If I count right, this is about the third time this year the Church has given us the Lord’s Prayer as our gospel text. There are many gospel passages we never do hear in the two-year cycle of daily readings, so this repetition is a strong clue that there is something very important here. The problem is that most of us learn the Lord’s Prayer before we can understand its words. So it takes a special effort to see it as if for the first time, to see how powerful and challenging it really is.
“Thy kingdom come . . .” sounds like a pious, if innocuous, wish. Any God-fearing person would want that. Actually it’s much more than a pious wish. Scholars tell us that here, as in many other places in the New Testament, this construction – using the passive voice – is a polite way of asking God to do something. In this case that is to set the world to rights, so that it runs God’s way, not our way. And in case we think that’s for the hereafter, Matthew’s version of the Lord’s Prayer adds the phrase “. . . on earth as it is in heaven”. Not just at some future time, but now – here and now. While it’s a task that clearly only God can manage, we’re to be agents of that work. As Bishop N.T. Wright has written in his book “Simply Christian”, God’s passion for justice must become ours too.
It’s for good reason that the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer at Mass is prefaced with “we dare to say . . .” It’s not addressing God as Father that’s daring. It’s committing ourselves to a way of life that will upset a lot of apple carts – not least our own. Over and over Jesus tells us what the reign of God should look like – how it should operate. We have to look no further than a few chapters along in Luke, the story of the prodigal father in chapter 15. If we find that story consoling, then we’ve missed the point. The story is not about how God will treat us; it’s about how we are supposed to treat one another. (Actually, it was Jesus’ answer to His critics’ questions about why He treated people with mercy. He was forgiving because His Father was forgiving.)
Our job as disciples is not just to be beneficiaries of God’s reign, but to be its agents. Saying the Lord’s Prayer is not just an act of devotion. Understood correctly, it’s a life-changing commitment. I suppose the reason the liturgical cycle gives us this reading so often is that our commitment falters. Scripture scholar Gerhard Lohfink has suggested that the reason the kingdom hasn’t “come” yet is that Christians really haven’t wanted it to. Do I really want it, or am I today quite comfortable and secure in my religious pieties and practices?
It’s not an accident that the Lord’s Prayer is a part of every Eucharistic liturgy. As Christ’s body, it is precisely our defeats, our shame, our wounds – all suffered as agents of God’s reign – that we lay on the altar and that are joined to Jesus’ own.
Collaborative Ministry Office Guestbook