the will by overstatement and exaggeration. It is not dissimulation that Jesus preaches, but reserve; not a new kind of hypocrisy in place of the old, but an honesty in God’s sight that renounces all esteem in the eyes of men; for to accept the praise of men means cheating God, to whom alone belongs praise.
But Jesus, who speaks in this way about the right sort of fasting, was once asked why his own disciples did not fast. In that instance he replied,” Can the wedding guests fast as long as the bridegroom is with them? “ If the Evangelist (Mark 2:20) then has Jesus point to the future, when the bridegroom would be taken away from them, and when they would then have a right to fast, this is understood as a justification for fasting in the Church; and accordingly the addition doubtless originated at a time when the Christians themselves practiced fasting. But in any case the difference is significant: an injunction to the right kind of fasting in the Sermon on the Mount, a dispensation from fasting here (and, if one will, a reference to the introduction of fasting in the future). This comparison does not reflect indecision, but, on the contrary, a power of judgment regarding the pious tradition. It is not a question of either doing away with fasting or of making it generally binding; it is a question, whether one fasts or not, of being rightly prepared for the Kingdom of God.
This is why the tax collector in the parable story (Luke 18:10—14) is held up as an example in contrast to the Pharisee; the latter dares even in the sanctuary, in the very presence of God, to speak boastfully of his own pious conduct. He does not lie, he is “good” (according to the human use of the word). but he makes it the basis of a claim. The tax collector, on the other hand, is not really a “ sinner” (according to the human use of the word), but he is conscious of the holiness of God and humbles himself before him. The constant danger under which every kind of piety in the world stands — that of becoming an end in itself and thereby a kind of heathenism— is classically depicted in this brief, imaginative, but perfectly human story of what took place one day in the Court of the Temple. And here too the exhortation finds its compelling motive, unspoken but insistent, in the coming of the Kingdom: How shall one who has fooled himself into thinking that he has done all that God requires stand in the judgment when the holy God himself appears before him?
This is indeed the first and the foremost demand of the message of Jesus: Be ready for God’s Kingdom. Jesus himself lived in this state of readiness. But not as an activist, who day and night thinks of nothing else but the overturning of the old and the creating of the new. On the contrary, Jesus awaited everything from the Father: day and hour of the great transformation (Mark 13:32), share and honor in the Kingdom itself (Mark 10:40) —indeed, Jesus’ reserve on the subject of the Messiahship (Chapter VII) no doubt reflects this same deep attitude of will, which claims nothing for itself, but accepts everything at the hand of God. At least it is certain that the command to go through suffering and death was likewise in a true sense” accepted “ by him. If it had been otherwise, Jesus would have defended himself for the sake of God’s cause, or in the interest of this cause would have fled, or might even have flung himself at death with the passion of a martyr. This final alternative, however, would have found expression in the scene of the arrest. We hear of nothing of the kind; what the Gospels describe is neither histrionic nor mutinous, but a simple, obedient march into the darkness. Even from his first public appearance Jesus’ face is already turned toward the Kingdom of God, to the Kingdom alone, and to no worldly goal or ideal. Therefore all values, treasures, goals belonging to the realm of politics, of civilization, of human society, sink out of sight. But again one must guard against the wrong inference: they do not disappear because they are regarded as worthless or because ascetic zeal renounces them. They simply fade in the splendor which proceeds from the Kingdom of God — so completely is Jesus devoted to this one thing and prepared for this alone. It is a most audacious piece of human interference with this devotion of Jesus when his mother and brethren try to take him home (Mark 3:31). People think “he is out of his senses “ (Mark 3:21); that attitude of being devoted only to the invisible that is to come is indeed something that oversteps the human norm. Jesus himself knows and recognizes and understands only what he pointed out to the bustling Martha: “You are anxious and troubled about many things, but only one thing is needful” (Luke 10:41, 42).
And he demands the same readiness now from his followers. It is not sentimentality and not subjective contemplativeness that Jesus wants, but obedience. For it is the great hour of God — they should observe the signs of the time (Luke 12:56) and obey God’s call. It is a radical obedience that Jesus demands, one that knows nothing else than this one object. He portrays it in the picture of the man who buys the field in order to acquire the treasure buried in it, and in that of the merchant who seeks the costliest pearl: both give all that they have for this one thing (Matt. 13:44—46). Indeed, he does not shrink from taking a criminal as an example, perhaps one well known at the time, since the children of light can learn even from the children of darkness: that unjust steward who is put out of his office does not think of using excuses in order to hold onto his position; he thinks only how, with one final deceit, he can make his future secure while he still has the ability to do so (Luke 16:1—8).
