It is hard to know if Jesus intends to shock his audience, or if it is just inevitable. His message though, firmly rooted in Judaism – would have been shockingly new for those who heard it for the first time. For us, however, perhaps because of repetition, we have heard the Parables for so long, that often their power may be lost to us. If this is true with that, it is even more true with the Lord’s Prayer. We say it so often, that its challenge has been diluted. So let us take this opportunity to read St. Luke’s unfamiliar version of the Lord’s Prayer to see what we are being told.
And let us begin by changing one word. If we were to begin the Lord’s Prayer by saying, “Lord, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come,” we would perhaps not even notice the change. The Jews, who would have heard it originally, would not have been particularly concerned, either. Lord means the Almighty, and only He can hallow – make holy, make great – His name. We add nothing to God.
It would have been seen as a call to worship God who was all high and mighty. This would continue with His Kingdom. Jesus has spoken often of the Kingdom – reign of God – and this would have been seen as a sign that He will be the means by which God will bring His kingdom to its fullest – again a sign of the power and majesty of the Almighty.
What we translate as “daily bread” is a very difficult construction in Greek, but it basically means “every thing” – not only the physical parts of our lives – but every part. Again, it shows God’s power over our entire being. We further see that God has the ability to forgive sins, and expects us to make an effort to do the same. Finally, “subject us not to the test” – it’s a very Semitic way of saying that God has power over all things, and we plead with them not to test us. This is again a call to worship, to place God at the center of our lives and to act accordingly, which would have meant for them to obey the Law.
Such a prayer as the one above could be representative of a messiah, but nothing more. Jesus is more and there is more which we can see that happens when we change “Lord” to “Father”. In the Old Testament, only the people of Israel as a whole, as a community, or the king, could address God as Father. No individual otherwise would dare to do so. In telling all the disciples to begin his prayer with Father, He is inviting all of us to share in his own intimacy with God.
This does not bring God down; it calls us to rise up. But the rest of the prayer still stands: He is still the one who all alone and how long His name, He is still the one who will bring His reign, His kingdom to the world. He is still the one who can fulfill all our needs and forgive all our sins. Yet, notice He doesn’t wish us to call Him the formal Father, but “Abba” – Aramaic, simply “daddy”. He wishes to have such a personal and affectionate relationship with us that we call him “dada”.
In the next chapter, we will be told, “do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.” [Luke 12:32] Now this is a radical change. We are still called to worship and to worship the all-powerful and Almighty, but to worship someone who wishes to love us personally and intimately. The change – or at least the clarification of the meaning of worship – is a hidden teaching of Jesus, and his immediate audience would not have been able to figure out every part of it, but they would have known it would change them.
The readings for the past few weeks have been essentially a commentary on the Great Commandment we read three weeks ago: love God with your whole mind and heart, and your neighbor as yourself. Luke expanded the meaning by the story of the Good Samaritan: love of neighbor, and last week, love of God with the story of Martha and Mary.
This is what we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer. Indeed, He makes love of neighbor very specific: forgiveness. Jesus speaks often about the forgiveness of sins, and then Luke mentions many times that our relationship with Him should reflect this. In Luke’s version of the Beatitudes, we are told be merciful just as your Father is merciful. It is mercy that will change us. As the old saying goes, “to err is human, to forgive divine.”
Forgiveness is necessary, is key, it is essential, because Jesus is forming a community. But that is impossible without forgiveness. For them no forgiveness, no church, no reason for a church prayer. But this is our point of contact with God that allows us to realize that prayer changes not God, but us.
The story which follows the Lord’s Prayer in Luke is somewhat comic: indeed it might possibly have been a kind of standard folk story which Jesus has kind of pulled off the rack and used. But it makes a serious point. A man has awakened from sleep because his neighbor needs bread and keeps annoying. So he does what he wants. He eventually gives in because the neighbor is persistent.
It is good that we keep on trying with God, because it keeps our connection open with Him. And I tell you: ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be open . To everyone who asks, receives, the one who seeks finds, the one who knocks the door will be open. But it does not say what you will receive, or what door will be opened to you. We ask for all kinds of things, mostly to make our own lives easier. But, what do they do? All we have to do is look at children who have gotten everything they ever wanted to know where that leads.
Thus, what father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for fish, or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg. God is all-knowing and He will give us what we need to fulfill the basic commandment to love Him and our neighbor. Whatever we ask, wherever we start, we will end with conversion and the ability to forgive. Without this, worship is near abstraction, the church an NGO with nice buildings and beautiful music. No matter which version we read or how many times we say it, the Lord’s Prayer should never lose its shock value. The all-powerful God and Creator of the universe wants a relationship with us that is so close and intimate that we call Him Daddy, but will be so powerful that we can change the world.