Praying with Romans and Manasseh
Greetings from the land of Admirals, Brewers, Cheese and Harley's. As I was praying with Paul in Romans, through lectio divina, I was captivated by the notion of "bragging" or spiritual arrogance in our relationship with God. As I ruminated on that picture generated by Paul my mind drifted to another spiritual text. One filled with the opposite attitude displayed before God.
My mind was taken to the Prayer of Manasseh. It is one of the most beautiful pieces ever written, in my opinion. First I will give the text of Pr of M in its entirety from the NRSV and then make some comments upon the text.
"O Lord Almighty, God of our ancestors,
of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and their righteous offspring;
you who made heaven and earth with all their order;
who shackled the sea by yor word of command, who confined the deep
and sealed it with your terrible and glorious name;
at whom all things shudder, and tremble before your power,
for your glorious splendor cannot be borne,
and the wrath of your threat to sinners is unendurable;
yet immeasurable and unsearchable is your promised mercy,
for you are the Lord Most High, of great compassion, long-suffering and very merciful, and you relent at human suffering.
O Lord according to your great goodness you have promised repentance
and forgiveness to those who have sinned against you, and in the
multitude of your mercies you have appointed repentance for sinners,
so that they may be saved.
Therefore you, O Lord, God of the righteous, have not appointed
repentance for the righteous, for Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, who did
not sin against you, but you have appointed repentance for me, who am a sinner.
For the sins I have committed are more in number than the sand of the sea; my transgressions are multiplied, O Lord they are multiplied!
I am not worthy to look up and see the heights of heaven because of the
multitude of my iniquities.
I am weighted down with many an iron fetter, so that I am rejected because of my sins, and I have no relief; for I have provoked your wrath and have done what is evil in your sight, setting up abominations and multiplying offenses.
AND NOW I BEND THE KNEE OF MY HEART, imploring you for your kindness. I have sinned, O Lord, I have sinned, and I acknowledge my transgressions. I earnestly implore you, forgive me, O Lord, forgive me!
Do not destroy me with my transgressions!
Do not be angry with me forever or store up evil for me;
do not condemn me to the depths of the earth.
For you, O Lord, are the God of those who repent,
and in me you will manifest your goodness; for unworthy as I am,
you save me according to your great mercy,
and I will praise you continually all the days of my life.
For all the host of heaven sings your praise, and yours is the glory forever.
Now brothers and sisters that is a rich prayer. Its author is well aware of his (or her) lack of standing before God. It expresses in moving language the full conviction of the infinite grace of God.
In the great Geneva Bible the Pr of M was included as an appendix at the end of 2 Chronicles. It was included in the LXX and the other ancient versions of the Hebrew Bible (Old Latin, Vulgate, Syriac, etc).
If one reads carefully there are some distinct echoes especially with Luke's writings. Luke consciously mined the Psalm and Prayer treasures of Judaism (as reflected in the LXX) in his writing style . . . and there are a number of echoes from this Prayer in Luke.
The high esteem of the Patriachs is reflected also in the Apostle Paul who argues that Israel is "loved on account of the Patriarchs" (cf. Romans 11.28).
That God is especially interested in the repentance of sinners is seen in a number of Luke's phrases: "I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance" (5.32); Jesus refers to the 99 that do not "need to repent" (15.7)
In Luke's telling of the "sinner" in the temple in contrast to the arrogant self-righteousness of the religious man . . . there are a number of echoes from this magnificent prayer. Both v 8 and 9 have distinct verbal parallels in Luke's story. Luke writes:
"the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven . . . and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner."
These two phrases are used by "Manasseh." We read "you have appointed repentance for me, who am a sinner . . . I am not worthy to look up and see the height of heaven . . ."
It is indeed an interesting fact that these nearly identical phrases in the Greek text occur in such close proximity, and in the same relation, in both Manasseh and Luke.
The beautiful prayer, of which much more could be said, teaches like Luke's recording of the Prodigal Son . . . God is indeed the God of the penitant. His mercy is grand and breathtaking.
Is it any wonder that some folks saw fit to preserve this prayer. Luke, it seems to me, enjoyed some of its phrases . . . and its theology.
See what can happen when we pray with Paul :-)