THE OUR FATHER
The OUR FATHER is accepted by most scriptural scholars as Jesus’ own prayer as it exhibits the “heart of Judaism” colored by Jesus’ unique relationship to his Father. It can only be fully understood by entering as much as possible into Jesus’ Jewish mind fashioned by his biblical environment. It was without a doubt used continuously in the meals where the early followers of the Way would meet to recall and celebrate the memory of Jesus. It is found in Mathew and Luke taken directly from the Quellen, or Lost Gospel. In it Jesus teaches us to petition God the Father to help us promote his Kingdom which is based on distributive justice, dignity and rights for created men according to his will with love and forgiveness to make it happen. We ask for relief from economic oppression and help to avoid following the same path ourselves as well as being drawn into common occasions of sin and violence.
CONTEXT: Jesus was a peasant boy from Nazareth, a tiny Jewish hamlet in Galilee, considered one of the least important regions of the Jewish advanced agrarian economic society under the heavy yoke of the Roman Empire. Consider that Jesus was raised in the shadow of the scarring memory of the slaughter of 4000 Galileans by the Roman soldiers only one or two years before his birth. He probably didn’t know how to read or write, had no formal education as we know it beyond religious instruction and learning a trade. Daily activities until he began his public career as a teacher and prophet would have been occupied in contributing economically to the survival of his family as well as losing himself in time as he communed with his Father in heaven. As we gather from the gospels Jesus was very sensitive and compassionate and must have suffered from the conditions and stress his family and village friends were living under. His mindset and values were molded by his religious practices and traditions, his personal relationship with God, and the struggle of the people he loved to survive in an environment of government and economic oppression.
Genesis, the creation story, the lessons of stewardship given according to the Jewish tradition, the teachings of justice to the poor, the widows and orphans, the aliens, the conviction of God being with his people in their worse moments, the spins of the prophets, how God had created them and taught the Jewish people how to live and let live.
JESUS HAD COME TO UNDERSTAND THAT THE DIVINE STEWARD OF THE WORLD, GOD, WAS THE FATHER OF ALL, HE HAD GIVEN US All WE HAD, HE WAS “ABBA” “PAPA” AND “MOMA” too. HIS FATHER’S CREATION WAS “GOOD.” IT WAS UP TO THOSE CREATED IN HIS LIKENESS TO SET THINGS RIGHT FOR THE LESS PRIVILEGED IN HIS FATHER’S KINGDOM.
We could only do it with His help, his Father always there, in HEAVEN, from whence He had started it all and turned it over to us. It was Jesus’ profound realization of the closeness and intimate filial bond with his ABBA FATHER, MOTHER, CREATOR GOD, who wanted him to announce that He was not only CREATOR but ABBA FATHER who would make good for his created world.
When his disciples ask him about how to pray, “TEACH US TO PRAY LORD!” Jesus summarizes the basics of his message by showing us how they and we should relate to God: filial love, and extreme dependence on Him; live with justice, forgiveness, and love towards our neighbor, to bring about his Kingdom. The true enemies of Jesus in the Gospel stories are those that participate in economic oppression, of those that make up the Jewish power structure, while enjoying a secure, safe participation in the elite of the Jewish/Roman society do nothing to alleviate the situation of anguish of their fellow Jews: the ranks of the Sadducees, the Scribes, the Pharisees, and the Priests were the structural hypocrites of the Jewish Nation.
OUR FATHER WHO ART IN HEAVEN
“OUR” makes it a collective prayer like one that could have been used in the community of Nazareth he knew intimately. The building of the Kingdom cannot be done by one person or even one community alone. We all have to stand before God our Father to work and pray together brothers and sisters.
FATHER: It is common knowledge that the Jewish family in the Hebrew tradition was based on a system of patriarchy where women and children simply had no rights. Along with the rights of the Father of the household, however, was the corresponding obligation to “administer,” protect the goods of the household distributing them justly for all its members with compassion for the weak. We ask His help to get right the administration of our part of this world’s goods given from Heaven.
The use of the term Abba is most probably used together with the word Father, as St. Paul indicates: “God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying ‘PAPA! FATHER!’ So you are no longer a slave but…an heir, through God.” (Romans 4: 6-7). “When we cry, ‘Abba! Father’ it is that very spirit bearing witness within our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ….that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (Romans8:15-25). This is The Abba prayer referred to in St. Paul. It is a clear expression of a Jesus’ filial type bond with God as God’s Spirit and our spirit collaborate in the Abba prayer. Jesus wants us as heirs to experience a similar personal and filial closeness to his Father in the Spirit.
IN HEAVEN: the Father we address is the same God who from heaven (this was a biblical tribal expression for locating their God) used for creating the earth and all in it, including man and woman who were to administer all on earth in his place, distributing justly material goods and protecting the weak, the poor from the powerful.
