Last year our dogs jumped up to greet Susan and our large dog landed heavily on our small dog. He lay on the ground with his leg sticking out strangely. He was in pain and shock and Susan picked him up gently. He didn’t want anything near his leg and at the vet’s he was reluctant to allow her to feel around to discern the extent of the damage. Eventually our dog had to trust this stranger who did things he didn’t want and were contrary to what he perhaps felt was right. We had to help him trust and relax and let the vet do what she had to do, which would be for his own good and well-being.
I thought of this when I read the Gospel reading this week. It’s from Luke 11:1-11. Jesus was praying and his disciples asked him to teach them to pray as John had taught his disciples. The first part of Jesus’ response is a shorter version of what we know to be the Lord’s Prayer.
Very often we pray the Lord’s Prayer as if it is a sacred and holy set of words that must be prayed as is because that’s how Jesus gave it to us. Saying the words in the form we have seems to be important beyond anything else and we fail to recognise the transformative power of what we call the Lord’s Prayer. It is a subversive and world-changing prayer. It invites us into a place where our complete trust is in God and the way of God – rather than the systems or powers of the world that seem to dominate us. Praying the Lord’s Prayer is to connect ourselves to God and commit ourselves into God’s way, God’s program, in the world.
This is the connection with my opening story. We had to help our dog to trust a vet he didn’t know and relax and allow this person to do what was best for him – even if it seemed at odds with what he may have naturally felt.
In a deeper and more profound way, Jesus is inviting his disciples to connect themselves to the way of God, to trust in God and to commit themselves to the way of God in the world. The Lord’s Prayer invites us to place our lives, our purposes, our hope in God!
Luke’s version is simpler than that which we recite publicly (that is Matthew’s embellished version). It begins simply with ‘Father’. That sounds a little formal to our ears. It was actually a very intimate and unusual way of speaking to God. In Jewish faith, God’s name was so holy that it was not uttered aloud. God was addressed is very formal ways and was completely distant and ‘other’ to humanity. Jesus introduces an intimate form of address of children speaking to their fathers – ‘daddy’.
This designation and address for God draws us into a relationship of intimacy where God is named as the strong, caring, protective, loving parent of vulnerable children. In 1st Century Jewish life, a strong, loving and protective father was a vital asset for any child. It was the most significant relationship of protection in a male dominated world. But also note that many of the characteristics we attribute to God as parent, are equally or even more properly attributed to mothers as they nurse and nurture young and vulnerable children. So Jesus is inviting us into the place of intimate, loving and protective relationship with God; to put ourselves into God’s embrace wholly and fully.
‘May your name be holy,’ follows ‘Father’. This is about placing ourselves in the place where we hallow (make holy) God ad God’s name in such way as to commit ourselves to this One, rather than some other god or power. This hallowing is about relationship in which we allow ourselves to be embraced in the holiness of God as the one, true way. It is an intimate, loving, passionate relationship of mutual commitment.
‘Your Kingdom come.’ In Matthew there is the additional ‘Your will be done on earth as in heaven.’ This latter fills out the meaning. In other words Heaven is run pretty well and is in good shape but earth could do with some cleaning up. We yearn for the transformation that God’s Kingdom, God’s Reign will wrought upon the earth. This is both subversive and radical because it will mean a transformation of the world as we know it. If God is King, then human powers are not. If God rules then the economic and political priorities will change –dramatically (and we may not like some of them!). Mostly this prayer is prayed with the mind that we want all the good things to come and blessings to shower down upon us (and others) but don’t change the good things too much.
What would the world look like if we lived with God’s justice, God’s peace, God’s generous hospitality and welcome, God’s economics and God’s call for equality across the human race and care for the earth beyond?
‘Give us today the bread we need.’ This runs against everything that our society believes and understands. We store up, we save, we invest and we seek to ensure everything is okay today, tomorrow, next week, next year…
This phrase takes us back to the trust and faith the Hebrew people coming out of Egypt were asked to express when there was quail and manna provided each day. They were to take enough for the day and no more – they had to learn that there would be sufficient today and tomorrow would take care of itself. What do we need for this day? What grace, what strength, what wisdom, what hope and what food do we need for today?
Forgiveness is next but asks that we be forgiven as we forgive. It is more than a quid pro quo (for every time I forgive, forgive me something). It is about entering into a place where we understand ourselves as forgiven and loved, where the guilt or shame we may live with is not help in the heart of God! It is to live in forgiven freedom and that means we don’t hold onto resentments and hatreds… We cannot experience forgiveness and freedom if we live with hatred, bitterness and unforgiveness.
We also seek God’s comfort and security amidst the challenges and trials of life. May we be held and supported, sustained and even relieved as we trust in God and rely on God’s deep grace.
The remainder of the teaching describes a relationship of deep trust in which we come before God with the deep yearnings of the heart. We persevere in our longings and hopes which are transformed in the deepening relationship with this God of love. In our prayer we are changed in our being and through us, the world around such that we become, in part, the answer to our prayers. As we pray and meditate on the Lord’s Prayer we deepen our relationship in God.