To one who, in radical obedience, judges the whole world solely in the light of this one thing — God and his coming into the world — to him everything becomes worthless that can separate him from God. And it makes no difference in such a case whether it has the approval of men or not. Whether duty or burden — whatever it is that holds men back from being ready for the Kingdom — it has no longer any rights in this cosmic hour. Foremost among these fettering forces stand possessions and sickness. The way in which each of these was looked upon at the time demands special attention. We too know the stultifying power of wealth, and how concern over it can become an end in itself, with the millionaire as well as the smaller saver. But just as truly, and with a much wider range among men, beggarly poverty, the worry over a bare existence from day to day, seems to us to be a dismal burdening of life which can exclude altogether the thought of an otherworldly destiny and determination of life. It was different under the economic conditions of Jesus’ time and country. Hospitality and all sorts of possibilities of sustenance prevented the housing question from ever growing serious (for it is lacking also in Jesus’ sayings about worry); the problem of wearing apparel is not serious, and, in case of utter need, food can be gathered in the fields (Mark 2:23). The freedom of a poor, itinerant kind of life, moreover, such as Jesus led with his followers, entirely in the service of the one cause, may in fact bring men nearer to God rather than farther away from him. The property owner, on the other hand, who must always take care of what he has and be concerned for its increase, faces a far greater danger of leading a self-sufficient life. That continues until God intervenes, either with the coming of his Kingdom, or, as in Jesus’ parable story in Luke 12:20, with sudden death. “What shall become then of all that you have gathered?
Jesus’ warning against anxiety extends to all whose concern over possessions, whether acquisition or increase, keeps them from recognizing God’s claim upon their life. The warning is grounded in the seriousness of the last hour: “ But strive after his Kingdom. and then you will receive the other things in addition “ (Luke 12:31). But this reference to the seriousness of the hour only brings to radical expression what God is always and everywhere demanding from men in the way of decision. It is the decision between God and the world that the rich man avoids. Jesus did not preach against possessions; his wandering life was made possible, to some extent, by the help of those among his followers who were property owners. But he experienced the fact, only too often, that possessions come between a man and God; to these men of wealth his words apply: “Woe to you, for you have received your consolation” (Luke 6:24); and so does his hard saying, not to be softened by anything in the figure employed, “It is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God” (Mark 10:25). But this realization did not restrain him from trying to win over that same rich man; nor did it keep him back from the next rich man: “For with God all things are possible.”
Jesus does not set out to “ abolish” either wealth or suffering. But undoubtedly he means to show that God’s call is meant for everyone, for the man who is entrenched behind his possessions as well as for the man who lies buried, as it were, under a mass of human prejudices. This holds good, above all, of the chronically sick. Jewish theology claims to explain all the fortunes of life, happiness as well as suffering, by reference to divine retribution. So for this theology there is no question but that the sick man must have committed an offense against God; otherwise he just would not be sick. That is why Jesus greets the man who seems hopelessly lame with the words, “ Your sins are forgiven “ (Mark 2:5). For God’s dealing with men cannot be confined within the mathematics of a pure doctrine of recompense. And just as in this one story the healing appears as confirmation of the forgiveness of sins, so in principle every healing performed by Jesus is intended to proclaim that sickness is not banishment from God. Thus every healing becomes a sign of the coming Kingdom, the indication of the true will of God. But the full realization of his will takes place only in the Kingdom of God; those signs remain isolated, and sickness continues to exist during this world age. Jesus did not abolish it, but only in occasional instances of sickness made clear God’s will.
The Gospel preaches preparedness for God’s Kingdom, but there follows from this not only the setting aside of all hindrances; there is involved also the demand for positive renunciation. This we learn from the saying addressed to the rich man; formulated more generally and more radically, it runs:
If your hand leads you into temptation, hack it off!
Better for you to enter maimed into eternal life
Than having both hands to go to hell!
Everyone sees that what is meant here is not mutilation but renunciation, and that the cutting off of the hand — or of the foot, or the plucking out of the eye — is only a symbol of the resolute renunciation of everything that lessens the preparation for God. We ought also to recognize the figurative character of the saying about eunuchs (Matt. 19:12), which distinguishes, among various cases of castration, those who came thus from their mother’s womb, those who let themselves be mutilated by men, and finally those who underwent castration for the sake of God’s Kingdom. If the figure is really understood as a figure, then the saying does not speak of castration but of renunciation. Only, the renunciation of the first class is not renunciation at all; that of the second has nothing to do with God; and only in the case of the third is there a genuine sacrifice which prepares the man for the Kingdom. It is a sacrifice that is demanded; it is only through the narrow gate that one enters into life, and the man who takes hold of the plow and looks back is of no use.