Certainly the principal element of Jesus’ message, new to the teachings of the Old Testament, is this intimate familiarity with God, powerful beyond names, the Creator of everything. Jesus teaches us to call him “ABBA Father that is PAPA. Everything that Jesus taught us in the few words and parables that we have from him, through his example in life and in death, in some way flow from his intimately lived Sonship. It is a tender, personal filial bond of love that animates all his words and actions. But this same Father depicted by the Bible, in Jesus’ mind throughout his life, is also the chief “steward” of creation, who continues to look after, protect his sons and daughters, as well as have dominion over his creation.
God the Creator created man in his image to take charge of His work: “Yet you have made them a little lower than God, to whom God entrusts his creation” (Psalm 8). Men were meant to take God’ place in the work of stewardship. He has given us the enormous responsibility of managing all He has given us to make our use of His gifts with justice and harmony among all. The dramatic story of the Prodigal Son illustrates how the Father, as a steward of His land and possessions on earth would treat a profligate son who selfishly squanders his patrimony instead of using it for others. It would be with tender love and the forgiveness. Jesus taught his disciples and us to expect and meet out a treatment in the use of the goods of the earth similar to his ABBA FATHER.
HALLOWED BE THY NAME
Before all else we are to bless his name, a name declared by Moses so “HALLOWED” that it could not even be a name. God said to Moses “I AM WHO I AM.” (Ex, 3, 13…), which in Jesus’ mind and soul englobed, a Creator in love with those made in his image, the author of the law, the Spirit of the prophets, the Protector, and above every other designation, ABBA FATHER. When we “HALLOW” or declare Him “HOLY” we declare our recognition of God’s ‘LOVINGNESS.” Our response is, as Jesus teaches, the first and greatest Commandment: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind.”
“And the second is like the first: thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” THAT IS:
THY KINGDOM COME, that of this loving Father, not the oppression brought by violence and the sword of the Roman Empire, where the poor are hardly left with enough life to make God a part of it; where the fruit of daily labor was eaten up by the privileges and taxes of the conquerors and their collaborators; where downward mobility into slavery and an early death was the fate of most. The prophets, so prominent in Jesus visionary mind that he would follow in their footsteps and die as many of them had died, knew God was not looking for rituals or fasting or the sacrifice of animals but the possession of one’s heart to make sacrifice for the downtrodden, the poor, the widows (forgotten women without an established place in Jewish societies), the orphans and the resident aliens. All were to have a part in his KINGDOM where they also can live ‘HALLOWING” the name of their ABBA FATHER.
WE PETITION GOD TO HELP US PARTICIPATE IN BRINGING ABOUT HIS KINGDOM
THY WILL BE DONE
God’s will is inscrutable! But a TRUE SON, even though completely human, with the knowledge of his Father, transmitted through the ages by a chosen people, can interpret his Father’s ways. THY WILL BE DONE, He makes the rules, sets the limits and the horizons, it is up to us to make it happen. Praying Jesus’ prayer, we will get smarter and make it happen. ABBA, FATHER, PAPA would not lay a burden on the jewel of His creation, MANKIND, that they with His help would not be able to achieve.
This Kingdom where the disciples and we have been created to govern is not yet the perfect world God offered us with everything in place as in the creation story. But, HIS SON gives us the example of how to bring about the world He wants for us where we can use and administer everything with justice for all as He intended from the beginning, praying…
ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN “HERE AND NOW” in whatever way we can
But how? Jesus answers: This is mine, and my ABBA FATHER’S commandment: “That you love one another as I have loved you.” This is Jesus’ message to bring about the Kingdom of his Father, where…
THE KINGDOM OF GOD AS IN HEAVEN: follows ON EARTH in parallel with our petitions of the first half of the prayer.
GIVE US THIS DAY OUR DAILY BREAD the basics for life
BREAD, read: our household economy must have enough to make possible the physical, emotional and material freedom and peace, to be his children, all, brothers and sisters, “heirs” with Jesus, with the opportunity, the possibility of knowing and loving and hallowing the name of GOD HIS FATHER: not an impossible dream, nor a utopia, but A MINIMUM BASIC RIGHT for all things needed to bless and hallow HIS FATHER’S NAME.
DAILY in our families and communities. This partaking together of the “DAILY BREAD” is a reminder of the community meal among the followers of “The Way,” a harbinger of the Eucharist whereby Jesus promises to be gathered with us in “hallowing” his Father’s name. CHILDREN OF THE SAME FATHER (and MOTHER) sit together at the same table.
Biblical traditions were clear from the beginning with the behavior of Adam and Eve and their children Cain and Abel that GOD THE CREATOR did not write with straight lines and right angles. God wanted us to do the writing despite the difficulties that would arise in trying to organize by and amongst ourselves the just use of what He has given us. CREATION did not end on the 7th day, it began and must continue until we get it right. In the face of the dire beginning of men’s journey on our earth Jesus still incited his disciples to seek the Father’s support for bringing his Kingdom to the earth entrusting them to strive for distributive justice even in the Roman Empire and all empires that might follow. If we love and use our talents we can find the way to make His Kingdom a reality for all. When mentioning the problem of the camel and the needle, didn’t he respond to his disciples that “…all is possible with God.”
