The Lord’s Prayer – Part 1
July 24, 2022
As a young child there were two prayers we recited each night before going to sleep. One was a short one my dad had written and the other was the Lord’s Prayer. Night after night, those prayers were the last thing we did, and were such an important part of us feeling that the day was complete and we could nod off. The first one was very short and quite easy to relate to as a young child. Basically it said, ‘Dear Lord Jesus, stay with me, all I have I give to Thee, amen’. And that was it, short and sweet.
The Lord’s prayer was much longer and more complicated and truthfully it was not until I was an adult that I began to reflect on all of the various parts of this prayer so common to the Christian faith, and yet in so many ways still not fully understood I fear.
Certain parts of it are fairly straightforward, whereas other statements call for a much deeper commitment. In truth, I feel that if all those who call themselves Christians were to take this prayer seriously, and even more importantly to believe in what we are both promised and asking for within it, that the world would be a very different place indeed!
What we call the Lord’s Prayer is found both in Luke and Matthew’s gospel accounts and seems to be an adaptation of an old Hebrew prayer that Jesus drew upon and made His own. In Matthew’s account there are a series of seven petitions, the first three of which are asking for God to act in a certain way in order to accomplish the plans and purposes of God, and the last four of which are seeking particular actions for our own benefit…three for God, four for us. Today we are going to look at the first part of the prayer including the introduction and the first three petitions, and next week we will look at the second set of four requests.
So to start with, let’s look at the beginning greeting…in fact the very first word of the prayer, the word ‘Our’…notice the prayer does not begin with ‘My’ father but rather with ‘Our’ father. While it can and should be prayed as a personal prayer it is at heart a communal prayer. A prayer given as one to be prayed and understood from a group perspective. So what does this word at the very beginning of the prayer really mean? It means we are those who know that we are members of God’s family, the church…the ‘called out’ ones. Called first to live, and then to share the love of God with others. ‘Our’ means we are the ones called to be a beacon of hope, a light shining on a hill for all to see, a word of encouragement, a loving touch, a shoulder to lean on, or, even to cry on. We are the ones called by Jesus and set apart to be living examples of the love shown to us by this foot-washing, servant, carpenter, and shepherd Lord.
Called to be family. called just as we are, in fact fully as we are, with our hearts open to share and to receive. Called as people ‘put together’, or broken…‘in control’, or not so much…‘healthy’, or maybe not…all certainly with needs, all certainly with some degree of brokenness, all called fully as we are into the blessing of “
‘Our-ness’ by Jesus.
You know, Jesus presumed we would pray. That is why He said ‘When you pray’…not ‘if you happen to be praying’. No, he said, ‘When you pray say, Our Father’. The word ‘Father’ is one that has lots of meaning attached to it. In this day, in our language and culture it is most often a formal address, however in the language Jesus spoke, which was Aramaic, he used the word ‘Abba’. Abba is a much more informal name than ‘Father’ and the relationship it implies is one of deep intimacy, love, and trust. Sort of like when we might say ‘daddy’ or even better yet, ‘papa’. By using this informal and intimate name in speaking to God, Jesus was trying to share that our God is first a God of love and comfort in time of need, a God who can be found in the hustle and bustle of life, as well as in the quiet of our own heartbeat. A God who seeks to embrace and to hold us as we try to walk along our daily path through joyous times as well as in times of loneliness, or fear. Jesus spent a lot of time speaking and sharing with his ‘papa’ and he wanted us to be just as comfortable in reaching out to Papa ourselves.
So, we are the community called to be and to show ‘family’ in God…this is ‘Our’ Papa too!
That was Jesus’ introduction to the prayer he taught his disciples, an informal greeting to his Papa God. From that opening address we move on into the first petition…‘Hallowed be thy name’.
I must confess that for many years I did not see this phrase as a petition, as something we are asking for, but rather as a continuation of the opening greeting, as part of the description of ‘Our Father’…like ‘Our Father has a holy or special name’, but that is not it at all. The word ‘hallowed’ comes to us from the old English and is really better understood as ‘sanctified’. And for God’s name to be ‘sanctified’, requires some action on God’s part. We are not the ones who make God’s name sanctified!