The Gospel does not preach asceticism as an end in itself; were that the case, then the second group in the eunuch saying would have been commended. Moreover, the renunciation would be limited to the field of lusts and sins, to what yields pleasure and satisfies impulses. Jesus demands still more: he demands, under certain circumstances, even the renunciation of duties. Here one sees most clearly the difference from the legal religion: the whole Jewish system of commandments and prohibitions with its absolute jurisdiction comes in question, since God himself is entering into the world with absolute majesty, absolute justice and holiness. Even the Sabbath commandment must be broken if God requires it, not human frivolity. The family must not restrain one any longer, and the dead father is not to be buried by the son (Matt. 8:22). To be sure, where religious (i.e., cultic) duty and filial duty conflict with one another, filial duty of course takes precedence (Mark 7:10—13). But every earthly duty is made relative by the nearness of God’s Kingdom. And all the more, such a duty as that of paying poll tax to the foreign government of occupation is not regarded as a duty at all in the moral sense, but merely as the consequence of political fortune. The meaning of the oft-quoted, repeatedly misunderstood saying of Jesus, “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s,” is misconstrued if one takes the saying as the statement of a principle bearing on the problem of “Church and State.” The coin bears the emperor’s image; therefore give it back to him! But you pious questioners should be thinking of higher duties: “Render to God what belongs to him!” (Mark 12:13—17).
Not the doing of a deed is the decisive thing, for that may differ in different cases, but the man who does it. He stands always before God, before the coming God! The message of the Kingdom makes him no better, morally, but it lays hold on his entire being and changes him. And what he says or does then is said or done with his eyes upon the Kingdom. “A tree is known by its fruit,” a man by his bearing before God. This is why Jesus turns more than once to the ”publicans and sinners,” because they know their own lack before God and make no claims. Their sins are not really denied or regarded as negligible; but they need not form a barrier between man and God. God must be taken more seriously than all that.
This new existence before God — which is not a state of life but an ever-ready hearing and obeying — Jesus reiterated again and again in a series of commands. Because these commands set forth the pure will of God without compromise of any sort, they often seem impossible of fulfillment in this old world. But this realization does not free man from the duty to hearken to God. Moreover, it is not the case that these commands were intended to express merely an “ interim ethic,” that they were valid only for the time immediately preceding the end of this world. They cannot be completely fulfilled before the end, but only in the time following after, in the new world of the Kingdom of God. It was in this sense, e.g., that Jesus forbade oaths (Matt. 5:34). For God’s absolute will forbids man to make God the guarantor of man’s statements or intentions. To what extent the state or the courts in this present world are compelled to employ such assurances as oaths —this question is not even raised. It may be that Jesus himself would have bowed to such a necessity (Matt. 26:63, 64); in this untransformed world the pure will of God does not yet achieve its full realization.
As with the oath, so with divorce: “What God has joined together, let not man put asunder “ (Mark 10:9)! The fact that there are marriages in this present world that are by no means true marriages in this sense does not enter into the discussion, since that has to do only with God’s will and God’s Kingdom. The consequences which men draw from the fact of such marriages, Jesus would judge in the same way that he judges all those ways of giving assurance by oath (Matt. 5:37); they only prove that all this sort of thing “ belongs to the evil f this present world].” In Matthew, to be sure, such consequences are already being considered; for in this Gospel, but only in it, there is inserted in the absolute prohibition of divorce the exception “ save in a case of fornication “ (Matt. 5:32; 19:9). But this very form of the saying shows that Jesus’ words were already being used for the legal ordering of daily life, and that the proclamation of the coming Kingdom was being made over into a catechism for continued existence in the old world.