AND FORGIVE US OUR DEBTS free us from oppressive loans we cannot repay.
Jesus was taking aim at a common economic institution of his time that permitted the wealthy and powerful to fashion the rules made to take over the lands of the peasants. Not only did this practice gradually lead the peasant land owners in an advanced agrarian society into slavery, but many of the extended family that depended on food from the land faced an early death for lack of means of basic survival. The debt which the peasant took on was a necessary evil frequently needed to plant his meager crops. The holder of the unpaid loan frequently would convert the land into use for a cash crop such as grapes with the result that many members of the peasant family would be forced to become day laborers looking for scarce jobs without other means of sustenance. This practice was so prevalent in ancient times that Hammurabi’s law stipulated a return to the original owners every three years of all land confiscated because of debt. In Jewish law the Sabbath or seventh year completed the time period. In reality the return of land was observed only in the breach and clearly not in militarily occupied countries such as Jesus’ community.
AS WE HAVE FORGIVEN THOSE WHO ARE IN DEBT TO US
It was not easy to be wealthy and a follower of Jesus in an agrarian economy. His followers needed God’s help to pardon debts, the fruit of investment, owed to them when a matter of distributive justice was in play. And today? There was no way that Jesus could have foreseen the complexities and multilayered moral responsibilities of a globalized economy, yet the prayer to His Father and Creator continues to call for the coming of the Kingdom not yet attained. Somehow at some time mankind will progress until all will have the basics needed to HALLOW his name. “All is possible with God” for He is ABBA FATHER.
Mathew instead of “debts,” uses the less specific, more urbanized “trespasses” or “offenses” expanding the petition to the Father to include all our offending actions (not only unjust loans) in His “forgiveness” and to accept our corresponding obligation to “forgive those that offend us.” And when we pray to ABBA FATHER for His forgiveness we need to keep in mind always that His Kingdom is not possible without forgiveness and love. Jesus’ “seven times seventy” means that we always must be ready to forgive. God made us material, separate and competing beings, not robots, each with his own wiring, so that there will always be differences and legitimate disputes, usually with some winners and some losers even in God’s Kingdom. As He has created us no man can ever fully enter into another’s mindset and understanding so that universal harmony among men, can only arrive when JESUS’ compassion and love rule in our hearts. Only loving the Father of us all like Jesus can bring us to achieve His Kingdom on earth
AND LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION
The word Jesus uses for temptation is the same that he uses for his temptations during his 40 days in the desert when the devil tried 3 times to trick him. It seems to me that those temptations apply more accurately to Jesus’ special vocation as a prophet and messenger of the Father: the abuse of God’s power to make bread (Jesus in the desert was hungry), refers to making money in God’s name; to jump off the pinnacle of the temple without harm, requesting God to give us magical powers; to possess all the kingdoms of the earth, refers to limitless power. All three refer to using his influence as God’s son for disloyal ends. However, we all can misuse our vocation in life or God-given talents that fashion what He wants of us. But all must resist opportunities to be disloyal to ourselves and others, especially when it involves damage to others.
BUT DELIVER US FROM EVIL
“Evil” encompasses all sin and merits an additional request for help from the Father. Crossan whose book most of this blog is based on after reviewing Jesus’ references in the gospels to violence thinks that the greatest “evil” is violence in God’s name, certainly a more subtle even though ever present possibility for all of us. That perhaps is why Jesus recommends a final request to be DELIVERED from one of the most difficult decisions that man and his institutions have to make, to forget that we are all a loving FATHER, PAPA’S AND MAMA’S, children and brothers together and respond to others with the same violence used against us. Jesus taught us through the cross how his followers should act even in the face of violence to God’s son, WITHOUT VIOLENCE, returning forgiveness for evil. The era of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” could not be the norm with a common FATHER of love.
If we pray as he teaches us, his FATHER’s KINGDOM will arrive someday (we have already come a long way) through our participation in Jesus’ life and message.
FOR YOURS IS THE POWER AND GLORY FOREVER (this ending is found in the Didache, a first century document of apostolic teachings); it brings our mind back to OUR FATHER IN HEAVEN. Just as at the beginning of our cry to our Father Jesus teaches us the GREAT COMMANDMENT, he teaches that living the SECOND COMMANDMENT also hallows God’s name,
FOR YOURS IS THE POWER AND GLORY FOREVER. The message of Jesus is divine because it comes from his FATHER. Jesus is DIVINE because of his message.
Most of the above comments are taken from, inspired by, or hinted at in John Dominic Crossan’s book, THE GREATEST PRAYER, (Harper One, 2010).