‘Hallowed be’ is not something we do to God’s name, but rather a petition directly to God that he will make his own name holy here on earth. And do not forget that in Jesus’ time a name carried much more weight than just being a means of identification. For Jesus, the ‘name’ of God included the presence, the fullness, the whole realm of all that God was and is. So Jesus was trying to teach us that in this portion of the prayer we are asking that God would make his fullness and presence holy amongst us here and now. That the name of God, the awesome reality of God would be seen in our lives, in our time, and in this place.
So far, our prayer reads, ‘Our’ Lord, God of ours, God of this family gathered here, our ‘papa’…may you make your name, your presence known here in the midst of us. Make your name holy, here and now.
Then next we pray, ‘Thy kingdom come’. Now that too is an interesting phrase. What exactly does it mean to ask for God’s kingdom to come? It surely meant different things to Matthew’s intended audience than to Luke’s. Remember, Matthew was writing primarily to a Jewish community, seeking to convince them through an extensive opening genealogy and birth narrative to the very liberal use of scriptures from the Torah inserted throughout the gospel, that indeed Jesus was the long awaited and promised Messiah of God. The one who came to save, to redeem and to restore the former glory and power of Israel. ‘Thy kingdom come’ for those first disciples of Jesus was a nationalist cry for God to restore them to their ‘rightful place’ as inheritors and distributors of God’s favor and grace. Possibly I suppose, close to the same feeling of smug entitlement some privileged folk have when they see a ‘God Bless America’ bumper sticker and take it to mean ‘God bless the actions of this nation and not the fortunes of anyone else’. Sort of like, God bless us, and let the rest fend for themselves.
Luke’s audience on the other hand was a whole different set of people. These were not Jewish but rather Gentile believers, city dwellers who felt blessed to be included in the grace and generosity of this God who formerly only seemed to favor the Jews. ‘Thy kingdom come’ for them meant the establishment by God of an open, equal, and just society, a reign of God in which all peoples would be blessed and under the loving care and grace of this risen Lord Jesus of Nazareth, the Savior for all.
These are two very different ways of interpreting the words of Jesus, two viewpoints that persist even to this day. When you get a chance, take some time to ponder this yourself…look to see how it is that you pray this line of the Lord’s Prayer. Do you want God’s incoming kingdom to be one that is very specifically designed for a nation, race, or class of people? Or is your idea of ‘God’s table’ one that is big enough so that all may find their place to sit down together in the love and presence of God?
The word ‘kingdom’ is interesting by itself and for us to fully unpack it and tease out its many meanings probably would take another hour. At the very least though, we need to acknowledge that the term is quite foreign to our experience today. And in addition, it is a term that is very burdened with connotations of dominance, control, power, and conquest. I have always preferred, when talking about the ‘Kingdom of God’ , to use the term coined by Ada Maria Isazi-Dias, a Latina liberationist theologian. When speaking of the incoming day of God’s glory and realized love, she refers to it as the ‘kin-dom’ of God, the ‘kin-dom’ of God. Doesn’t that seem more in keeping with a prayer that is addressed to someone named ‘Papa’? Papa, ‘your kin-dom’ come, your community of loving brothers and sisters come into being Lord. Make it happen here and now we ask, here in our time!
So far we have looked at the first two petitions of the prayer. The third is not as difficult to understand and is actually pretty straight forward. It reads, ‘Thy will be done…here and now just as it is in Heaven’. This is a part of the prayer in which we ask that God would continue to work through the series of choices we make, and continue to push forward His divine and unfolding plan of salvation and redemption for all of Creation. While God does honor our free will, he is still a God of love, and wants to draw us ever nearer into his love and purposes. So, in a very real sense, to pray this line of the prayer is to ask God to bless us and to care for and provide for us in spite of ourselves! In spite of decisions or actions we may make or take that may hinder that process. Thy will, thy purposes, thy plan of unconditional and extravagant love continue to unfold amongst your children. For we are so much the apple of your eye, and so undeserving at the same time. Yes Lord, thy will be done, in our lives, and by your love.
And so we have prayed thus far in this way…
Our papa, make your name, your fullness present in our sight. Hasten the day when all can see and be a part of the kinship of your family, and work through our stubbornness and weakness to bring the flower of your love here on earth into fullest and fairest bloom for all to see. Papa God in heaven, hear this our prayer…