For Jesus himself, the commands that “were said to them of old time,” i.e., in the Old Testament (and in the Jewish interpretation of the Law), furnish the frame into which he inserts the absolute demand of God. The Old Testament was able to point out God’s will to men. But since men look at the letter instead of really listening to God, God’s will has to be announced to them in its startling absoluteness, which often goes beyond human capacity for fulfillment in this present world. This is seen most clearly in the commandment forbidding murder. It is not the murderer alone who transgresses this commandment, but even the man who feels anger, and especially the man who gives offensive expression to it (Matt. 5:21, 22). In this way every old commandment was susceptible of being comprehended anew and at times even of being corrected. Again and again it will be seen that the radical new formulation goes beyond the limits of human ability within the relations of this present world. Again and again it must be emphasized, however, that this radical demand laid upon men is not to be reduced or watered down. It is precisely its radicalism that enables it to lay bare the actual situation of men and to make them receptive of the Gospel call to repentance. The deep truth of this “ convicting “ function of the Law was set forth more than once by Paul in his struggle for freedom from the Law (Rom. 3:20; 5:20; 7:9; Gal. 3:24). Jesus spoke of this too, but only in various hints which pointed to the reality of the pure will of God and the distance that separated men from the demands of the Law.
In some of these examples he only hinted at this new existence of men before God, and did not describe it. For in truth it never can be described, since man is being constantly placed in new life situations which are always demanding new decisions. Only in certain great key words can guiding hints be given; it is in this way that Jesus speaks of faith, prayer, and love.
Faith is the word that signifies the acceptance of this message of the Kingdom, the turning toward the emissary of God and to the divine salvation. Anyone who understands the signs of the Kingdom and who hears the call of God will also experience the forces of the Kingdom already at work: only faith experiences healings (Matt. 8:10), only the believer has a share in the forgiveness of sins (Mark 2:5). But it belongs to the very nature of faith that it turns to God with its sins and its need and accepts both forgiveness and help, without asking any question about its deserts or lack of them, without making comparisons or calculations. Jesus and his disciples lived in daily contact with a system of piety that was built on a rational computation of the relation of man to God, and thereby set itself up over God. For that reason, Jesus never tired of holding before his contemporaries and compatriots the fact that they must not prescribe to God how his grace and his wrath should be distributed. If we had been dealt with on the basis of justice only, we should have deserved no better fate than those who were crushed beneath the tower of Siloam, or the Galileans murdered by Pilate (Luke 13:1—5). And even if we succeed in doing everything that God has commanded, we indeed remain in the sight of God mere “unprofitable servants,” “who have done nothing more than their duty” (ch. 17:7—10). In the last analysis, men stand before God not otherwise than the day laborers of the parable, with their utter lack of any legal claim (that was the rule in those days), men who must not make comparisons or find fault if others receive a better assignment of work and therefore a larger reward (Matt. 20:1—15). And if God has compassion precisely upon the seemingly lost, as a father has for his wayward child, so he who regards himself as “less” lost must not remonstrate with him (Luke 15:11—32). Therefore the right attitude before God and in view of the coming Kingdom is that of the child who still understands the art of receiving and having presents given him. For what Jesus means when he assigns the Kingdom to the childlike (Mark 10:14 f.) is not the innocence of the child — which one cannot grant —but that simplicity which surrenders itself without reservation and unquestioningly lets itself be given gifts. What is meant is the attitude we must take before God through faith. And this is always lacking in us double-minded men, because we are constantly concerned about ourselves and entangled in the world’s deceptions.
Anyone who accepts the message of salvation in faith accepts it as a child, and stands in a different relationship to God from that of men in the religions of the ancient world; he dares to be unconstrained, he has no need of any mediation nor any mediating persons; he is in immediate relation to God. That will and must show itself in his praying. In the unquestionable sayings of Jesus, prayer is not spoken of as it is in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 6:5), i.e., as a pious practice along with other pious practices. It is rather the chosen expression for the relation of men to God. It is not necessary for God to listen to the prayers of men, counted out one after the other. It is not necessary for the pious to render their prayers as a service to God. But it is doubtless necessary for the man who believes in the message of the Kingdom of God to turn himself with all his concern to God. It is doubtless no accident that Jesus makes clear this rule of prayer in a series of very human pictures. He shows the effect of petition in the case of average, yes, even of evil, men; and then the question is asked, Will not God hear, even more readily and attentively, when he is prayed to? The more crass the contrast between God and the human example, the more convincing the argument. There is the father who will certainly not offer a stone to his hungry son who asks for bread (Matt. 7:9). There is the ordinary man who gets out of bed to answer his neighbor’s knocking, not out of friendship, but in order to be rid of his importunity (Luke 11:5—8). There is — worst example of all — the wicked judge who sees that the helpless, persecuted widow gets justice, in order that she may pester him no longer (Luke 18:2—7).
The really classical example of prayer, however, is the Lord’s Prayer; it is not a normal prayer, though often so used, but a charter of the new relation to God. It is neither ecstatic stammering, nor ritual litany, nor presumptuous demonstration. It belongs less in a history of prayer than in a history of faith. It does not so much answer to the requirement: Thus shalt thou pray, as it does the other: Thus shalt thou be!
