In St. Luke’s Gospel the disciples ask Jesus to “teach us how to pray, as John taught his disciples.” Jesus responds with the only prayer we have from him – the Lord’s Prayer. Superficially, the disciples’ request seems natural enough, but we may miss its point if we don’t understand that the word “pray” in the Gospels almost always means “ask.” So the request can be rephrased as “Lord, teach us what to ask God for.” That would seem an even more logical request for the version of the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew’s Gospel (the one we read today). There Matthew situates the Lord’s Prayer in the portion of the first great discourse that tells the disciples, among other things, not to fret over food and clothing, since “Your Father in Heaven knows you need all those things.” So the next logical question would be, then, “OK, what should we ask for?” Both in Matthew’s Gospel, where Jesus tells the disciples to “Seek first the Kingdom of God”, and explicitly in the Lord’s Prayer itself, Jesus tells us to ask God to “Inaugurate your reign, now!”
Jesus gives us this request in the form of six petitions (or seven – depending upon the version). The first three we may miss, because they are in the passive voice (“Hallowed be your name, your Kingdom come, your will be done”.) But among the Jews of Jesus’ time, that was simply a polite way of asking God to do something. In the active voice, they might go something like “Vindicate your name; establish your Kingdom; work your will.” It misses the point to say that “Hallowed be your name” means we hope that people everywhere will revere God’s holy name. The real meaning is a call for action – drastic action – God’s action!
In the Roman Missal we recite the Lord’s Prayer just before communion, and we preface it with the phrase “We dare to say . . .” Sometimes that “daring” is interpreted as meaning daring to call God “Father”. It is actually much more daring to ask God to upset our tidy world and inaugurate his Kingdom. Remember, we ask him to do it “on earth,” not just in heaven. Why is that daring? Well, think what the world might be like if it operated as God’s Kingdom. How would that be? We have only to go four chapters forward from the disciples’ request in Luke to find out. It is the parable of the prodigal son. Actually, it was the father who was prodigal – the one who broke all of society’s rules about how you deal with an ungrateful, selfish child. We couldn’t run the world that way, could we? What would happen to our justice system? to my pension fund? Jesus understood well, and clearly predicted, that the transition from the current way of running things to God’s way would involve wrenching dislocations. People would fight the change. That gives new meaning to the last of the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer: “do not put us to the test.”
Scripture scholar Gerhard Lohfink suggests that the reason the
Kingdom hasn’t come yet is that we haven’t really wanted it to. It takes daring
to ask God to do this. Do we dare?
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