Words. Words. Words! Words are too much with us. Words from radios, TV, internet, iPods; words from friend and foe alike. We find poetic words in today’s Psalm 34; exhortative and prophetic words from Isaiah 55; and words of praise, petition and prayer in today’s gospel from Matthew.
What is in a word? Words heal and hurt; words craft peace and declare war; words encourage and prohibit; words instruct, inform and invite. Words forgive; words bear the soul and reveal the heart. In today’s readings it is evident that the word of God is purposeful and fulfilling; that the word, who is God, is faithful.
In Isaiah we read: “So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.” During this season of Lent we must have the ears to hear the word of God and choose our words of response carefully. We must allow the word from God to achieve its desired results. We must not block out God’s word with a cacophony of our own words, or as Matthew says, babbling like the pagans. We must listen and wait for God to speak.
Matthew says as much in his familiar passage where he is instructing his followers how to pray. “The Our Father” has a personal meaning for each of us as we experience its power in our own life. I would simply note that during Lent this familiar Christian prayer takes on an added urgency.
I say that because this prayer invokes God to manifest His glory by an act of power, in this case, by the establishment of His kingdom in its fullness. This can only be accomplished through the actions of the end-game of Lent—the passion, death and resurrection of the Messiah. And as we pray Lent, we move closer to the establishment of that kingdom on earth, in each of us, as well as in heaven.
We pray: “Our Father in heaven” as an invocation found in the rabbinic prayers after the time of Jesus. It establishes our personal relationship to God.
We pray: “Hallowed is thy name” understood as reverence done to God by human praise and obedience to God’s will.
We pray: “Your kingdom come” turning towards divine rather than human action.
We pray: “Give us today our daily bread” is a petition for a speedy coming of the kingdom, which is often portrayed in both Old and New Testament under the image of a feast.
We pray: “Forgive us our debts” – which is a metaphor of “sins/trespasses” – at the final judgment.
So we go back to Isaiah and recall his words, “that just as the rain and the snow come down and does not return until that have watered the earth…giving seed to him who sows and bread to him who eats, just so the word of God will not return to God void.”
The words of “The Our Father” are divine in inspiration and hence purposeful in intent. When we pray them they yield new life in each of us and thus fulfill God’s purpose. The journey that is Lent opens before us bounteous opportunities to experience the word of God as purposeful and life-giving.
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