We read the Lord’s Prayer in the New Testament in two forms: Luke gives (ch. 11:2—4 in the oldest manuscripts) a shorter text than the usual one (Matt. 6:9—13), in which the so-called third and seventh petitions are entirely wanting, and the address is formed only by the word “ Father.” If this Lucan form should turn out to be the oldest, then the so-called first petition is doubtless to be included in the address: “ Father, hallowed be thy name.” And then the prayer would consist of three petitions: for the Kingdom, for daily bread, and for the forgiveness of sins past and for preservation from future ones (“ forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors, and lead us not into temptation “). This prayer in fact sums up everything that the Gospel proclaims: the coming of the Kingdom, and the removal of care and sin, the two great obstacles to a life of faith in the midst of this world. One who can really pray in this way has accomplished the turning to God and to his Kingdom that we call faith, and thereby also the turning to him who in the midst of the world is the living sign of the Kingdom of God. One who can pray in this way is concerned over radical obedience to the absolute will of God; but he knows also about the limitations set by this world, which again and again hinder the fulfilling of this will, and he strives daily. hourly, to be rid of these hindrances. In this prayer neither is faith in Jesus as the fulfiller expressly confessed nor is the obedience of the new man promised; one may say, as has often been said, that every single one of these petitions could also be repeated by a Jew. And yet only this faith and this obedience describe the attitude before God in which alone the Lord’s Prayer can really be prayed in the sense of its author.
The third password of this attitude (besides faith and prayer) is love. This word is to be understood only in the context of the message of the coming Kingdom of God, therefore only by starting from God’s action, not from human judgments or feelings. It is not a matter of philanthropy, which seeks the divine spark in the most degraded men, nor is it a matter of an all-embracing breadth of sympathy, so that one cannot pass by any sighing creature without at least having his own tender heart soothed by the attempt to help. The source of the love that Jesus demands is God’s love, revealed in Jesus’ message and Jesus’ life, in so far as both are signs of the divine Kingdom: God’s love directed toward the unworthy — for all are unworthy, the good and the bad. A symbol of this love is the sun, which shines upon all; proofs of this love are forgiveness and healing, which are the portion of the childlike recipient, i.e., of the believing man; the witness to this love, however, must be the one who receives it. It will not do for the slave who has been forgiven much to go out and force payment from his fellow slave who owes him a small debt (Matt. 18:23—35). It will not do for the man who has experienced God’s love to set up barriers now on his side, and bestow his love only on a fellow member of his own race or class, or on some alleged “neighbor” and refuse it to another. Any man can be my neighbor, if God sends him my way — that is the meaning of the classic example of unhesitating loving-kindness set forth in the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30—37).
This unquestioning nature of love, which passes beyond all human frontiers (still so unavoidable in this world), Jesus insisted upon in the command to love one’s enemies (Matt. 5:44). We have become accustomed to think in this connection of war and enmity between nations. And of course Jesus did not exclude this thought. But national wars between independent countries did not fall within the circle of his experience; moreover, the most consuming hatred does not as a rule prevail between hostile fronts, but between people who are close to one another, dependent on one another, between neighbors, competitors, subordinates, and superiors. This hatred, including what we call “righteous indignation,” is what the command to love one’s enemies is meant to overcome. It does not demand some special achievement, as though the disciple of Jesus was supposed to love just his enemies and them only; but it indicates, after the manner of such sharpened formulations, the border case before which the love of man actually — and with justification, according to human standards — stops short: surely one does not love his enemies! One who has been touched by God’s love for sinners, who are God’s “ enemies,” no longer recognizes such limits. The command to answer the adversary not with resistance but with conciliation is similarly sharpened to a point: “If anyone smites you on your right cheek, offer him the other also” (Malt 5:38—42). This situation, like the others that are brought up elsewhere in the discourse, really presents an extreme case. They are not meant symbolically, of course, as only the radical expression of a mild sentiment; nor are they meant legally, as though precisely this and only this should be required, over and again. But of these demands the principle holds good: they are to be fulfilled literally, where fulfillment is possible, not in a silly way, and not as an ascetic achievement, but as signs of God’s Kingdom.
God’s absolute will cannot be compressed into a law for this world. It can be set forth only in “signs.” Therefore the demand of Jesus in its deepest meaning does not run: So must thou act, but rather, So must thou be! What he wants to create is not ascetic or ethical achievements, but men who in word and deed witness to God’s Kingdom!